Monday, September 24, 2007


by Nathan Brown

It is remarkable how small things can make a big difference. One of the things I appreciate about working at Signs Publishing Company—the Adventist church’s publishing house in Australia—is driving past the building on Friday evening and seeing the gates locked. It might be only a small thing but it is a visible symbol that we live and work by a different set of priorities.

And perhaps it is such a powerful symbol because it is so out of step with our society. We are increasingly pushed toward 24/7 work, communications and connectivity—and, at the same time as we begrudge such demands made on us, we expect it from others. And then there is the ceaseless chatter of media and news, the wash of information that sweeps over our consciousness.

In a recently published survey, researchers asked how many hours each day were spent on activities ranging from sleeping, working and spending time with friends to time spent online, talking on the mobile phone and listening to music. In Australia, respondents’ answers added up to an average of 37.5 hours a day (Lia Timson, “Home Alone,” Livewire). That means we are filling each day with a day-and-a-half of content. And that’s measuring only what we are doing, without factoring in what we feel we should be doing, what we know is most important and what we wish we could fit into our days.

No wonder so many of us are over-stimulated, stressed and tired. Even if not physically tired, our minds are stretched to capacity. While we may think it possible to fit so much activity in an average day by working on a variety of tasks at once while listening or watching various forms of media and communicating with our assorted gadgets, our heads still need space to catch-up, process, organise and rest.

That’s why we need places that shut their gates—and why I so appreciate working at such a place. That’s also why we need to make spaces in our lives when we turn off the gadgets and appliances, when we disconnect and choose not to feel guilty about it, when we are not defined merely by a job description, title or “to do” list, when we are determinedly not available, not working and not consuming.

And that’s why we need Sabbath. Sabbath is the space God creates for us to shut the gates and turn off the noise.

“The old, wise Sabbath says, Stop now. As the sun touches the horizon take the hand off the plough, put down the phone, let the pen rest on the paper, turn off the computer, leave the mop in the bucket and the car in the drive. There is no room for negotiation, no time to be seduced by the urgency of our responsibilities. We stop because there are forces larger than we that take care of the universe, and while our efforts are important, necessary and useful, they are not (nor are we) indispensable. . . . [S]o we are invited—nay, commanded—to relax and enjoy our relative unimportance, our humble place at a table in a very large world. The deep wisdom embedded in creation will take care of things for a while” (Wayne Muller, Sabbath)

At Signs—as with other church institutions—for at least one day, all the deadlines are unimportant and, belying business wisdom, the demands of customers and relationships with suppliers take second place. Yes, the business might operate more cost-effectively if we chose to work seven days per week. But this reflects our alternative priorities—a business that counts more than the bottom line and is not solely governed by supposed business imperatives.

And the alternative is one of rest and joy:
“Keep the Sabbath day holy. Don’t pursue your own interests on that day, but enjoy the Sabbath and speak of it with delight as the Lord’s holy day” (Isaiah 58:13, NLT)
Rather than an imposition on our already busy lives, Sabbath means we don’t have to be busy for at least one day each week—and that reordering of our priorities, our realisation of a larger view of life and the delight of God, will spill over into how we live and work the other days of our week.

So, beginning with Sabbath, let’s celebrate, seek first and find rest in the kingdom-life of God.


  1. I think the idea of rest on many levels is a great idea and practice. What I found limiting in my time as a SDA Christian was that the rest was derailed by a sense that it had to be on a certain day and that it had to be done in a particular way. This background tension, in my experience, created the very thing I was trying to rest from.

    In a much different sense I give myself permission to rest every day. The thing to be learned, for me, is how to bring how I feel and experience life on a day I rest, with me every day and in every situation.

    Rest, for me, is being in a state of peace, safety, confidence, clarity, and energy. These are certianly challenging in todays world and there is great value in a literal retreat to find these places.

    But lets not burden our rest with judgements and performance anxiety and exculsivity. I know you may not be endorsing this directly, but as long as there is the idea that rest has to be on a particular day for it to be valid, there is no rest. The Shadow has become the idol that hides the reality.

