Don't underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along,
listening to all the things you can't hear, and not bothering.
--Winnie the Poo
The would-be wood gatherer
There was this fellow that Moses knew who went out to pick up sticks on
the Sabbath to build a fire and warm his hands "Those who found him
gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and the whole assembly and
they kept him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done to
him. Then the Lord said to Moses, 'The man must die" (Numbers 15:32-36).
"Good grief," as Charles Brown would say. This man's offense seems
so trifling and yet he's guilty of a capitol crime! "More must be meant
than meets the ear," as Milton said.
Indeed there is, though it is enough at this point to say that working too
much is a dangerous occupation---hazardous to your health, we might say.
Hi ho, hi, it's off to work we go
I must admit: I'm a workaholic at heart. But I'm in good company. As James
Taylor would say, "there's a holy host of others standin' round me."
It's hard to get us busy folks to rest. We're driven, compulsive performers
and unfortunately, our work habits carry over into our fellowship with God
and our work for him. We're driven and compulsive in our faith and service---always
hustling and hoping to do more.
Our Lord was never that busy. You just don't see him rushing around like
we do. He had an infinite job to do and only 3 1/2 years to do it and yet
there was very little effort in his work. Even when people made impossible
demands of him, his pace was measured and slow. In fact, the only person
he ever told to get busy was Judas: "What you have to do do more quickly,"
Someone has said that "busy Christian" ought to sound to us like
"adulterous wife." The two ideas are shockingly incongruent. Busyness
is not a Christian virtue and spiritual maturity is not measured by the
amount of work we do, no matter what we're busy doing or how much we get
Most of us, however, though we know better, can't let up. Life for us is
one prolonged and dedicated struggle to fix everything that's broken and
achieve perfection in all we do, no matter how much it takes out of us We
have to keep hustling and hoping to do more---more than God ever intended
for us to do; more than God ever designed our bodies to do. That's why we
get so weary and worn out and that's why we want to quit. What we need is
Remember the Sabbath
Our English word, Sabbath, comes from the Hebrew word Shabbat meaning "to
cease and desist." "Cessation of work with accompanying rest"
is the primary connotation.
Shabbat is the oldest and most important institution in the world. It began
in the beginning: "By the seventh day God had finished the work he
had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God
blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all
the work of creating that he had done" (Genesis 2:2,3).
Genesis One describes God's handiwork. For six creative "days"
God worked to create a world of enjoyment for his children. Then he took
a breather to relax and luxuriate in what he had done: "That's beautiful!"
he said (1:30). And then he took the seventh day off.
God gave his day of rest special prominence and significance: He blessed
it and made it different, the common­p;place meaning of the word "holy."
The Sabbath was unique and novel, absolutely unlike any other day
In the beginning God established a rhythm in the cosmos---six days of work
and one day of rest. He did so by example and decree, writing that cadence
large on our calendars.
It was Augustine, I think, who first noted that the phrase "there was
evening and there was morning" is conspicuously absent on the seventh
day. The seventh day has a beginning, but it goes on forever---eternal cessation.
There is simply no end to God's rest.
The notion of a restful seventh day is rooted in racial memory: Very early
Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets contain calendars in which the 7th, 14th,
21st and 28th days are distinguished from the rest by rubrics. In several
of those tablets the word shabatum appears, a cognate word to the Hebrew
In one tablet the shabatum is called um nuch libbi ("a day to rest
the heart"). On those days kings were not permitted to discuss affairs
of state, physicians couldn't care for the sick, and other proscriptions
There are major differences between the Babylonian shabbatum and God's shabbat,
not the least of which is the fact that the Babylonian Sabbath applied only
to royalty and to certain professionals and not to ordinary working class.
The common folk were drudges who toiled seven days a week.
Despite the differences in the two sabbaths, however, the fact remains that
the notion of Shabbat was ingrained in the race---a vestigial memory of
God's created rhythm: six days of labor and one day of rest.
Manna and the morning after
The second reference to the Sabbath occurs in a context of gathering and
preparing manna. The word Shabbat occurs in the biblical text here for the
first time, though the idea is clearly inferred from the creation story.
