In Genesis 2:2–3, Scripture tells us that “on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made” (KJV). In response to this brief passage and other passages of Scripture about honoring the Sabbath, many Christians have practiced a Sabbath rest each Sunday. Some Christians have had that rest forced upon them. I am reminded of the description of Almanzo Wilder’s boyhood in Farmer Boy, wherein the family was required either to sit reading the Bible or to sit doing absolutely nothing on the Sabbath.
I have wrestled with this notion of what the Sabbath rest means and of discerning the proper place of leisure in my life. Here I will share my thoughts, not as a prescription, but rather as an invitation for you to ponder these ideas and to share them in discussion, if you would like.
Going back to the Genesis passage, I notice that God “rested from all his work which God created and made.” There is no indication that God took a vacation from His involvement with His creation, just that the creation phase had ended. After all, we know from Colossians 1:16–17 that Jesus was involved in creation and even now is actively maintaining it: “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.”
God is never uninvolved. He never takes a vacation. He is always with us. In striving toward godliness, then, how do we decide what to do with our leisure time?
You have probably heard many ideas about how we should handle the Sabbath. Perhaps we should not perform any work. Some families like to patronize “Christian” businesses, such as Chick-Fil-A, which is not open for business on Sundays as a matter of solidarity. Maybe it is wrong to patronize any businesses on Sundays because we may be contributing to a requirement for some Christians to work when it would be better (for whom?) if they did not do so. Some say we should not engage in consumerism of any kind on Sundays, because doing so provides a means of distinguishing ourselves from the world.
Another idea is that we should invest ourselves in works of service, which is another way of distinguishing ourselves from the world. Serving others also can help foster meaningful relationships among members of the church family.
Our church hosts a monthly fellowship meal. All the members of the congregation are encouraged to attend, and guests are invited also. Each family is to bring a main dish for twelve people, as well as a side dish or dessert. On other Sundays, we are encouraged to participate in extending or receiving fellowship with our church family on a private basis.
Neither of these activities is required or enforced; however, based on my experience, cooking and transporting a meal for twelve or extending hospitality to a few other families for the afternoon is a lot of…. work! Sometimes even going to another family’s home and enjoying their hospitality feels like a lot of work after a tiring week and a full morning at church.
What about the idea of enjoying a recreational activity on the Sabbath? I am thinking of activities such as playing sports, watching a movie, or playing board games. I know some Christians who like to take long naps on Sunday afternoon. (No names will be revealed here.)
Sometimes I find myself looking around at neighbors who appear to be living their lives with nary a thought of what else they might, or should, be doing, and I vacillate between feelings of jealousy and shame. I know they are not considering how they might honor God, but as His child, I am called to do so. Even so, sometimes it is hard to fight the desires of my flesh.
How, then, should I spend the Sabbath? For me, attending the worship service to listen to God’s Word being preached and participating in the Lord’s Supper are means of grace that feed my soul. Taking a respite from the cares of the world and fellowshipping with my church family is like visiting an oasis; the time spent there is refreshing, equipping me with grace and hope as I prepare to face the demands of the coming week. Beyond that, I do not feel compelled to prescribe for myself or others rules about exactly how I should spend the rest of the day, and neither do I succumb to the pressures of others to do or to avoid certain activities.
Instead, I rely on God’s grace as I plan my time. It may involve socializing with my church family or my extended biological family. It may involve going to a restaurant, taking a walk, taking a nap, or shopping. God is with me always, and I strive to honor Him in all I do. How do you spend your Sabbath?