We Are Not Slaves (Part 2)
The movie, The Blind Side, is named for a term used in football to describe the side of the quarterback that is least protected. It is usually the quarterback’s right side, so the defensive end has the most potential for doing damage to the quarterback, assuming he can get past the left tackle and circle around to the right side of the quarterback. That’s his blind side. And that is exactly what happened to Joe Theismann the night his career was ended by Lawrence Taylor, who crushed his leg when he came up on his blind side and sacked him.
Spiritually speaking, everyone has a blind side. It’s that thing that keeps us from being all we were created and called to be. Perhaps for those in ministry, the most obvious “blind side” is the gracious call to Sabbath rest. Every major figure in the Bible talked about this habit. Jesus himself was faithful to practice it. The Bible in both testaments claims it as the key to healthy living — spiritually, mentally and physically. And yet, ministry leaders seldom take it seriously and often dangerously neglect it in our own lives.
Sabbath is about trust and gratitude. The Sabbath command in the Old Testament is the only one that comes with an explanation. Deuteronomy 5:12-15 commands this of the Israelite people:
Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.
The Sabbath command is a beautiful gift from God and a rhythmic opportunity to return to the truth that we are not slaves of our calling, but children of our Father.
There are three ways we can bring Sabbath rest into our lives:
Take a little time every day for an inner conversation with God and yourself.
I love the way The Message version of Psalm 139:23 puts it. David writes, “Investigate my life, O God, find out everything about me; cross-examine and test me, get a clear picture of what I’m about; See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong— then guide me on the road to eternal life.”
That’s what the inner conversation looks like. It is about slowing down enough to let the waters settle, to sink down into our spirit and investigate the deeper places.
Years ago, we lived across the street from a house with a huge, beautiful evergreen in the front yard. It was a magnificent tree. One day I came home to find that huge tree laying in the middle of the street. We discovered after it fell that the roots of that enormous tree had never gone more than a couple of feet down into the soil. So when the ground got soft from too much rain, the tree had nothing to brace it against strong winds.
It is much like that with our spiritual roots. If we don’t take time to develop them, what will hold us when the storms hit? Take a little time every day for an inner conversation with God and yourself. The amount of time isn’t as important as the habit of regularly connecting with God.
Take a little more time every week to restore your factory settings.
When your computer freezes up and you don’t know why, what do you do? Reboot. Think of a weekly Sabbath as a day when you turn everything off so you can reboot. Jesus said (Mark 2:21-24, 27-28), “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If they do, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And people do not pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.”
This is about separating the old from the new (a great Sabbath principle), and Mark links this idea with Sabbath in the very next scene (vv. 23-28): “One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grain fields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
Taking a day every week to let God be God for us helps us to restore our factory settings, to get us back in line with God’s design for life. It is counter to our cultural wiring, which places a high priority on productivity and efficiency. We wear watches with second hands and we read books about making every moment count. The Kingdom of God, by contrast, calls us to kairos time, which challenges us to be still and know that he is God who calls things into being not according to our effort but according to his perfect time and plan.
My Sabbath is Saturday. In theory. I’ve always taken some secret pleasure in the thought that I work even when I am not supposed to. It is one of those efficiency and productivity lies. It didn’t occur to me until I’d nearly burned out that I might be working against God’s plan for my life. Somehow I guess I expected God to cover for me and for all my significant relationships while I played the efficiency and productivity game. It turns out, there is nothing biblical about that. Sabbath is not just about getting a day off. It is about getting our lives back in line with God’s design. It is about faithfulness. It is about relationship. It is about timing.
Take more time every once in a while to remember how big God is.
Early in the life of the Israelite people, God gave them some advice. He told them that every seven years, they ought to give the land a rest for a season. The point was to replenish the soil before it got completely depleted. Every once in a while (I suggest at least once a year), we need more than an hour or a day to readjust our speed and remember how big God is. Without that time away, we can become so focused on issues and personalities that we lose sight of who God is and what he is capable of. We know we are in need of this kind of Sabbath when we find ourselves telling God how big our storms are, rather than telling our storms how big our God is.
It is the power of God that saves me from myself. And yet, I can get so narrowly focused on my stuff that I forget how big God is. Sabbath is how I remember the bigness of God. Because I want to be here for the long haul, I need a discipline that honors God’s design. Because Sabbath rest is a “blind side” for far too many pastors and planters who are otherwise ambitious, energetic and driven, I encourage you to discover a discipline for yourself that holds your faith when the hard times come. Take a little time every day. Take a little more time every week. Take a lot of time every once in a while, to remember the God who has delivered you from slavery.