"Each morning everyone gathered as much (manna) as he needed,
and when the sun grew hot, it melted away. On the sixth day, they gathered
twice as much--two omers for each person---and the leaders of the community
came and reported this to Moses. He said to them, 'This is what the Lord
commanded: `Tomorrow is to be a day of rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord
. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever
is left and keep it until morning.'" So they saved it until morning,
as Moses commanded, and it did not stink or get maggots in it. 'Eat it today,'
Moses said, 'because today is a Sabbath to the Lord . You will not find
any of it on the ground today. Six days you are to gather it, but on the
seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any.' (Exodus 16:21-30).
For six days the Sons of Israel gathered manna. Each day brought its own
supply---as much as anyone could eat. The lesson of trust for daily bread
was constantly being enforced: each day came and the manna fell.
On the sixth morning twice as much manna lay waiting on the sands of the
desert. God had been at work through the night, anticipating his children's
needs, providing up front so they could sit down and enjoy his provision.
The Ten Words
The Fourth Commandment codified the Sabbath and made it a distinctively
"Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 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 manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor
the alien within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and
the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh
day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy" (Exodus
Here Shabbat is connected with God's seventh­p;day rest. The Sabbath
was a day to remember---to rest and relax because God had done all that
there was to do.
In Moses' later elaboration of this law, he insisted that even in the busiest
times of the year God wanted his children to rest. "You shall work
six days, but on the seventh day you shall rest, even during plowing time
and harvest, you shall rest," he insisted (Ex. 34:21).
Once more God wanted his children to know that even when they were not working
God was working to get their work done.
Free at last!
The Sabbath law was re­p;issued when Israel camped on the plains of Moab:
"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 manservant
or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the
alien within your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may rest,
as you do. 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"
In the two biblical versions of the Sabbath law the commands are identical
but the reasons differ. The reason in Exodus is that God created the world
and everything in it for us to enjoy. The Deuteronomic reason for Sabbath­p;observance
is that God has forever delivered his people from drudgery.
Israel's ancestors in Egypt went four hundred years without a vacation---never
a day off. They were chattel, doing mindless, menial tasks, making bricks
without straw, when God went to work and set them free. The Sabbath was
a day to remember the Great Emancipator and the redemptive work he had done.
The sabbatical year
The principle of a recurring day of rest is extended to the land:
"For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune
your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land
is to have a Sabbath of rest, a Sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields
or prune your vineyards" (Leviticus 25:1-4).
Every seventh year the land itself was to have a sabbath of rest from sowing
and reaping, not so much for the sake of the land as for the laborers who
worked it. Here's relief from the tyranny of production. God would see to
it that the volunteer yield of the land would suffice:
"You may ask, 'What will we eat in the seventh year if
we do not plant or harvest our crops?' I will send you such a blessing in
the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years. While you
plant during the eighth year, you will eat from the old crop and will continue
to eat from it until the harvest of the ninth year comes in' (Leviticus
This is the law of the manna on a larger scale (Exodus 16:22), the point
of which, once more, is that while Israel rested God was providing. Farmers
could let the land lie fallow and let God work their fields.
God also taught Shabbat through the conquest and settlement of Canaan:
"Remember the command that Moses the servant of the LORD
gave you: 'The LORD your God is giving you rest and has granted you this
land'" (Joshua 1:13).
When Israel was about to occupy the land they were told that God would fight
their battles for them, drive out the Canaanites, guarantee their integrity
in the land and give them rest. In the end the Lord, "gave them rest
on every side, just as he had sworn to their forefathers. Not one of their
enemies withstood them; the Lord handed all their enemies over to them"
Once again God preceded them, anticipating their needs: "I sent the
hornet ahead of you, which drove them out before you," he said. "You
did not do it with your own sword and bow" (Josh. 24:12). God conquered
Canaan; all Israel had to do was enter in and enjoy the fruit of his campaign.
For twenty five years Israel was fighting a battle that was already won.
