Friday, August 3, 2012

Sunday Isn't Really A Day Of Rest

I'm sitting at the beach, on vacation with my family (see the view from our room below), and realizing the  importance of true rest. And as I'm reflecting on it, it seems that churches seem to have forgotten what the Sabbath really is. God said, "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work…" (Exodus 20:8-10; Leviticus 23:3; Jeremiah 17:22; etc) This holy day is supposed to be a day of rest.

This crucial aspect needs to be built into your church culture and routines. How are you guys doing this?

Important Note: I'm not advocating a return to the Law of the Old Testament. While the Sabbath was included in the Law, it preceded the law. It began at creation when God rested on the seventh day (Genesis 2:2-3). I'm not saying we need to return to precise, one-size-fits-all rules like those of the Old Testament Law. I am saying we need to examine our churches and see if we are living out this universal principle at least in some form. One day a week--to name the general principle--God wants us to stop producing , stop laboring, and rest. Are you doing this?

The standard answer for churches is that we do this on Sunday. In fact, that's why we have church on Sunday, because it's the holy day we dedicate to the Lord. But think about it for a minute.

Does your heart go to a place of rest on Sunday? Among all the good things that happen on Sunday, is rest a normal feature?

Rest, defined by Webster's dictionary is:

  1. the refreshing quiet or repose of sleep: a good night's rest.
  2. refreshing ease or inactivity after exertion or labor: to allow an hour for rest.
  3. relief or freedom, especially from anything that wearies, troubles, or disturbs.
  4. a period or interval of inactivity, repose, solitude, or tranquility: to go away for a rest.
  5. mental or spiritual calm; tranquility.

Does that sounds like Sunday in your church? Or does Sunday sound more like this:
Hurry to get your family out of the door…
So you can get there early to volunteer (because everyone who's serious about Jesus volunteers at church), then…
Head to lunch…
Catch a few hours of quiet, then…
Come back to evening church/youth group, then…
Get your kids homework done (that you didn't do earlier) and get ready for Monday

For the most part, we've taken a day of rest and made a day of labor for the kingdom of God.

Just because it's fun or meaningful doesn't mean it's rest. Just because it's about God doesn't mean it's rest. God said His work of creating on the first six days was good--even very good at the end. But he still rested and didn't create anything new. Just because God calls us to gather regularly (and He does), and just because those gatherings are good for us doesn't make it restful.

So maybe you're a pastor and your day off is Monday (the most typical day off for church staff). You get your rest then. When is the rest day for your members? Because if you think they're resting on Sunday, you're wrong. If they're doing all the things you're pressuring them to do, they're not resting on Sunday. If you expect them to be resting on Saturday, then make that very clear. And don't call Sunday your Sabbath day--call it your work hard for the Lord day. Because that's what most churches have made it.

In our member-driven church (called Collage), we make an effort to do this in 3 ways:

  1. Simple schedule--we only have one official meeting on Sundays, leaving the rest of the week open for family time and being a part of the community...and resting.
  2. Sunday afternoon start time--we currently meet at 4pm on Sundays, in part to make meals together easier and more varied and in part to easy the Sunday morning stress.
  3. Taking some Sundays off--from time to time we cancel our services to give our people the chance to truly rest. We did it for Mother's Day (see my earlier post on that) and a few other days each year just to give people a chance to rest.

Resting is a powerful and spiritual experience. Don't underestimate it. Don't get sucked into being busy for Jesus and missing the greater choice like Martha did (Luke 10:38-42). Exercise restraint and build rest in to your church culture. And do it on purpose. God reminds us again and again--I think in part because we need to be reminded to rest. Many of us don't drift towards regular rest, but away from it. Help your people and build in healthy--even holy--rituals of rest.

So, what's your rest plan for your church?


  1. Scott, A number of years ago I heard God clearly say "Which one of My ten commandments can you violate and not be in sin?". Of course the answer is none. "Then why do you not take a day of rest?"..I did not have a good answer but I repented and resolved to change. It is one of the most obvious truths most often ignored in our culture.

    Now I ask that question to those He allows me to shepard.

    Great blog! I pray that you have a rest filled vscation. Alan

    1. Very well said, Alan. Not only do we ignore the commandments to rest, our culture even rewards and praises those who overwork. And I don't just mean American culture, I mean American church culture. Maybe we ought to have "most restful" awards to counter that--though I don't know how you evaluate who wins. :)

      Oh, and we just got back and our vacation was restful and wonderful!