Oh Lord, my God, it is a gift to come to you in prayer at the end of another full day. This day has held so much, and it was by no means a “sabbath.” From music team rehearsal before church and leading the Sunday worship music to preparing lunch for my family… from walking around the Jubilee Days carnival (and riding rides! Tilt O Whirl!) to shopping for more plants for my new garden… from working around the house to walking to Endolyne Joe’s for the fried chicken supper… you have filled my day with goodness, laughter, and grace. I am grateful. And I am tired. I pray now as I read your word, that I’ll turn to you with all my heart, mind and spirit, giving you my undivided attention. Tune my heart to sing your praise.
I had planned to read Mark 6:30-44 tonight, but I only got two verses in before I had to stop, because I knew the “word” God has for me tonight was right there. So read Mark 6:30-31.
The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.”
I don’t remember the last time I rested. Honestly, for the last seven years or so, I have struggled to make time to rest. Several years ago, I was leading music at a women’s retreat in Virginia Beach, and the theme the speaker chose for the weekend was Sabbath. All four of her talks dealt with the importance of making sabbath rest a regular part of your life. I was so convicted that weekend—I knew God was speaking to me. Then I came back home to New York, and my pastor announced that he would be spending the next month preaching on Sabbath-keeping and living a life in which the sabbath rest was part of the regular rhythm. I had every intention of returning to observing a real day of rest (as I had in my late twenties), but it never quite happened. Now, four years later, I read a verse like Mark 6:31, and I want to cry.
I sleep really well at night. But I have not had a day of rest—a day without work, a day of leisure, in a long time. My tendency is always to go, go, go—to fill every moment of every day. I don’t do my “job” work on Sundays, but I stay busy all day, doing housework (we moved in May, and I am still not unpacked!) or reorganizing closets or paying bills or grocery shopping or squeezing in some exercise or planning for worship at church or any myriad of other things that occupy my time.
Years ago, I observed Monday as a day of rest. I did not use my computer (except to write devotions on occasion). I spent hours—HOURS—in prayer and scripture study. I did not see other people. I did not answer my phone. I often didn’t even change out of my pajamas. I would cook, but only because I find it to be quite therapeutic and relaxing. That rhythm of life was wonderful and very fruitful. Most of the writing I did for Discipleship Journal and Pray! Magazine came out of that season. At that time, I was working as a consultant and freelance writer, so I was able to make my own schedule. Later, I took a full time job in a corporate setting, so I was commuting to work five days a week. Yet I continued to work as a freelance writer, and I continued to serve in ministry, speaking at retreats, leading worship, and doing a lot of volunteer work at my church. That is the season that I got into the practice of working Monday through Friday at my job, then devoting my weekend to the work of ministry.There was no more sabbath for me after that.
That was seven years ago. I have never found my way back. I have had periods—brief ones—when I have made a half-hearted effort. But real, faithful sabbath keeping takes planning and preparation, especially in this day and age and place, when the cultural norm does not support sabbath keeping.
Jesus heard the tales of his disciples fruitful ministry, and instead of saying, “Great! Let’s go longer, harder, higher!” he said, “Great. Let’s disappear for a while and rest.” That is just not my natural instinct. The more “success” I have, the more I feel driven to work and keep on working! And as I read this passage, I was convicted once again by the fact that I am wrong. My perspective and practice is wrong, wrong, wrong.
Does this resonate with you? Are you driven to be in motion all the time, squeezing productivity out of every waking moment? Can I get an amen?!
We have to stop. We have to rest. I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but somehow I must do the work of planning and preparing, so that I can begin observing a sabbath. Who’s with me?