The Rhythm of Work
Good morning. Welcome. Just a couple of things before I get going. This is a huge topic, rhythms of work and rest. I’m not going be able to cover it all. There are other resources that are available on our website. If you have questions as I’m presenting this — either before, during, or after — please email them to me. Peter and I are going to do a podcast, and hopefully we can answer whatever questions you have on this topic.
Jesus talked a lot about work. I don’t know if you realize it, but 60% of the parables that Jesus told related to work or business, which makes a lot of sense because we spend 60% of our lives, more or less, working. So, it makes complete sense that Jesus would spend a lot of time talking about what we spend a lot of time doing. And the first thing Jesus taught about work, about money, is that God is our ultimate provider. In Matthew 6:25 Jesus said,
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life … Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat? or what shall we drink? or what shall we wear? For … your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.’”
So, in this, Jesus is really restating the passage that we read two weeks ago and again today, Psalm 104.
“All [all] look to you, to give them their food in due season.”
All, all the birds and all the fish and all the maggots and all the mosquitoes and all of us look to God because ultimately, he is the one who provides for our needs. Therefore, we can say,
“I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.”
Because the knowledge that we have a loving Father who actually cares about something as miniscule as our snacks is a God who knows our needs and actually cares about every part of our lives.
So, just even right now, let’s just take a breath. Breathe in, breathe out. And let’s just take permission to focus on what he has to say to us, because ultimately, we are all mirrors made to reflect the image of our God. And probably the two most significant ways that we do that is in our work and in our rest. The first time we see God in the story of the Bible, he’s working, he’s making something. And he takes six days to do it. He didn’t need to take six days, but he did. And in six days, he made ten trillion galaxies, one quadrillion stars. How was your week? I mean, congratulations on getting that big contract. That ain’t 10 quadrillion stars, right? Or one quadrillion stars. But God did it. And he didn’t even have to take that long. But the seventh day God did something that we never would expect, something totally out of left field. God rested. And the word rest is the Hebrew word Shabbat, which means to cease, to stop, to be complete or, I think the best translation is to celebrate. God celebrated what he had made. As John Mark Comer said in his book “Garden City,”
“After six days of universe-sculpting work, God rested. And in doing so, he built rhythm into creation itself … This cadence of work and rest is just as vital to our humanness as food or water or sleep or oxygen. It’s mandatory for survival, to say nothing of flourishing.”
Last week, Paul Kingsman did a masterful job talking about the beauty of work. I want to commend to you the beauty of rest, which I believe is our secret weapon. So, in poll after poll, Americans agree that it would be better for America if the Ten Commandments were posted publicly. Maybe you feel that way, too. But did you know that there is one commandment that almost all Americans routinely break and brag about it? That, of course, is the fourth commandment: Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. And it’s actually the most detailed command of all ten. But we say, I haven’t had a day off in four weeks, or I haven’t gone on a vacation for six years. I’m working 80 hours a week. And it’s kind of a thing we do as Americans. We kind of boast about that.
When did we stop believing in Sabbath and why? When I was growing up, and I’m older than many of you, we had this thing called “Blue Laws.” Anybody remember Blue Laws? Yeah, Blue Laws. Everything shut down, and I mean everything. Gas stations, everything was shut down. And I remember nobody ever really explained to me why we did that. I just thought it was kind of inconvenient because I couldn’t get a soda or some candy. So, that kind of ruined Sunday for me. When I got older, I was actually ordained as a Presbyterian minister, which would be a surprise to many of you who know me. But in the denomination in which I was ordained, keeping Sabbath was a big thing, which had many benefits. But I never really understood the whys and wherefores. So, for me a lot of times it was kind of boring and even depressing. And my kids have related to me that that was their experience, too, which was probably because I just didn’t know how to do it.
