I began a reassessment—or maybe I should say that God initiated a reassessment—of how I think about the Sabbath several years ago, after reading an article in the Harvard Business Review entitled, “The Making of a Corporate Athlete.” I enjoyed the article so much that I bought the book by the article’s authors. I was struck by their thesis: that the key to high performance in an athletic or a corporate setting is regular, rhythmic oscillation between the expenditure of energy (stress) and energy renewal (recovery).
As I dove deeper into the authors’ descriptions of recovery routines—the three dribbles and deep breath by the basketball player at the free-throw line, the full month away from tennis every year by the successful tennis pro, and the one full rest day every week that ensured maximum performance during the other six days of the week—I thought, “This is genius!” And then I thought, “Wait … I think I’ve heard this somewhere before.”
And, of course, I had. I knew that the Christian Sabbath had its roots in the creational order, in the rest day that God took after creating the world—that the rhythm of six days of labor followed by a day of rest and recovery was built into the creation paradigm. I knew that Jesus had said in Mark 2:27 that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath—that biblical commands to observe a day of rest and worship were intended for humankind’s benefit and flourishing. But I had somehow managed to miss for the most part a truth that was clearly presented in the testimony of Scripture … and confirmed in common grace insights in the pages of the Harvard Business Review. What for me sometimes felt like a burden is in fact a blessing. The Lord’s Day, the Christian Sabbath, a day every week devoted wholly to worship and rest and fellowship, really is a wonderfully good gift—one that we ought to cherish, and preserve, and take advantage of.
Well, how so, you might ask? How is the Sabbath a gift? And how ought we to use it? First, it is good for us to have a day that’s set aside for worship. The act of gathering as a fellowship of believers to hear God’s Word preached, to pray together, to sing God’s praises together, and to participate in the sacraments is a critical way to reorient ourselves on a regular basis in the midst of the constant onslaught of competing idols. Second, it is good for us to have a day that’s set aside for physical rest. Life is busy, and running non-stop will only ensure that we burn out. It’s good for us to have a regular day set aside for emotional rest. We easily become weighted down with the emotional burdens of life in a broken world. Observance of a Sabbath rest provides space for us to process those burdens, to set them in context, to bring them before the Lord, and to seek counsel from others. The Sabbath provides time for meaningful fellowship as well—for maintaining and developing the relationships that are critical to our flourishing as beings created in the image of a triune, relational God.
Sabbath observance also aids us in living deliberately. If you’re really going to extricate yourself from the mad rush of 24-7-365 living in the 21st century, you have to be purposeful about it. We have to think ahead, and plan ahead, and perhaps even work ahead (like the Israelites collecting two days worth of manna on the sixth day of the week) in order to observe a Sabbath. Doing so frees us up on the Lord’s Day to give ourselves to worship, rest, and fellowship, and it also helps to develop in us a habit of deliberate, intentional, purposeful living that is increasingly rare in this world.
This article originally appeared in View, the magazine of Covenant College (Spring 2016), 27. Used with permission.