May 1, Wednesday

Devotional Thoughts for Today

“Another Look at Sabbath”

Exodus 23:10-13 (NIV)

“For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest the crops, 11 but during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what is left. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove. 12 “Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and so that the slave born in your household and the foreigner living among you may be refreshed. 13 “Be careful to do everything I have said to you. Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips.

When was in college, shortly after I decided to follow Jesus, I was drawn to the scripture “Be still and know that I am God,” in prayer. I naturally concluded that the best response was for me to sit really still (and be very quiet) during my prayer time. ☺ After some days of living with this scripture and thinking through the idea of what it means to rest in God, I read an alterenate translation that translated “be still” as “stop striving,” and realized the Lord was inviting me to trust God with some anxiety-inducing situations I was facing at the time. Rest is about trust.

Every year I was in professional ministry, I taught discipleship courses to church leaders. My favorite segment of the course was one on Sabbath. Sabbath – the seventh day (or year) of rest commanded by God in the Ten Commandments – is so much more than a day to sleep or slack off on one’s regular duties. It’s far more about rest – resting in God’s presence and delighting in God’s provision. Through many books on discipleship and spiritual disciplines, I’ve learned that rest is also about delight. Much like God on the seventh day of creation, we cease our work not just to catch our breath (I imagine God didn’t need a breather from creating), but to delight in the work of our hands, our many gifts from God. Through Sabbath, we trust and delight.

The principle of Sabbath is certainly beneficial for personal wellness and growth. But the observation of this principle by the people of God was also of great benefit to those around them for two reasons: Sabbath creates margin for the needy and refreshment for those in our care. God commanded the Israelites to rest from tending their fields (the primary work in an agrarian society) so that the poor could gather food. God’s people were to organize their lives in such a way that those in need found opportunities to have their needs met. Sabbath was also for the purpose of others finding time for refreshment, particularly for those under one’s care. If we live busy lives, it’s likely our children, natural or spiritual, will too. If we structure our work environments with restless rhythms, those under our charge inherit those rhythms. If we create a society that doesn’t honor rest, the vulnerable among us (e.g. the foreigner) will have the least access to rest and refreshment.  

Honoring the sabbath means leaving margin in our time, talents, treasures so that we (and our resources) are available to be a conduit for God’s blessings to others. It also means choosing life rhythms that allow those in our care and the vulnerable among us to find rest and refreshment in their lives.

Bible Reading for Today: 1 Corinthians 16


Lunch Break Study

Read Philippians 4:4-9 (NIV): Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Question to Consider

  1. What does Paul tell the church at Philippi will enable them to exercise gentleness in their dealings with others? How might this help you do the same? How might this help us to always rejoice in the Lord?
  2. What are the recipients of this letter encouraged to do instead of being anxious? What will be the result? How might this approach be useful to you as well? How have you experienced God’s peace in the face of anxiety in your life?
  3. Why is it helpful to focus on that which is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praise worthy? What can this do for a heart that is facing anxiety-inducing circumstances? Spend some time thinking on such things in your life.

Notes

  1. Paul tells the Christ followers in Philippi to remember that “the Lord is near.” This fact would help them to exercise gentleness in their dealings with “all” people. Remembering who God is, what God has done and will do, and that God is always near in every season will enable us to treat others with kindness.
  2. Paul tells them to pray (talk to God) and petition (specifically, tell God of their needs and desires) while also giving thanks (acknowledging what is good and expressing gratitude). This will give the believer access to a peace, God’s peace, that the mind cannot produce or even fathom.
  3. Difficult circumstances tend to be all-consuming and the mind is not necessarily wired to remember (in any palpable way) our former experiences of good when we are in the depths of pain, fear, or heartache. When a person disciplines herself to remember the true, good, and beautiful, we overcome that limitation and are able to see beyond our present difficult experience. As we do, we begin to remember (as Timothy Wright and the Chicago Interdenominational Mass Choir sang in the 90’s) that “trouble don’t last always!”

Evening Reflection

Exodus 23:13: “Be careful to do everything I have said to you. Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips.”

In the same breath that God gives commandments regarding Sabbath rest, God also warns against idolatry (or worship of anything other than God). What is the connection between the temptation to dishonor the principle of Sabbath and idolatry? What are the other “gods” in your life that tempt you to overwork or fail to stop and rest? In what ways have you seen a lack of resting in God (trusting, delighting, and caring for others) affect your life and the lives of those in your care? Spend some time reflecting on these things with God.

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