Out of all of the Ten Commandments, the Sabbath command is the one which is most often ignored. It’s the one command that is often said no longer needs to be followed. It’s also the one command that in many ways seems the hardest to keep. The culture we live in is a culture that honors and admires those who constantly work. It is a culture in which activities are planned for everyday of the week. It is a culture that values production and consumption. It is a culture in which the pressure to keep up with other families continually pushes us to spend more, do more, and be more.
To be honest, we aren’t very good with Sabbath. Perhaps one reason we argue so adamantly about the Sabbath no longer being valid is because we don’t have the self-control to live a life that is centered around Sabbath, or even practices Sabbath. I admit, in my own life, the idea of Sabbath is much more enjoyable than the practice of keeping Sabbath. As one who at times has grown very tired from the stresses of ministry and life, I know I need Sabbath. Yet, I feel powerless (or perhaps I don’t have the courage) to make the necessary changes to practice Sabbath. Yet practicing Sabbath may be one of the greatest ways to resist the parts of our culture that place an unhealthy emphasis on consumption and production of resources.
Our capitalistic economy in the United States has led to some great advancements in technology and enterprise. It has rewarded those who are willing to ponder new and better ways to achieve results. It has led to the development of new products which have not only promised to make life easier, but have in many ways helped to save life; especially in areas of medicine and science. At the same time, our capitalistic economy has placed an unhealthy emphasis on the production of commodities. Those who work 60 – 80 hours a week are often rewarded with promotions and higher salaries; whether their extra work is healthy or not for themselves or their families. Because our economic system is built upon competition with others for sales, products, or closing deals, it is to a worker’s advantage to continue to work and not take time off to rest. The power of peer pressure, and the continuing advancement of advertising and marketing techniques, places a constant pressure on individuals and families to acquire more things to ensure happiness, or contentment. Thus, most of us feel an overwhelming pressure to work more and harder just to keep up with everyone else. There’s no time for Sabbath when we are in the midst of the “rat race.”
In this sense, Sabbath becomes a way to resist the influence of the greater culture. Sabbath is an intentional way for us to tell ourselves, and others, we are more than just individuals competing for commodities. Sabbath is a fixed point each week, helping us to refocus on a life centered in God, not a life competing for economic gain. And Sabbath is a strong testimony to the truth that we are not God; and that the world will function without us.
Perhaps Jesus was right when he said, “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” The Sabbath is not a rule to be kept, but a weekly reminder of the type of people we are called to become. God gave us the Sabbath to remind us how to live. We needed to be reminded that the ways of Egypt (or the ways of the United States) in which consumption and commodities is most important is not the way to insure the good life. We needed a reminder that our time is not to be broken down into work time, family time, and hobby time; but instead all of our time is God’s time, to be used for the glory of the LORD our God. We needed a reminder that we are not God, and the world will function without us. The Sabbath then is resistance. Resistance against our greater culture. Resistance against a life of producing and consumption. Resistance against the deification of those who allow work to become god.
Perhaps Sabbath is a reminder of what a life of flourishing is all about; a life where work has value and should be done well, but in which we also realize that our value is not in what we produce, but in the undeniable truth that we are image bearers of God.
Practicing Sabbath is still hard. I continually find myself powerless to embrace Sabbath completely. Yet perhaps we can start in small ways, finding ways to resist our greater culture and focus instead on a life with God. It’s not easy. We will fail often, but Sabbath is not about legalism or perfection. Instead, it’s about reminding ourselves of who is really Lord.