The most significant of all Sabbath verses is sometimes overlooked:
"The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating
it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. It will be a sign
between me and the Israelites for ever, for in six days the Lord made the
heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he abstained from work and
rested" (Ex. 31:16,17).
Here Shabbat is designated a "sign" of the covenant between God
and Israel. Ezekiel expressed that idea more fully: "I gave them my
Sabbaths as a sign between us, so they would know that I the Lord made them
holy" (Ezekiel 20:12).
The sum of Ezekiel's argument is this: the Sabbath was a sign or symbol
to Israel of a greater reality: God is the one who sanctifies and sets men
and women right. That's why Sabbath­p;keeping was so important: It connoted
far more than it denoted. It signified the condition of one's heart. Those
who kept Shabbat exemplified what it signifiedr: They were resting in what
God had done.
John Calvin said, "The Lord enjoined obedience to almost no other command
as severely as to this [cf. Ex. 31:13 ff.; 35:2]. When he wills through
the prophets to indicate that all religion has been overturned, he complains
that his Sabbaths have been polluted, violated, not kept, not hallowed---as
if, with this homage omitted, nothing more remained in which he could be
honored [Ezek. 20:12-13; 22:8; 23:38; Jer. 17:21,22,27; Isa. 56:2]."
And that's why Sabbath­p;breaking was serious sin: Those who rejected
Shabbat signified that they had not entered into God's rest. They were still
trying to achieve salvation on their own.
The would-be woodcutter revisited
That's why so much severity was shown to the man who gathered wood on the
Sabbath (Ex. 35). This man's lawlessness was not casual or accidental. It
was intentional. The Hebrew verb translated "gathering" suggests
repetitive wood­p;gathering indicating this was more than a one­p;time
excursion. It was a recurrent act. This man was flaunting his wood­p;gathering,
demonstrating his intention to defy the law against lighting a fire on the
Sabbath (Ex. 35:3). He was a determined, defiant "worker."
The story is actually an illustration of the difference between "unintentional"
and "defiant" sin, spelled out in the preceding paragraph: "If
one person sins unintentionally, he must bring a year-old female goat for
a sin offering. The priest is to make atonement before the Lord for the
one who erred by sinning unintentionally, and when atonement has been made
for him, he will be forgiven. But anyone who sins defiantly, whether native-born
or alien, blasphemes the Lord, and that person must be cut off from his
people" (Numbers 15:27­p;30).
"Unintentional" is the wrong word, preserving, as it does, an
old but false distinction between "witting" and "unwitting"
sins. The Hebrew verb translated "unintentional" here means "to
go astray" and can refer to serious, deliberate sins of the flesh---lying,
theft, perjury, debauchery and the like, some of which are quite intentional
and all of which can be forgiven (cf. Leviticus 6:1­p;7).
"Defiant" sin, on the other hand, is not a particular sin, but
rather a disposition toward God. It is sinning "with a high hand"---raising
one's fist and planting it in God's face. There was no forgiveness for this
sin because the sinner had rejected the God who forgives. This is the sin
(and the only sin) that Jesus describes as "unpardonable" (Matt
So, the Sabbath­p;breaker, in this story, was no ordinary sinner: He
was a rebel, one of those who had refused to enter the land. There was something
especially perverse about his resistance to God. He would not rest in God's
provision and salvation. He was on his own and that was (and still continues
to be) serious sin.
Immediately afterward the Lord commanded Moses to,
"Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'Throughout the
generations to come you are to make tassels on the corners of your garments,
with a blue cord on each tassel. You will have these tassels to look at
and so you will remember all the commands of the Lord, that you may obey
them and not prostitute yourselves by going after the lusts of your own
hearts and eyes. Then you will remember to obey all my commands and will
be consecrated to your God. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out
of Egypt to be your God. I am the Lord your God'" (Numbers 15:37-41).
These fringes were like the strings we tie on our fingers to remind us of
things we must not forget. It's God's way of saying, "Never forget
to remember the Sabbath!"