So, what does it mean to Sabbath? What does it mean to stop and to rest? And why should you care? This is very personal to me because I am a worker. Some people call me a workaholic; I don’t think that’s true, but I love to work. And throughout my lifetime, no matter how hard I work, I typically have felt overwhelmed. I have felt like I’m dropping balls or not keeping plates spinning. And I’m not alone in this. Forbes magazine published an article that said,
“Twenty years or so ago, at the dawn of the electronic age, people were prophesying that less paper and more technology would free us to work less and pay more attention to the most important things in our lives. Unfortunately, those predictions seem to have been dead wrong. We may not be getting paid for working more hours than we were 20 years ago, but given smartphones, email and colleagues in a variety of time zones, many of us seem to be spending a lot more time in work-related activities than ever before.”
So, we thought that tech was going to deliver us from bondage to work, from feeling like we’re nothing more than workers. But that was a promise that has not been kept. Can the real answer have been right in front of us, hidden in plain sight all along? The Sabbath Principle. So, let me talk for about six minutes about what is this Sabbath principle in the Bible. Genesis 2:2-3,
“And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So, God blessed the seventh day and made it holy.”
Now, this is super-packed. I just want to make three observations. First of all, God chose the Sabbath, and I said, “to create us.” So, I’ve got to make a short confession here. I got a little brain hiccup. It stinks getting old. God actually created us on the sixth day, but last service, I said the seventh day. And there are a lot of reasons for that I won’t go into. But what I love about this church is you can’t even get out of the room before Kidstuff teachers are fixing you. And I had two Kidstuff teachers say, “I don’t think so.” My point is this, God created us at the end of the sixth day. And God said to mankind, “Be fruitful, multiply. Do good work. Be like me. Create, build, all of it.” But the very next day, the very first day, our first full day in the world that God created was a Sabbath day. Our first day was a day off. And that’s really significant when you see in the Bible when this comes out. I could just preach on this, but I can’t. But in the scriptures, the principle is that God created us to work from rest and not for rest.
And I hear so many people and what they talk about. What people talk about all the time is their plan to get to rest. I’m going to retire when I’m 12. And then what are you going to do? I don’t know. People talk about that big vacation that they can’t wait to take, that big cruise, or whatever it is. People talk about their bucket list of things that they’re going to do once they’re finished working. And so much of our lives is consumed of “I’m not living for now, I’m living for the time that I get to rest.” And how many of you know that for many of us, we get there, and we quit working, and then we just die? But it all comes from this thing that we have in ourselves of trying to get to rest. And the Sabbath principle, the fact that God created us and then the first day was a day when we aren’t working, we’re living and relating to God, walking in the cool of the day in the garden, rejoicing in what God has done. He created us to work from rest, not to rest.
The second thing is that God blessed the Sabbath. The word blessed is the Hebrew word “barak.” There are three times that the word “barak” is used in the creation account, right? God created all the living things, and he blessed them. And he said, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” Then God created man. And he blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” And then God created Sabbath and he blessed it. And what that tells us is that living out of the rest, out of the relationship that we have with God, is actually a procreative principle. It is a life-giving principle. The three things that God created in the narrative that were specifically blessed is always connected to the life-giving effect of that blessing. That’s another whole sermon.
And then third, God called the Sabbath holy. The word there, the Hebrew word is that beautiful Hebrew word “qadosh.” And this is the first time that the word “qadosh” is used in the Bible, the first holy thing. Before God even called himself holy, he called the Sabbath holy, meaning it’s something special. Now, you would have thought that when God created the earth, he would have created a holy space, right? Every religion has a holy space, right? Islam has Mecca. Hinduism has the Ganges River. Paganism has Stonehenge. Packers fans have Lambeau Field. Every religion has a holy place. But God did not create a holy place. He created a holy time. And that’s very significant. God doesn’t have a holy space, he has a holy time, the Sabbath. God isn’t found in the world of space, in a temple or a mountaintop or by a spring or by a waterfall or a statue or a monument. He’s found in the world of time. As one author said, “The Sabbaths are our great cathedrals.” Listen to this quote.