  2. Thanks for sharing your concerns. There is a balanced to be found between the duty/task of resting and the invitation to rest. But ironically sometime we need to be intentional (perhaps even "obligated") in resting or too often we just don't get to it.
    Mueller points out that one of the benefits of keeping Sabbath at a set time (and he particularly references the Jewish practice of beginning at sunset) is important because we might otherwise not get there. We don't rest, he argues, when we are finished because we are never finished. There's always more to do.
    In this way, the "imposition" of Sabbath at a time that is determined outside ourselves and our schedules is key to its reality.

  3. I have found it much better to pay attention to when I am tired. To me, awareness is far more valuable than rules. In a complex world I have never found a rule to be a complete solution.

    It seems much simpler to me to rest when I am tired.

  4. Are we in our "infinite wisdom
    ", trying to question God's reasons in giving us a set day to rest? Sabbath has nothing to do with sleeping or feeling obligated to stop and rest. It's a day to rest from my own pursuit of Salvation and rest totally in God's work FOR ME!!

    God blessed the hours of the Sabbath meaning that only those hours are specially "charged" when I come into a covenant to rest in HIM. I may choose to experience this feeling on Wednesday but the time will not bear the same "blessing of the Sabbath".

    It is clear that the hours of this day are special, more meaningful and have much more potential for being a blessed time than any other day. I find it 'restful' to trust God's blessing of this day. How does God do that? We might as well ask "how did God create light"? It's his way and it's his promise, how he does it, I don't know. I just rest in him.

    Our American, modern way of thinking requires reasons and explanations for everything and that in itself is a obstacle to experiencing the rest of the SAbbath and ultimately, of Salvation itself. I impose my own questioning on God's promise and find that I may have a point after all... It's a road very much traveled, one that leads ultimately to questioning God's place in my life.

    Maybe if I choose to see the Sabbath as a divine imposition, I wouldn't keep questioning myself to death and miss the rest I could have in Jesus.

    PS.: The social gospel needs to find a balance between resting in Him and working for Him...

  5. Andre posted "God blessed the hours of the Sabbath meaning that only those hours are specially 'charged' when I come into a covenant to rest in HIM. I may choose to experience this feeling on Wednesday but the time will not bear the same 'blessing of the Sabbath'."

    I have found no evidence for this what-so-ever. You are certainly free to form a rest by any context you choose.

    I also want to make it clear that I am not asking for a reason for everything. Plus an appeal to the 4th commandment is using an authoritarian based rationale. That, to me, is a block to rest. If I am to use subjective means to find rest, I rest when I feel tired, otherwise its not rest because there is nothing to rest from.

    There is also experiencial verification. I have yet to perceive that the Sabbath has any more 'charge' than any other day.

    On a rational, historical, and intuitive level I find it highly unlikely that a vastly superior being would communicate specific instructions through a book.

    And I'm not claiming "infinite wisdom" any more than you are claiming that you understand the Bible to say that true rest only occurs on the Sabbath.

  6. I think the real question when it comes to the Sabbath is one of authority. If God said he sanctified and blessed the seventh-day Sabbath, I can't turn around and say, "Er... I don't think so... I haven't really felt that.." It's a raw statement, he blessed and sanctified the day, that's it.. What more should he say?? The fact that he reiterated this thousands of years after Creation is proof enough that this was very meaningful to Him. And we'll keep the Sabbath in the new Earth...

    Then again, if I have a problem with the authority of the Scriptures, then that has little value....

    Does God have any authority whatsoever in my life, in this world or in the universe for that matter?

    Did God command the light to exist or did he simply suggest?

    Did God command the laws of nature or did he just suggest gravity should probably pull things downward?

    It's clear God has the authority to enforce things in this universe and some things are just not optional. Questioning the force of gravity will not work well for me... But the beauty is, when it comes to enjoying the blessings he commanded on the Sabbath, he lets me choose to do it not. It's up to me, but "his love constrains me" to do it His way... I can't stop thinking of all the billions of angels who merely live to do whatever God says... they must be the happiest creatures in the whole universe!