The point of the Sabbath
Before there was a single human being in the world to appreciate it God
set apart the seventh day by example and precept. It was for the use and
benefit of human race---a day of physical rest---but it was "meant
to represent to the people of Israel spiritual rest, in which believers
ought to lay aside their own works to allow God to work in them" (John
Calvin, Institutes viii: 28).
Israel's symbolic Sabbath was God's way of getting his children to rest
in what he was doing. He's knows our tendency to work ourselves to death.
It's his way of saying "Remember my work, relax and take delight in
me" (Is. 58:13,14).
Jesus and the Apostles
When you come to the New Testament you find Jesus and the apostles taking
a rather cavalier attitude toward the Sabbath day. Our Lord himself periodically
violated this most cherished of Israel's conventions, insisting that he
had the right to do so because "the Son of Man is the Lord of the Sabbath"
Paul abrogated Sabbath day observance declaring that "observance of
days" is characteristic of those who are "weak in the faith"
(Ro. 14:1-5), who do not know that God has "canceled the written code,
with its regulations. nailing it to the cross" (Col. 2:14).
"Therefore," he goes on to say, "do not let anyone judge
you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a
New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things
that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ" (Colossians
2:16,17). The Sabbath day had been set aside since it was merely a shadow
of something more substantial. Reality has come; the sign is no longer needed.
The first Christians took Paul's instruction to heart: They ignored the
Sabbath day as a day, changing their time of worship to Sunday, the first
day of the week. The Christian Sunday is not a continuance of the Jewish
Sabbath "changed into the first day of the week," as the Westminster
Confession puts it (xxi: 8), but rather a distinctively Christian institution
adopted because Sunday was the day on which our Lord rose. That's why Sunday
got the name of the "Lord's Day" (Cf. Acts 20:7).
The writer of Hebrews brings everything into focus. Thinking of those Israelites
who perished in the wilderness he wrote,
"Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all
those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was he angry for forty years?
Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert? And to
whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those
who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their
unbelief. Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands,
let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.
For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the
message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did
not combine it with faith. Now we who have believed enter that rest, just
as God has said, 'So I declared on oath in my anger, `They shall never enter
my rest.' And yet his work has been finished since the creation of the world.
For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: "And
on the seventh day God rested from all his work" (Heb. 3: 16-4:4 ).
The author quotes from the creation story and insists that God's "work
has been finished since the creation of the world."
Then he quotes from Psalm 95:7,8 and its implied promise of rest for the
people of God as still available to believers in David's day: "Today,
if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah,
as you did that day at Massah in the desert."
God's offer of rest was not exhausted by Joshua's conquest of Canaan because
the "rest" was still being extended to Israel in David's day 400
years after Joshua. Furthermore, he insists, that rest "still stands"
(4:1). It is, in fact a sabbaton---a word usually translated Sabbath observance,
but which implies perpetual Sabbath (4:9).
Here is the reality: God is for us and has been working for us from the
beginning. Our salvation; our sanctification; our glorification is accomplished
by believing in what he has done. Rest is all we have to do.
For the one
who has entered His rest
from his works
as God did from his.
Doing the work of God
The Pharisees once asked Jesus what they could do to "do God's work."
"This is work of God," he said, "that you keep on believing
How audacious to think that any human being can do the works of God. Only
God can do his works. Our work is not to do his work, but to believe that
he has done everything that has to be done and can ever be done to bring
salvation to us.
The Lord focused his anger on the Pharisees who burdened his people with
effort­p;ridden activity, but he was never angry with those who were
so burdened. He called them to come to him for rest. He has said
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you
rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble
in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and
my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30).
Shabbat is not a day; it's a disposition, a mind­p;set of resting in
God for everything we have to do, believing that God is at the heart of
all our activity and that all the demands upon us are in fact demands upon
Shabbat is a profound conviction that God is working while we rest, a serene
belief that there is a strong, experienced hand at the helm and that everything
is working out for the best---for God and for us.