“We are all infatuated with the splendor of space and the grandeur of the things of space. This is a category that lays heavy on our mind, tyrannizing all our thoughts. In our daily lives we attend primarily to that which our senses are spelling out for us. Reality to us is thinghood, consisting of substances that occupy space. Even God is perceived by most of us as a thing.”
But God is not a thing. And our lives do not consist of things. Did you realize that in the average home, not wealthy homes, the average home, the average American home, it contains more than 300,000 items? 300,000 items! We live in a world of things, and we live obsessed so often with getting more or getting more storage space so we can store our things. But God is about time. You could say the God’s love language is time. Before man — if you don’t know the love language thing, it’s old, I’m old — but before man could do acts of service or anything like that, God set apart a time and said, “I want to spend this time with you, communing with you.” It was very relational. In Exodus 20, God said, “Remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy.” The Sabbath Principle, the Sabbath commandment is the only commandment that is grounded in creation. It’s not a moral law, it is a natural law. It’s a creative law. People say, “I’m so glad that Jesus freed me from the Sabbath.” Freed you for what? Watch Netflix, go shopping, work more? What are we so glad we’re freed for?
What about the idea … You can ignore the Sabbath Principle. It’s not a sin. It’s just stupid. You can eat concrete if you want. It’s not a sin. It’s just stupid. Because it does something to your soul when you don’t rest. It actually erodes part of our humanness because we’re not just machines. We’re relational beings. In Ezekiel 20:12-13 God says,
“I gave them my Sabbaths, [with an “s”] as a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them. But … my Sabbaths they greatly profaned.”
So, in addition to one day a week that God said, “Hey, I want to chill with you. You can not work, and it’ll be okay because I’m your provider.” In addition to that, God set seven feasts in every year that would mark the calendar. There were seven Sabbath feasts that kind of defined life as the people of God.
And then in addition to that, God said, “Every seventh year I’m going to make all year Sabbath, where you don’t even have to work. And guess what? I will provide, and it will be okay.” But in addition to that, God said, “And every seven times that you do that, every 49 years, I’m going to make a super Sabbath! Three years! You get two years off, and it’ll be okay because I will provide everything you need. And guess what? Israel never did it. Can you imagine that? Not once that we know of. And throughout the Old Testament, God sent prophets and they said, “Why didn’t you keep my Sabbaths? Why?” Because at the heart of the Sabbath is God’s desire and intention to relationally connect with us as his people.
In Luke 4:16-21, it says:
“And [Jesus] as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day.”
So, Jesus launched his work on the Sabbath. He’s recapitulating what happened in the Genesis account that he is working from rest. And what does he talk about?
“He unrolled the scroll, and found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me … to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ And he began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’”
Now, when he talks about the year of the Lord’s favor, he’s talking about that year of jubilee, that “Super Sabbath.” He’s referring to that whole imagery. And he’s saying, “What I came to do is to restore the dignity and the humanity and the relational character of mankind, that I am going to bring us back to working from rest rather than for rest.” Jesus is taking us back to relationship.
So, why is the Sabbath weapon so powerful? This is not just a sermon for me, you may have already gathered that. I’m very passionate about this and for good reason, because I love to work. I love to work. Mark Twain said, if you
“Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
My wife can tell you, every morning when I get up, I cannot wait to get to work. And you know what? That’s awesome. I can’t even begin to thank God enough for what I get to do. It’s unbelievable. And I am so thankful that I can serve in a place where my strengths are maximized, and my weaknesses are minimized. Work is a glorious, glorious thing. Work was created before the fall. Work is not a result of the fall. Work was a part of God’s created perfect world. But it just got really gnarly after the fall because the world was cursed. But there’s something even more glorious than work, and it’s resting the way God talks about rest. Because, you know what, we can become so transactional with God. Right? Bless me. Help me. Give me. Me, me, me, me, me, me, me. It’s the same way if you’ve been married for a while, you can get so transactional with your wife, right? It’s like, you know, you love each other. You like each other. But it just gets to this point, especially when you have kids, it’s kind of like, “Okay, you’re going here, and I’m going there. And you’re going to take them here, and I’m going to pick them up over there. And they’ve got to go to the orthodontist.” And all of a sudden you just have those days you wake up and you realize, this is like a business relationship. It just kind of evolved. And then you say, “Oh, man, what happened?” What happened to the romance? What happened to the intimacy? What happened to the closeness? And then we’ve got to reconnect. That’s what the Sabbath is with God. It’s a time to not be transactional. But I’m telling you, it’s not easy for us people who love to work. I’ll get more to that in a minute. This is what John Mark Comer says.
