A Sabbath rest for an anxious world

The Sabbath is a commanded rest for all time. You can learn the true benefits of taking time out to observe the seventh-day Sabbath and God’s Holy Days and experience the joy they bring.

Do you need a break? Are you feeling stressed, worn out, and overwhelmed? Let’s face it: We’re living in a world filled with ever-increasing demands on our time and attention. Many are working harder than ever only to find it more difficult to make ends meet—which sometimes results in addictions, anxiety, and more conflict. Relationships suffer, health suffers, and real solutions seem out of reach.

If you’re suffering from the anxiety of living in the modern world, you’re not alone. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 40 million adults in the United States suffer from some type of anxiety disorder every year. That’s 18.1 percent of the country’s population (“Facts and Statistics,” ADAA.org).

And it’s not just in America. According to Our World in Data, “It’s estimated that 970 million people worldwide had a mental or substance use disorder in 2017. The largest number of people had an anxiety disorder, estimated at around 4 percent of the population” (“Mental Health,” OurWorldInData.org, August 2021).

Clearly, many of us are overwhelmed. This is not how our Creator designed life to be, but if we’re anxious and depressed, how can we get out of that discouraging—and even dangerous—cycle?

More and more people are turning to what might seem to be an unlikely solution: the idea of a “sabbath.” Writer and speaker Jim Burns puts it this way:

In the beautiful Hebrew language, the word for rest is sabbath. Sabbath is more of a lifestyle choice than taking a nap or a day off to get some things done around the house. Sabbath living is the constant choice to live with margin in our lives. Margin is the space between our load and our limits. Margin is our mental, emotional, and spiritual strength. It’s our reserves, our breathing room, our energy, our vitality. Unfortunately, few of us have much margin in our lives (“Are You Experiencing the Overload Syndrome?,” HomeWord.com).

As he says, this concept of “margin” is very important, because we do need “margin” in our lives. Margin is the so-called “white space” on the edge of the pages of our time—it means that not every moment is busy and accounted for.

So, do you need a “sabbath” rest in your life? Do you need to cultivate a “sabbath lifestyle”? Healthy people recognize that we need time to slow down instead of constantly working hard and playing hard.

One of the most damaging contributors to our stressed-out society is the pervasiveness of technological devices. These devices can be helpful, but they can also become a source of great stress. For the sake of our minds, our relationships, and our health, we need to unplug from time to time. Consider one family’s testimony:

My family and I started going completely screen-free one day a week for what we called our Technology Shabbat. We read, journaled, cooked, had friends over, went for bike rides, played music, made art, and sometimes we just did nothing. A decade later, we’re still doing it every week… and it’s still our favorite day. It’s made the whole family happier and more balanced (“Everything You Need to Enjoy One Tech-Free Day a Week,” Wired.com, October 10, 2019).

If we don’t have control of our devices, we’re headed for trouble. Here’s how one woman described her experience fighting against the tyranny of endless tasks, and how she began to find solutions:

So many of us are tired. Between meeting the needs of those around us, running our homes, working, or waking up with children throughout the night, we find ourselves depleted mentally, physically and emotionally. This exhaustion leads us to turn our focus from the things that matter most to survival. If that’s you, God has prepared a very practical balm for your weariness. It’s called Sabbath….

If we want to experience all the fulness of living and being that God has for us, I believe we need an element of Sabbath rest in our week! Whether mothers, homemakers or working women—Sabbath was created to meet a deep-seated need in us (“How to Unleash the Power of Sabbath Rest in Your Life as a Homemaker,” EmbracingASimplerLife.com).

We all need a regular, weekly time to pause, just to keep a balanced mental perspective. But you might say, “That all sounds well and good, but I’m too busy to stop. I have too much to do. This sabbath thing won’t work for me.”

Think about that, though—it’s when you are overwhelmed when you need this help the most. And if you don’t get control of your life now, when will you?

What is the original Sabbath day?

The idea of a sabbath didn’t just appear out of thin air. It comes from the Hebrew word shabbat, meaning to stop, pause, cease, or rest from labor and activity. Genesis 1 describes God creating all the living creatures on earth, including the first man and woman. Genesis 2:1 then says, “Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made” (Genesis 2:1–3).

Where did this idea of taking time to rest after a period of work come from? Straight from the Creator God, who modeled that behavior right at the beginning of the Bible—at the dawn of civilization!

In other words, the idea of a sabbath has been around for a long time. But what about the word “sabbath”? That word appears in many biblical passages, including Exodus 20:8: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”

“Sabbath” originally meant “cessation” or “rest.” So, “remember the sabbath day” just means “remember the rest day.” This is something God cared enough about to write into the Ten Commandments: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work.… For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it” (Exodus 20:9–11).

“Sabbath” is not just a vague idea. Rather, it springs from a specific event in history—God’s rest from His work of creation. As such, it applies to a specific day each week! God actually created a rest day at the beginning of Creation, and His intention was that His children, the entire human race, would benefit from a weekly rest throughout our entire lives. God wants us to work hard—and then He wants us to take a well-deserved rest.

Too busy for a Sabbath rest?