Shabbat is rest from our labor. It is an unencumbered, unhurried, relaxed
life­p;style that grows out of a profound awareness that "it is
God who works in (us) to will and to act according to his good purpose"
F. B. Meyer says,
"We must remember to maintain within our hearts the spirit
of Sabbath calm and peace, not fussy, not anxious, not anxious, nor fretful
nor impetuous; refraining our feet from our own paths, our hand from our
own devices, refusing to make our own joy and do our own works. It is only
when we are fully resolved to act thus, allowing God to originate his own
plans and to work in us for their accomplishment that we enter into our
inheritance. Be full of God's rest. Let there be no hurry, precipitation
or fret; yield to God's hands that he may mold thee; hush thy quickly throbbing
pulse. So shalt thou build to good and everlasting purpose."
Building to good and everlasting purpose
The prophet said to David, "You will have a son who will be a man of
peace and rest. He is the one who will build" (1Chronicles 22:9,10).
It is restful men and women who build the enduring structures.
Unless the Lord builds the house,
its builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchmen watch in vain.
In vain you rise early and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat---
for he gives to those he loves
while they sleep.
Who builds? The builder does, but unless God builds the builder's labor
is in vain. Who watches? The watchman does, but unless God watches the watchman
stands guard in vain. His conclusion: "It's senseless to stay up late,
toiling for food. Go to sleep and let God work.
There's something wonderfully significant about this psalm---something easily
missed unless we understand that Shabbat for Israel began, not on Saturday
morning, but on Friday evening at bedtime.
The Hebrew evening and morning sequence says something significant to us:
God puts his children to sleep so he can get his work done. "Sleep
is God's contrivance for giving us the help he cannot get into us when we
are awake," said George MacDonald.
In the evening fatigue overtakes us and we have to stop working. We lay
ourselves down to sleep and drift off into blessed oblivion for the next
6-8 hours, a state in which we are totally non­p;productive. But nothing
essential stops. Though we may leave many things undone and most projects
unfinished God is still on the job. "He gives to those he loves while
they sleep." The next morning his eyes sweep over us and he awakens
us to enjoy the benefits of all that he has done.
Most of us, however hit the floor running. We wolf down a Pop Tart and dash
out the door with our travel mug of coffee clutched in hand. We have to
be up and doing, getting things started and getting a world of things done.
That's because we do not understand that God has been working for us all
along. We have awakened into a world in which everything was started centuries
ago. God has been preparing the good works in which we find ourselves walking
throughout the day.
Rest; rest in Him---
Your work is through.
Lean back on his great power;
He'll work for you,
Examining our hearts
Why do we work so long and so hard? Why do we impose such tyrannical routines
on ourselves? We know better; we talk about slowing down some day, but we
never do. What are the motives that chain us to our desks twelve to eighteen
hours of the day?
Charles Lamb asked, "Who first invented work and bound the free and
holiday­p;rejoicing spirit down," and then blamed it all on "Sabbathless
Satan" who tied us to "that dry drudgery at the desk's dark wood."
There's something to Lamb's conclusion; the devil is the one who plants
in our heads the notion that everything depends on us.
But most of us can't complain too much about the devil. Our chains are self-imposed.
Our work is our drug of choice, our escape from the perplexity and pain
of the world. We're looking for a fix.
Or, we're looking for something to fix: We assume responsibility for everything.
Our whole life is a struggle to make themselves perfect and achieve perfection
in others. We aim to set everything right that's wrong, forgetting that
God is the only one who can set anything right. He's the fixer.
For some, work may be our sacrificial offering for sin, our expiation for
the plagues of our past. Like monks in their cells we devote ourselves to
drudgery, denying ourselves and flagellating ourselves hoping somehow to
save ourselves from past sin and guilt, or to prove that we're really not
so bad after all.
For others, work provides opportunities to be important! We want to be wanted.
That need creates the context in which we cultivate our work habits. We
complain about call slips and incessant demand, but it's our need to be
needed that drives the demand.
And then there are those of us who actually believe we're indispensable---that
even God can't do without us. I recall praying with Carolyn one night after
returning from a week­p;end trip and thanking God for "taking care
of things while I was gone," at which point Carolyn chuckled and wryly
asked, "Who do you think takes care of things while you're here?"