“Here is what I’m saying: there is a rhythm to this world. For six days we rule and subdue and work and draw out and labor and bleed and wrestle and fight with the ground. But then we take a step back, and for 24 hours, we Sabbath, we enjoy the fruit of our labor, we delight in God and his world, we celebrate life, we rest, and we worship.”
Let me just give a summary. I love this. In case you haven’t already picked up on it, John Mark Comer, who has written extensively about Sabbath, has been a tremendous influence and help to me. So, I just want to finish this section by reading kind of his summary of what it means to him to Sabbath, because I think it’s so helpful.
“The Sabbath is a day when God has my rapt attention. It’s a day when I’m fully available to my family and friends. The Sabbath is a day with no to do list. [Can you imagine?] It’s a day when I don’t accomplish anything, and I don’t feel guilty. It’s a day when my phone is off, the email is closed, and you can’t get ahold of me. The Sabbath isn’t a day to buy or sell — to get more. It’s a day to enjoy what I already have. It isn’t a day to be sad.”
So, let me just give some practical ideas, practical tips. The way my wife and I have been going after this for nine months, I think we’re getting a little traction. First of all, the Sabbath means stop. The word Sabbath, the idea of Sabbath, is the idea of Shabbat. I’m ceasing from one thing and I’m doing something else. I’m ceasing from working, from worrying, from wanting, from buying, from selling, from shopping, because it’s a day to celebrate what I have, rather than wrestle or lament or be sad about what I don’t have. It’s a day to turn off your phone. And for the love of all that is holy, stay off social media.
Secondly, Sabbath is about rest. Yes, it’s a time to sleep. But to me, the key to Sabbath is not duty or rules. It’s about delight. God said call the Sabbath a delight. John Mark Comer says, suggests, that we stack as many pleasurable things as possible into this day. Now, it’s not just a nap on the couch. It’s certainly not binge-watching Netflix. It’s restfulness. It’s a celebration. It’s cultivating an environment, an atmosphere to our entire world where we are encountering God. It’s a mode of being that says, “God, I am fully here to encounter everything you are.” All of me, fully present for all that God is. All of me, fully present for my wife and children. Not looking at my phone in between every single sentence. It’s a day to be relational. And for some of you young people who are just starting marriages, I can’t tell you how powerful this will be in building healthy boundaries and big rocks relationally in your relationships. It is so powerful.
Thirdly, it’s a day to relate, orient our whole being back to God. You know, I love my job. But even when you’re a pastor, it’s possible to love your job way too much. It really is. And that’s a road that goes straight into the dark and off a cliff. And far, far, far too many pastors’ kids can vouch for that.
So, I want to just say, resting is a skill. Working is a skill. Those of you who are builders or speakers or eye doctors or whatever you do, you didn’t learn to do that overnight. It’s taken years. And if you’re excellent at what you do, you gave yourself to mastering that skill. Do you know that resting is also a skill that we have to learn? You might think that it’s just as simple as just not doing anything. But I promise you, for those of us who are drivers, that is never going to work. You’re just going to be sitting there looking at your watch saying, when is this going to be over? It’s like when you lie awake at night and you can’t get to sleep because you have a super big day the next day, and you’re lying there, like, “Go to sleep, go to sleep, go to sleep, go to sleep.” And then it’s just getting compounded because you know that super big day you have, you’re going to feel like garbage. It’s a skill you have to learn. And after nine months of my wife and I going at this really hard, I feel like I’m just on the cusp. But we’re going to keep pursuing it.
