Are you always working? What does that say about your God?

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Ezekiel 20:12 And I gave them my Sabbath days of rest as a sign between them and me. It was to remind them that I am the LORD, who had set them apart to be holy.

Last week, as August turned into September, we read God’s words to the Hebrew captives in Babylonia. For the first time, I saw the irony: teaching about Sabbath rest right before the Labor Day weekend.

Here’s a question for you: How would you describe Americans? What 3 adjectives would you use?

If you mention – workaholics, then we’re on the same wave-length. Americans BRAG about working long hours. It’s a virtue to be trumpeted, a boy scout merit badge to be admired by others. In culture at large and IN the church! How did this backward way of viewing life and organizing our seasons come about?

It certainly wasn’t the goal of government, which over decades enacted saner labor laws. NOR did technological innovators foresee work slavery as an unintended consequence. The 40-hour work week and inventions for both home and shop were meant to give us leisure. This slower pace would provide more time to connect and enjoy family, friends and neighbors. Evenings and weekends were margin we needed to rest and re-create. A time to STOP, look upward to God and outward to people. Yet culture did little to change our views of work and rest.Yet culture did little to change our views of work and rest. With the ‘freed up time’ we just did more stuff, more busy-ness.

What about Christians, those in the church? We’re no different than pagan culture. American seminaries even in the early part of the 20th century began straying from taking God’s Word as true, good and authoritative. Evangelical Christians today look, by and large, indistinguishable from their unbelieving colleagues.

Results? Pure insanity. ‘I’m so busy‘ has become a badge of honor.

Let’s look at the time of our agricultural and biblical ancestors, the Hebrews. When God gave His Law to Moses and the redeemed former ‘slaves’, everyone worked 7 days a week. Being commanded to keep the Sabbath would have been a crazy idea. Especially during the different harvest seasons. Unfavorable weather and natural enemies such as blight or pests were feared.

Trusting God enough to ‘remember the Sabbath and keep it holy’ proved impossible to obey. Generations as well as current cultural norms taught that your crops and your livestock were your financial security.

Like us today, it was easier to live by sight than by faith in the unseen God.

God’s 4th commandment and call to rest (He knows what our bodies need!) one day out of seven along with the holy days set aside to worship God cost the Hebrews a lot. Obeying them meant living by faith in the God who had covenanted with them and who promised to provide. They had to walk by faith and NOT by sight. They had to rely on God and NOT on what they and others had done for hundreds of years (i.e. use common sense) as Proverbs 3:5 commands:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.

In our assigned reading this week, we read the LORD’s explanation to His people through the prophet Ezekiel. God patiently pointed out two purposes for His good gift of the Sabbath:

  • to remind them that the One they were called to trust at all times, especially on those Sabbaths that fell on sunny, dry days right in the middle of a harvest was the One who created the universe. He had covenanted to take care of them. In other words, He was ABLE and GOOD.
  • to remind them that they had been INTENTIONALLY separated and made different from their pagan neighbors…..they belonged to the LORD for HIS purposes, which were larger than their immediate need to get the harvest in before the weather changed.

So, back to the stereotypical workaholic American. What new thought did the Holy Spirit give me when I arrived at Ezekiel 20:12? Just this:

When we continue to work longer than we HAVE to, to get our work done, then we are acting like pagans, like those who have NO living God to depend on .

The workaholic Christian, whether a mom at home with kids or dad at work in an office or two breadwinners managing both work and kids – they broadcast to their watching neighbors/co-workers that ALL depends on THEIR efforts.

I know. Because I used to be that kind of teacher, one who believed IT was all up to me. Over the years, as the Lord pried my fingers off of ‘my free time’ on weekends to do lesson plans, He surprised me by showing me ways to be more effective with the time DURING the school week. Sundays DID evolve into days with more rest.

And by grace He has continued to deepen my trust in Him, to accomplish each day only what is ordained. I’m able to stop work and leave the undone things to His holy keeping for the morrow.

As I have pondered this reminder about the seriousness of Sabbath keeping, I’ve been asking myself: What does Sabbath look like for New Testament Christians? Here are my thoughts:

  • Are we called to live the entire Sabbath day (24 hours) differently from the other 6 days?
  • Alternatively, is it possible to have Sabbath rest 1/7th of each day, during the waking hours? What would that look like? Given that I fence off 8 hours a night for sleep, what is 1/7 of the remaining 16 hours? (2.3 hours a day.) So, what would qualify as Sabbath rest for those 2.3 hours or 2 hours and 17 minutes? (thus, is birthed a legalist Sabbath worshipper……)
  • OR…..is Sabbath rest for Christians more a posture, a heart leaning? Recall Paul’s guidance in 2 Cor 9:6-7 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

Let’s look back at the text in Ezekiel. God gave the people the Sabbath to REMIND them of two facts: Who He is and Who THEY are.

Thinking through work and rest and discussing it with Mike yesterday on our Saturday hike, (thank you, Sweetheart, for pointing out the danger of falling into legalism!), leads me to place this question in the category of issues best left up to the individual conscience, as informed by God’s Word.

But working more than is necessary for an honest day’s labor does not build our case for the Good News of a kind Father who provides what we need, including rest.

As you enjoy your Monday holy-day, leave a few minutes to sit outside, soaking in beauty and maybe meditate on tangible ways you could implement to show the world something True, Beautiful and Good about our God.

A summer sabbath rest and fast

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“Indeed, my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and they have dug cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”  Jeremiah 2:13

My thinking has always been:  Maybe THIS essay or article will contain that ONE nugget that will shift my perspective and change my life!  And so I consume, in hope, perpetually seeking, never satisfied.

In my pride I compulsively forward, post to Facebook or print out and snail-mail what I think YOU might benefit from.  And I write blogs, this one and my other at Surprised by Logic.  As though I have something unique or worth trading your free time reading.

Something I read over Memorial Day weekend stopped me in my tracks.

I realize that my motives tend not always to be pure in what I post on Facebook.  There’s a little ‘provocatrice’ in me that is neither necessary, winsome, nor gentle or humble. Furthermore, given that my goal IS to show Christ as all satisfying, then what I sometimes upload works against that goal. Why go out of my way to offend certain colleagues who happen to follow me on Facebook?

Furthermore, another book I’m reading and rereading has shown me to be always hungry and greedy for more input and never satisfied.  God showed me clearly on the same night as that first ‘stop you in your tracks’ insight that His Word more powerfully salsifies than anything else one of us might write.

So I am taking a fast from reading on-line essays and blog posts.  And I’ve deactivated my Facebook account and unsubscribed to nearly all feeds.

To go along with combatting this insatiable thirst that drives me to broken cisterns, I will spare you burden of ‘yet one more post to read’ by not blogging these summer months.  A gift to you!

So I invite you to join me in turning away from the ephemeral artificial cyber world in order to drink from, to feed on that which lasts and satisfies: God’s Book of Nature and His supernatural written Word.  Then each day, once we have filled up on what is eternal, pure, true and beautiful, let us spend time focused on people, God’s very own image bearers.

May Grace and Peace from God the Father, and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit be yours in abundance!

Maria

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