Once we get it into our heads that God really doesn't need us to get his
work done we can begin to deal with our manic work habits. We can take off
now and then. We can take an hour each day or a portion of a day each week
to be alone with God. We can take time to "howdy" with our friends
and neighbors. We can take a day­p;off each week. We can take a vacation.
We can miss a meeting or two. We can leave some tasks undone at the end
of each day and go home. We can take time to talk and take long walks with
our spouses and kids. We can hunt, fish and golf with our friends. (All
of which reminds me of a conversation between Philipp Melanchthon and Martin
Luther: "Martin," Melanchthon said, "this day we will discuss
the governance of universe." Luther replied, "This day you and
I will go fishing and leave governance of the universe to God.")
We don't have to be dogged and driven by our work. The good news is God's
High speed lives are essentually godless lives. We have no time to hear
Time out for God is not for a few contemplative, cloistered souls who have
time for such things. We all have time if we know that God is minding the
The Fathers of the Church well understood the importance of what they called
otium sanctum (holy leisure). They knew that we cannot give ourselves
to spiritual things and deepen our relationship to him if we are obsessed
with a multitude of things to do and always on the go. Love for God is a
tender plant that can only mature when it has time to grow. God cannot be
loved on the run.
Sometimes, when I think of my own work habits, it occurs to me that my work
of ministry is the greatest enemy of my love for God. I can get so busy
doing things for him that I scarcely have time for him.
My colleagures share my compulsions: We have calls to make, books to read,
meetings to attend, messages to prepare. Our calendars are filled with appointments,
our days are consumed with engagements, our minds are crammed with projects.
There's scarcely a moment when we're not scheduled. We don't have time for
But then I think of Mary and Martha, in whose home Jesus was frequently
entertained. He always found it perfectly suited to his needs. One day while
he was resting there he began to teach and Mary, who knew that there was
no work for her to do, sat at his feet, listening to what he had to say.
But Martha, who had much to do for Jesus, hustled about, "distracted
by all the preparations that had to be made," trying to make the house
more presentable, doing things for Jesus that he didn't want done at all.
Finally Jesus told her in his kindly way that what she was doing was much
ado about nothing. "Martha, Martha," he said, "You are anxious
and worried about many things. Only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen
what is better and it will not be taken away from her" (Luke 10:41).
We must not let the pressure of work---even the work of ministry---take
"what is better" away from us.
Martha was busy and hurried,
Serving the friend divine,
Cleansing the cups and platters,
Bringing the bread and wine;
But Martha was careful and anxious
Fretted in thought and in word,
She had no time to be sitting
While she was serving the Lord,
For Martha was "cumbered with serving,
Martha was "troubled" with "things"---
Those that would pass with the using---
She was forgetting her wings.
Mary was quiet and peaceful,
Learning to love and to live.
Mary was hearing His precepts,
Mary was letting Him give---
Give of the riches eternal,
Treasures of mind and of heart;
Learning the mind of the Master,
Choosing the better part.
Do we ever labor at serving
Till voices grow fretful and shrill,
Forgetting how to be loving,
Forgetting how to be still?
Do we strive for "things" in possession,
And toil for the perishing meat,
Neglecting the one thing needful---
Sitting at Jesus' feet?
Service is good when he asks it,
Labor is right in it's place,
But there is one thing better,
Looking up in his face;
There is so much he can tell us,
Truths that are precious and deep;
This is the place where he wants us,
Things are the things we can keep.
--Annie Johnson Flint
Holy leisure can be woven throughout the fabric of the day---a leisurely
center in the midst of our work where just for a moment or two we draw near
to the heart of God: remembering, reflecting, worshipping, centering on
Brother Lawrence describes this experience as "practicing the presence
of God." He wrote, "I make it my business to persevere in his
holy presence wherein I keep myself by a simple attention and a general
fond regard to God, which I refer to as an actual presence of God. Or, to
put it another way, an habitual, silent, and secret conversation of the
soul with God."
