Two years ago I started seminary just a few months after getting married. In the same week, I started two part-time jobs at two universities. Whilst still figuring out how to be married, learning to be a student again (in a field I had never formally studied), I was also juggling multiple work schedules and deadlines. I felt like I had absolutely no time at all for anything, especially something as “unproductive” as rest. This season was waaay too full and generally, with that “’aint nobody got time for that” attitude, I was unprepared for all that I had taken on.
My wife and I commonly refer to that first semester as the “dark days.” But one gift that came out of that time was the practice of Sabbath. The professor of one of my classes was about to publish his latest work, The Sabbath Experiment, and so was taking us through the concepts in the book. I have to admit, I had been a follower of Jesus almost all of my life and I had never truly learned about Sabbath. From that class my wife and I decided that we needed SOMETHING to keep us afloat and connected to God so we experimented with the practice of a weekly Sabbath. Two years later it is my favorite practice to talk about and it remains a staple rhythm of our home.
Now I know what you’re thinking. “Aren’t we talking about resistance?!” “Why waste time on something as selfish as taking a day off!?” At least that’s what I was thinking! At first glance this seems like running in the opposite direction when considering how to resist evil and empire in our hearts and in the world. However, practicing the rhythm of sabbath is a crucial component to how God instructs His people to exit empire and enter into his new Kingdom life. Each week as you Sabbath, you participate in a re-orientation and realignment. As you slow down enough so that God renews the imago dei in you, He also restores your ability to see and treasure the imago dei in others…especially the vulnerable. Therefore Sabbath is about so much more than you having a “day off.”
This is because Sabbath is a holy drama. An act of Justice and an act of Hope.
Sabbath as an act of Justice
"Observe the sabbath day to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. 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, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant or your ox or your donkey or any of your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you, so that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to observe the sabbath day." Deuteronomy 5:12-15
In this particular command to Sabbath, God tells His people to extend the rest offered to them to the most vulnerable in their society. The immigrant, the slave or low-income wage worker, and even the animals (and in other areas the very land itself) are to be blessed by the rest of God. God reminds his people of their slavery in Egypt because in this act of Sabbath, their humanity is restored and they are no longer slaves but are God’s friends; humans with intrinsic value that can’t be taken away by the Pharaohs and Empires of this world.
God tells His people that they are to engage in a weekly mini-protest that advocates for the value of everyone among them, even those seen as lesser status. When we enter into sabbath, we are resisting the pull and pressure to let our worth and value be defined by our work, performance or contribution to the economy (some people who practice sabbath even refuse to spend money on anything during that day as to withhold their resources from an economy that can so often be used to oppress).
Sabbath as an act of hope
When we enter into Sabbath, we also become a prophetic signpost for the rest that is to come. The eternal rest of God which will be free of all injustice and oppression and evil.
The practice of Sabbath becomes for us a mini pocket of that rest and we can taste just a bit of that true rejuvenation that awaits us and this is what keeps us going in the good work of justice. When we Sabbath we also are reminded that we are not God and even though we are giving ourselves in love for the healing of the world, at the end of it all we entrust the future into God’s hands. For me personally It can be so hard to get to the end of the week and feel like I really didn’t do much for the vulnerable or to change systems of injustice or to bring the Kingdom and so Sabbath feels like the last thing I should be doing. But as I enter into that time, I am reminded that I play only one part in the whole movement, story and work of God and God’s people. This gives me hope to approach the next week with all the more faithfulness and grit.
Sabbath is about taking God up on the invitation He extends to us to join him in pointing creation forward to the moment in the story where all striving ceases and the soul of all creation is refreshed by His presence forever.
How to Sabbath
Now, if you’re thinking: I’m down! but what do I do now? Here we go…
1. Remember there is no right or wrong way.
Sabbath doesn’t have to be a certain way and it doesn’t even need to be on a certain day! Any 24 hour period will do and honestly it’s about the heart of the matter.
2. Run everything through the filter of “is this rest?” and “is this worship?”
Pretty much what makes a Sabbath different from a day off is when you choose to only enter into activities that move you towards rest and worship. So maybe binge watching Game of Thrones is a sweet day off but maaaybe not exactly Sabbath-esque. Taking a nap could DEFINITELY lead us to rest and worship. Or it could be us avoiding people. Only you know! But this is a helpful filter as you experiment.
3. Give yourself grace as you begin and feel free to experiment
In doing this, you’re kind of fighting the push and pull of cultural pressure, years of training in the other direction, and our own disposition to generally avoid hard things. So give yourself some grace as you try out what works and what doesn’t and then keep going! There will be weeks that you mess up but that’s the beauty of sabbath…there’s always next week!
4. No technology
Ok I know I said anything goes but here me out. Our world is starved for deep people who can be present. Our culture around technology, media and entertainment is wired to make us distracted and scattered. Sabbath retrains our soul to have the capacity to be present to people and be committed to what matters.
5. Invite others in
Following Jesus is always a team sport. Consider inviting your family, friends, roommates, community group into this practice with you!
If it’s helpful, here’s my example...
My Sabbath Liturgy
- Saturday morning and afternoon are usually chalk full of cleaning, laundry, groceries, homework, etc. We finish everything that needs to get done so that we can truly enter into rest & worship.]
- Saturday night at sunset my wife and I turn our phones off, light a candle and say a prayer, ushering us into rest and worship and dedicating the next 24 hours to God “restoring our souls”
- We then will have a meal either just the two of us or usually with friends.
- Following this time we can play a game, read a book, have dessert or something that is life giving.
- We then head to bed early and get rest. Like true rest.
- Sunday morning we wake up get ready and head to church.
- After church we eat lunch and then typically get our post lunch nap game on.
- After this we can journal, play a game, go for a walk, read, etc. (remember rest & worship)
- At some point Cyndi and I will go over the questions we ask each other each week as a way of checking in with each other intentionally.
- Then we usually end the evening with another meal with people and another prayer.
- After we pray, we usually have something sweet to remind us that the sweetness of rest lingers with us as we approach the next week of work.
- This is meant to just get your mind going, this is not a definitive list of activities.
To rest and worship that points the world to Justice and hope
INSTAGRAM & TWITTER: @JONATHONMURILLO
Jonathon grew up in six different states across the Western United States. He made his way to Southern California to attend Vanguard University where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication. Currently, he is pursuing a Master's of Divinity Degree at Azusa Pacific University where he also works doing campus ministry with college students. Jonathon is passionate about discipleship to Jesus and innovation, especially when those two spaces meet. He aspires to encourage people to live well-curated lives of purpose and passion. You can find Jonathon living in his beloved city of Costa Mesa, California with his amazing wife, Cyndi. Oh yeah, and he is a HUGE Raiders fan.