Keeping the Sabbath: A Healthy Habit

Still
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HEALTH ALERT: Your physical and emotional well-being—and maybe even your very survival—depends on your obedience to the natural rhythm of Sabbath.

God built a need for rest into the very fabric of our selves. If we ignore it, we get sick. All work and no play makes us dull, listless, and restless. We become impatient, angry, neurotic, and distressed. We feel time-driven and obsessed with productivity.

There’s a word that describes this restless state. It’s the word “disease,” or “dis-ease.” Without a Sabbath rest, our bodies, minds, and spirits become ill at ease. They break down. Like gasoline engines filled with the wrong mixture of fuel, they conk out.

A Change of Pace

Every seven days we need what the Hebrews called sabat. Translated literally, sabat means “a change of pace.” Even our best work, if done to excess, becomes a heavy burden.

If you deliver mail on foot for a living, try sitting and writing a letter to a friend on the Sabbath. If you work at a desk with a computer, take a Sabbath hike and breathe the outdoor air. If you care for children or are in a “helping” profession, make sure your Sabbath rest includes some time alone.

Every seven days our continuing good health requires that we withdraw from good labor and reconsecrate ourselves to God. We need to dance a bit, re-create ourselves, and call the Sabbath “a delight” (Isa. 58:13). We need “the resurrection and the life.”

But the Sabbath is only one-seventh of a week. What can we do during the other six days to experience Sabbath rest? The psalmist says, “Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous ordinances” (Ps. 119:164, NRSV). Try to plan daily “rest stops”—times of withdrawal and consecration. Rather than turning on the television, spend time in prayerful meditation. Be still. Direct your mind to wait on God. Exhale your carnal attitudes, and inhale the fruit of the Spirit.

Through prayerful rest stops we can renew fellowship with God and get in tune with God’s Word. We can unearth resources for compassion and receive wisdom on how to work in a God-glorifying manner.

A Place “Beyond Quiet”

Sabbath rest can also fill us with tranquility in the midst of oppressive situations.

If you wonder where all your stress (and perhaps your depression) is coming from, consider the balance of your life. Sabbath rest is the best anti-depressant and anti-anxiety prescription available.

Proverbs 14 says, “A tranquil mind gives life to the flesh, but passion makes the bones rot” (v. 30). Sabbath rest is the key to tranquility. The word tranquil comes from the Latin words trans (beyond) and quillus (quiet). A tranquil person is free from outside agitation and ruled with a calmness from beyond that “gives life to the flesh.”

Conversely, wrong passion “makes the bones rot.” It makes life fall into disarray and become wasted. Wrong passion is all work and no play, all labor and no worship, all self and no Christ.

By keeping Sabbath we can achieve a state of uprooted passions and reintegrated passion for Christ—a deep inner tranquility sustained by watchful prayer.

For your health’s sake, keep the Sabbath. As a person more in tune with God, you will live better and be better!

Reflection

We do not have to be passive victims of a world that wants to entertain and distract us. We can make decisions and choices. A spiritual life in the midst of our energy-draining society requires us to take conscious steps to safeguard that inner space where we can keep our eyes fixed on the beauty of [Christ]. —Henri Nouwen

About the Author

Rev. Clifford Bajema is a retired pastor in the Christian Reformed Church.
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