This past winter Susan and I enjoyed what we are now referring to as the best vacation we have ever taken. And no, it was not a cruise. The main reason it ranks right at the top is because we actually rested – for two full weeks. You see we rented a house on the quiet end of the island of St. John in the Virgin Islands; an idyllic place called Coral Bay.
We sat on the deck and enjoyed the sunrises and sunsets. We read and we slept. We hung out with our little 2 year old granddaughter. Most every day we visited one of the many nearby beaches, we explored the island or went for a hike. In the evenings we enjoyed home cooked meals and simple conversation around the kitchen table with our daughter, son-in-law and another couple, dear friends from Oregon. On the weekends we visited two nearby churches and worshipped with island believers. It was glorious and we came home refreshed.
Why do I share this? Because it taught me something about the real meaning of what the Bible calls a Sabbath rest. I am ashamed to say that my type A personality has made it difficult for me carve out a true Sabbath on a consistent basis. The idea of not working on accomplishing some goal and being free from the pressure of an agenda is so foreign to me, that honestly for a time I went through withdrawal. That is a bad sign when slowing down and enjoying the simple pleasures of life brings on the blues.
We live in a culture that has a dysfunctional view of time. Recent statistical studies show that Americans are now working more and vacationing less than any industrialize nation including Japan.
Most of us have succumb to such a frenzied pattern of living that even when we take a break we do not find the deep refreshing of both soul and body that we long for. Have you ever returned from a vacation feeling ironically like now you needed more vacation time just to recover from your vacation? That’s been my experience more times than I would like to admit.
Geoffrey Godbey, professor of Leisure Studies at Penn State, aptly describes the source of this irony. “We attempt to cram more and more experiences into every waking moment (in order) to increase the yield on the decreasing amount of leisure time we have left.” We multitask and collect experiences while often gaining both material and psychological rewards, but all of it seldom adds up to a meaningful, satisfying whole.
But this is not like some new unheard of pandemic disease that has been mutating and is now in the twenty-first century breaking on the scene and threatening the work-rest balance. From the very beginning of creation mankind has battled this. That is why God has programmed into the weekly rhythm of our lives time-outs to rest the body and soul, regain His perspective through reflection and renew ourselves spiritually. In the first book of the Bible, Genesis 2:2, we find God Himself resting on the seventh day and instituting that regular principle of rest which He called the Sabbath.
From a study of the Bible a true Sabbath has three basic ingredients.
1. REST – literally means inactivity, relief from work, a pause and repose. Hebrews 4:9 says “There remains, then, a Sabbath‑rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.”
2. REFLECTION – taking time to consider afresh God’s perpective in our lives. 2 Corinthians 13:5 says “Examine yourself to see if you are in the faith.” (Also see Exodus 20:12 & 20) Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi of the University of Chicago hits the nail on the head when he says “The problem is that without time to reflect, we’re not able to tie the increasing number of experiences in our lives together. Without those connections, we feel pulled in too many directions at once. We can no longer make sense of the world; we feel chronically anxious.”
3. SPIRITUAL RENEWAL – seeking God’s presence through prayer, the Word and praise. Mark 2:27-28 says “Then he said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.’”
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