    Our modern, progressive questioning and hair-splitting confabulations fall flat when God's will and infinite wisdom starts. And how much more attractive my endless rationalizations, philosophies and insignificant experiences in this world start to look when I listen to myself speak!! Observing the seventh-day Sabbath takes me to the edge of the eternal, when God spoke and things were made, that distant and dark beginning. Then I see how small I am in my daft attempts to wrap my head around God...

    Ultimately, I think that these questions imply a deeper problem with who God is. I have to check myself everyday to see if I'm developing a problem with God. The only way to fix it is to confront God personally try to work it out, wouldn't that be a reason God created this day foreseeing the issues we would have with Him someday??

    My own experiential verification is that that I feel God's love on this day for me, a sinful, troubled and completely exhausted person (this is especially true about this week!).

    AND I can't wait to go to Him and work my issues with Him on a park somewhere (along with my 5 year-old and our Dachshund...)

  7. Andre,

    A little context probably helps. Some "observe" the Sabbath as a duty and get caught up in perfection theology, while others simply rest from physical/mental distractions and cease from over-stimulation one day per week, which is the point of Nathan's wonderful posting. Is this resting the same as your "observing" - do you follow it as a direct command from God - the same one given to the Jews on Sinai? Or are we "resting" (from our busy lives) because we are imitating God who rested from His works (it wasn't commanded at creation)?

    How one "observes" the Sabbath (whether it's the Jewish Sabbath or the Lord's Day [Sunday] Sabbath) depends on cultural, religious and social context. Show me ten Sabbatarians from denominations XYZ, I'll show you ten different ways to keep Sabbath.

    I think we as Adventists beat the Sabbath to a pulp as a "duty" and demand that it be done according to the "Adventist way," which is why our friend Richard repels it as an institutional imposition . Many Adventists don't even know how to properly "observe" a a practice of Christian (or even Jewish) faith. What we are left with is potluck, and hiking up a hill (cultural practice) or a much needed snooze because we are too busy with football, mowing the lawn, and shopping on Sundays to do so. Saturday becomes that day by default.

    What is true Sabbath observance besides the salvation rest we have in Christ? I'd love to hear practical examples of how to observe Sabbath in the biblical sense, and not in the Adventist sense, from Adventists. I think there's plenty of examples if you search through the early church accounts in scripture. And I would guess we fall drastically short of true sabbath keeping.

  8. Marcel, it's irrelevant to discuss the HOW of the Sabbath when we're questioning the WHY of the Sabbath. The discussion turned into a question of God's authority to establish a given day to stop and rest hence my posts.

    About other churches keeping the Sabbath, they can hardly be called to the discussion as their Sabbath "Sunday" is a non-entity in Scriptures. Because of their rejection of the Sabbath rest, they can hardly substantiate acceptable ways to keep the Sabbath. My experience in other Christian churches has shown that if anything, their animosity against the Biblical Sabbath makes them want to observe Sunday in a much different way from the "jewish way" or "the adventist way" or any way whatever...

    If you think about it, God wasn't very clear about how to keep the Sabbath in the OT. We are simply told to stop and sanctify the day or call it delightful (Isa. 58:13). An obvious way would be to go to the temple and dedicate the day fully to God. But I think Jesus unfolded the right way to keep the Sabbath by worshiping in the Synagogue and healing the sick, the right balance between mountaintop contemplation and the work for the people. If we begin to look for specific DO's and Don'ts, we'll fall into the legalistic, pharisaic religion of Jesus days and 20th century adventism.

    I don't think God expects perfection in Sabbath observance from Adventists any more than he expects us to not sin ever again until heaven. We are in the process of being saved and that's what matters. We are trying to keep the Sabbath the right way and that's what matters, Jesus completes the rest.

    Having said that, I believe God is delighted with the fact that Adventists insist in honoring his Sabbath's wishes, faulty as they may be, when his other "followers" are oblivious to it or intentionally or conveniently ignorant about it.