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The Sabbath Sabbatical

By David Olshine | Director of Youth Ministries at Columbia International University and author of more than 15 books | July 9 2008

One of the great perks my university offers is a paid sabbatical. Every three and a half years full-time faculty may take a semester off. This past fall I took one.

Some days my big decision was, “Do I drink decaf or caffeine? Watch ESPN or go back to bed? Pray or read? Go to the gym or be lazy?’’ Even so, I gained a few insights on Sabbath that might be helpful.

Called to “Shabbat”

We are all called by God to “Shabbat” because God modeled it.

God commands us to rest because He rested. The Hebrew word for Sabbath, Shabbat, means “to cease, to stop.” When God had completed His work, on the seventh day He rested (Genesis 2:2).

I’ve always had trouble understanding how the Lord, who does not “sleep nor slumber,” needs rest. Why does the almighty God who never gets tired deserve a break today?

The Hebrew language seems to suggest God started a new rhythm. It was a movement from doing to being. If God needed to cease, what makes us think we can keep up with the frenetic pace that drives many of us to workaholism and burned-out lives?

Speed Bumps

God established boundaries for humans to slow down.

In God’s Top Ten (Exodus 20), God gave us rule Number 4. Six days we shall get all the work done and on the seventh day we are not to do any work. (Doesn’t that indict most people in the ministry today?)

The Sabbath principle is meant to protect us from ourselves, from busyness, the “tyranny of the urgent” and a lack of quality time with family, friends and God. The Sabbath teaches us we are human beings, not human doings. We need margins to guard us, and the Sabbath sets the tone.

Free to Be

Sabbath teaches us about true freedom.

Deuteronomy 5:12-15 reminds us again of the importance of setting aside a day from work to worship. In this passage, however, something is mentioned that wasn’t stated in Exodus 20:8-11. In Deuteronomy 5:15, we are to “remember that you were slaves and that the Lord your God brought you out of here …” The observance of the Sabbath day, according to the text, links the Hebrew slavery and the concept of freedom with the Sabbath.

God is trying to teach us avoidance of the Sabbath will create bondage and slavery; adherence to the Sabbath will create freedom.

Intimate with God

The Sabbath rest was created to experience intimacy with God.

Hebrews 4:8-10 says there’s a rest for God’s people. This “rest” is not about naps or sleeping in, but about going deeper with Jesus. We are scared of getting close to God, either because He won’t speak to us—or fearful He might! Sabbath is a time to get quiet, become more silent than we ever have before, and embrace solitude with God. How do we enter this rest?

Paid youth workers need to take off 24 hours of Shabbat besides the weekend. I meet youth workers who are frantic on Saturday or Sunday and then keep going on all week long. Break the ministry addiction: Develop a new pace! Volunteers in youth ministry also need a ceasing. Take a day off and “fast” from the computer, cell phone or TV. You might just enjoy that “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). If God took a “Shabbat,” how much more should we as humans take a rest? Or do you think you are more than human?

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