David wrote: "I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at
my right hand I will not be shaken. You fill me with joy in your presence"
(Psalms 16:8, 11).
Shabbat can lead us into an hour, an afternoon, a day of solitude and silence:
reading, praying, thinking, reflecting, journaling. A day to listen and
receive, not for others but for the simple nurture of our own souls.
Shabbat can turn our Sunday into a Sabbath experience if we so choose---our
day for worship, instruction, contemplation and prayer. Paul, however, warns
us not to turn our choice of a day into sabbatarianism and require it of
ourselves or others. That's legalism---adding our requirements to God's
word---and puts us back into slavery. Any day will do.
Shabbat can result in time to cultivate relationships---with our family
and other friends. Relationships don't just happen. They caused and causation
and cultivation takes time---time we can afford if we know that God is staying
on the job. I have a self­p;employed friend who has decided to work four
days each week so he can have three days a week to spend with his family.
It may cost him some in income, but, as he puts it, the benefits are better.
Shabbat can produce a day, an afternoon or an hour to simply enjoy God's
handiwork. A day to be non­p;productive and appreciate God's productivity
in the world. What makes this a true Sabbath experience is relating everything
to God's activity: thanking him in the course of the day and at the end
of the day for all the joy he has brought into it---as David did:
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge
And then there are those Sabbath experiences that are pure fun: reading
a Pat MacManus book and laughing out loud, listening to Keith Green or Kenny
G. or a bird song in your back yard, arranging a bowl of flowers, tying
a fly, taking a walk down the green belt with a friend (or without), puttering
around in the yard, reading a child a book, or reading a children's book,
taking a nap.
Sometimes I start out to fish the South Fork of the Boise River and end
up sitting on a warm rock. I think of Winnie the Pooh who was crossing a
stream and half­p;way across sat down to rest for awhile. "The sun
was so warm Pooh had decided to go on being Pooh in the middle of the stream
for the rest of the morning." Let's hear it for Pooh. He understood
We must not understand Shabbat to mean lethargy or sloth---what Dorothy
Sayers described as that "great, sprawling, slug­p;a-bed sin."
Sloth is one of the Seven Deadly Sins.
The rhythm God created is work and rest. When we rest we ought to rest well;
when we work, we ought to work hard. As old Satchelfoot Paige used to say,
"When I work, I work hard; when I sit, I sit loose."
A word for shirkers
"In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you,
brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live
according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know
how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with
you, nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it. On the contrary,
we worked night and day, labouring and toiling so that we would not be a
burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right
to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow.
For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: 'If a man will not
work [lit: "does not want to work"], he shall not eat.' We hear
that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such
people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn
the bread they eat. And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is
right. If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special
note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed.
Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother" (2Thess.
This is not simply good advice; this an Apostolic command backed up by the
authority of our Lord Jesus Christ. Charles Lamb not withstanding, it wasn't
"Sabbathless Satan" who "first invented work," but rather
God, who saw it's need. "Six days you shall labor," he said. We
should, therefore, as Paul commands "settle down and earn the bread
Paul himself set the example:
"We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat
anyone's food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and
day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you.
We did this, not because we did not have a right to such help, but in order
make ourselves a model for you to follow" (3:7-9).
Paul felt strongly about the need to work---so strongly that though he had
the right to be supported in his ministry he set aside that right to set
the pace for others. He paid the price to make his point.
A word for workers
"As for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right
Work can be mindless and menial, offering little challenge or stimulation,
and it can be humbling---pushing brooms or pushing Widgets---but work done
for God's sake is noble, no matter what you do.
Work is valuable in itself when it's service rendered to God. Paul writes
in another place, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart,
as working for the Lord, not for men since you know that you will receive
an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are
serving" (Colossians 3:24).
In all our work we work for our Lord and no service rendered to him is trivial.
He sees our labor and it matters to him.
That perspective gives significance to everything we do, even the work we
think no one notices or appreciates. Michelangelo, painting in some dark
corner of the Sistine ceiling was asked by his helper why he was investing
so much time and effort on a part of the painting that no one would ever
see. "God will see!" he said.