So, here are my practical suggestions. Number one, start somewhere. That’s the only one. I don’t have anymore. Just start somewhere. For you, Sabbath may not be able to be a 24-hour period. For most people, I would strongly suggest Sunday, and there are biblical, theological, and practical reasons for that. If you can make corporate worship part of your Sabbath, it’s awesome.
But for me, I work on Sunday and I realize that however much I was counting that, it really wasn’t any of the things that I’d been talking about or very few. So, I take Thursday off. And for my wife and I, we start Wednesday night at sundown. This is a time timeless kind of Jewish approach to Sabbath. I really commend it. Again, there are all kinds of reasons behind it. So, by sundown Wednesday night, we will have a really, really good meal. It’s a celebration. We’re not going to eat cheese and crackers necessarily just to prove something. We want to start with celebration. And we try and make that meal very relational. We’ve started to build in some traditions into that meal. Real simple things like lighting a candle and other traditions, taking communion as a family.
But whether you can take a 24-hour period or not, start somewhere. Say Wednesday night, whatever that time is, or Thursday or Saturday from something to something, this is going to be my Sabbath. Plan the time. Plan the time. My wife and I love to walk together. And there’s a park up in Flat Rock that we really love. And so frequently, if the weather is good, we’ll go up and we’ll just walk and talk and pray and we’ll do some of that together and some of that apart. Fundamentally, the two questions my wife and I ask are: is it rest, and Is it worship? Is it rest or is it worship? And if the answer to those questions, either of them really is yes, then we do it. Because it’s not about keeping a list of rules. It’s about imitating God in this rhythm of resting, trusting, and relating.
I know that for some people, if you are in situations where you have to be on call and it’s an emergency, you have no choice. I just don’t believe you’ll ever have a meaningful Sabbath if you don’t disconnect from your phone in some way. I don’t believe you’ll ever have any meaningful Sabbath — whether it’s one hour or 24 hours — if you don’t stay off social media, if you don’t stay off email. Those would be some practical things. But the key is don’t get uptight. And don’t feel bad if the first time you try it, you’re not an expert. I mean, the Jewish people have been practicing this for thousands of years. We can learn from others who are doing it and doing it well.
So, I want to close with words from a prophet named Kanye West. I said to someone when I got very frustrated this week, “I’m about ready to vote for Kanye.” And he said, “Well, he’s schizophrenic.” I said, “Well, I’ll try that given the current climate.” But seriously, sometimes people who are unconventional can see things that we should have seen all along. And when Kanye had his encounter with Christ, I’m not sure exactly what that is, but he dropped an album of Christian songs. And the one that got the most run was the one, “Closed on Sunday,” which obviously relates to what we’re talking about. And I just was very struck. You know, when I heard it, I just thought, “Okay, I don’t know what that means. What are you saying?” But as I actually looked at the words, it’s so prophetic.
“Hold the selfies, put the ‘Gram away. Get your family, y’all hold hands and pray.”
That pretty much gets it. I probably could have saved a half hour of me talking and just listened to that. But the thing that really got me was the last stanza, and I just think this is so prophetic.
“Follow Jesus, listen and obey. No more livin’ for the culture, we nobody’s slave.”
Now, if we cannot live without working, if we cannot live without checking our email, if we cannot live without looking at social media, if we cannot live without our telephones, we are slaves. And our God says, “I have set you free.” And one of the ways that we work that out is by taking Sabbath.
“I bow down to the King upon the throne. My life is His, I’m no longer my own.”
Word. Father, thank you so much that Sabbath’s not about some straight jacket you want to put on us to keep us from having a happy life. Sabbath is an invitation to come, to commune, to rest, and to realize, God, that you meant life to be a celebration and not just mindlessly punching the clock and chasing after more stuff. So, God, help us to understand it. In Jesus’ name, amen.