Deuteronomy 5:12-14 “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…”
Does it seem incredible that God would find it necessary to give us a commandment telling us to take a day off and get some rest? Who doesn’t want to do that? And yet, we struggle to keep our work in its proper place in life. Sometimes we forget that work itself is good. We get tired of doing the same old thing in our dead-end job. We look for ways to get out of as many responsibilities as we can. Get-rich-quick schemes with their promise that we can be independently wealthy and never work another day in our lives begin to sound good to us. God’s good gift of work seems like a drag.
On the other hand, sometimes we give work too large a role in our lives. We become blinded by our thirst for success. It steadily climbs our life’s priority list, past our friends, past our children, past our spouse, and finally, past our God. We worship at the altar of the Almighty Career. We become irritated by other things and other people who demand our time, or we simply ignore them.
At other times, work may be merely the slave-driving archangel in service to other false gods in our lives. We become slaves to our work because we worship a false god called “Higher Standard of Living.” We won’t take time off because we are haunted by a frightening demon named, “Don’t Trust God to Provide.” We sacrifice our time to appease these gods and demons, and in the process sacrifice our relationships, our health, and ultimately our souls.
This is why God must confront us with a commandment. “Stop it!” he says. “Stop rushing through life like I don’t even exist. Give me a day. Put your work aside. Take some time for some rest.”
Of course, you and I don’t literally keep the Sabbath like God asked the Old Testament people to do. The Sabbath day was Saturday. After Jesus came, the Apostle Paul tells us the Sabbath days were like Jesus’ shadow, a long shadow when the sun is low in the sky, stretching way out ahead of him, telling us that Jesus was coming. Now that we can see Jesus himself, we don’t concentrate on his shadow anymore. We are free to worship him on the day of our choosing, and the vast majority of Christians have chosen to make that day Sunday. If circumstances warranted, we could even choose a different day if we wanted.
But though the day has changed, God’s intent for us behind the Sabbath has not. We need time for rest. Your body takes quite a beating out there, with all the long hours of work it puts in, all the long years of stress and strain it has endured both on the job and at home. It needs some time to recover.
More importantly, our souls need a rest. We can pile up a large load of guilt in the course of a week. Every day your faith is put to the test in some way or another. Maybe one little frustration doesn’t shake your trust in God’s promises too severely, but the steady grind of bad news, failed plans, and painful losses wears on our trust in God. It strains the limits of our faith. We need Jesus’ invitation, “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.”
And so, while giving God a day is a commandment, something we do, at the end of this commandment God has hidden his gospel promise. We will always need forgiveness for our attitudes about giving God the time he deserves and we need, but God intends to use that time to give us just that forgiveness, and make this a day of rest for our souls.