We all need to be restored and rejuvenated. So why don’t we give ourselves permission to take a break? Consider what one article says as it considers this question:

For some reason, though, we naturally interpret the Bible’s statements about Sabbath rest as more of a suggestion than a divine command. We think, “That’s a great idea, but I’m too busy.” This is true. I am busy. You are busy. Our culture is busy and it’s only speeding up.… Our gas tanks are always on empty, and when we stop we are hardly ever able to put more than a few dollars in the tank. We are never full.

But could it be that our lack of observance of the Sabbath is contributing to our weariness? Could our lack of Sabbath rest and worship potentially explain why we are an exhausted people? Could it be the ways we try to find rest never restore us because we were created to find our rest in God?… What better gift could we possibly receive than this Sabbath rest in our anxious age? (“Ritchie: The gift of Sabbath rest in an anxious age,” Amarillo.com, June 2, 2016).

When we think of ourselves as too busy to stop, we force ourselves into a loop of exhaustion, never catching up. Are you tired of that cycle? How many of us go from one frenetic task to another until we collapse? Why don’t we just rest on a regular basis, on the schedule God set for us?

All too often, we don’t stop until we must stop. Maybe that’s why God tells us that the Sabbath is mandatory—He must command us to take a break each week, because there’s always another load of wash to do, another space to clean, another report to submit.

It seems that, as human beings, we all too often do things that are good for us only when we suddenly must do them. Maybe we don’t exercise or take care of our health—until something causes us pain. When we notice the effects—the suffering and negative consequences—of neglecting our health, then we feel compelled to act.

That might be why God had to tell us plainly that a Sabbath rest is important for us. Because He wants each of us to have a healthy mental state, He commands that we take a break at the end of every week. In His mercy, He created and even scheduled that time for us—making it mandatory, because He knows that we often don’t do things, even things we know are good for us, unless we absolutely must. And the Sabbath is, indeed, very good for us!

But there’s an even greater picture—one we must discover if we’re ever to truly understand why God commanded a sabbath rest.

The Sabbath was made for our good

The Apostle Paul wrote, “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come” (Colossians 2:16–17). There’s much misunderstanding about this verse, but let’s just focus on one phrase: “sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come.”

What Paul was saying is that as good as sabbaths are for giving us a weekly rest, they also symbolize something greater that is yet to come. Many students of the Bible recognize that there have been roughly 6,000 years since Adam and Eve, and that the Bible promises a coming 1,000-year reign of Jesus Christ. If we apply the “day for a thousand years” principle found in 2 Peter 3:8, we find that the weekly seventh-day sabbath is symbolic of the coming Millennium. In other words, the seventh millennium of human history corresponds to the seventh day of the week.

We find scriptures elsewhere in the New Testament that support this idea, such as Hebrews 4:1: “Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it.” Because of their disobedience, the Israelites did not enter the Promised Land. But, if we are faithful and obedient, we can enter God’s Kingdom at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

Regarding the seventh-day Sabbath established when God rested from all His work of creation, we read, “For He has spoken in a certain place of the seventh day in this way: ‘And God rested on the seventh day from all His works’” (Hebrews 4:4).

Seeing therefore it remains that some should enter into it, and they to whom the good news was preached before failed to enter in because of disobedience, he again defines a certain day, today, saying through David so long a time afterward (just as has been said), “Today if you will hear his voice, don’t harden your hearts.” For if Joshua had given them rest, he would not have spoken afterward of another day. There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God (Hebrews 4:6–9, World English Bible).

What does this mean? Simply that if we are the people of God, the sabbath rest should mean something very important to us—and we should be observing that weekly rest in our lives now. The Greek word here translated “Sabbath rest” is sabbatismos, coming directly from the Hebrew word shabbat, which refers to the weekly Sabbath.

Clearly, Christians are to observe the weekly Sabbath! But it goes far beyond even that. If the Sabbaths are a shadow of things to come, every seventh day that comes around in the calendar is also a prophecy of a coming millennial Sabbath, when God’s Kingdom will fill this earth after Christ’s Second Coming.

Notice what the book of Hebrews encourages us to do: “For whoever enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from His. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following the same pattern of disobedience” (Hebrews 4:10–11Berean Study Bible). We’re reminded to live our lives in such a way that we may enter the rest of God’s Kingdom at Christ’s return.

There is hope for this tired, worn-out world—a new world coming. That new world, in contrast to this age, will be peaceful and full of joy—and the violence and tension of this age will be no more. Notice how Scripture describes that world:

Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness remain in the fruitful field. The work of righteousness will be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever. My people will dwell in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places (Isaiah 32:16–18).

The weekly seventh-day Sabbath is symbolic of that coming millennial age of peace and prosperity.

There’s much more to say about the Sabbath, and you can find many articles and videos about it at TomorrowsWorld.org.Our world needs a break—but in truth, we need not just a general pause from the hectic pace of life, but the regular and mandatory rest designed by our Creator.

The true purpose of the Sabbath – in this life and beyond

When Jesus was on this earth, He taught His disciples a lifestyle of peace and tranquility that did not depend on outside circumstances and was compatible with working hard. Notice His promise:

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light (Matthew 11:28–30).

If you long for relief from the burdens of life, learn from Jesus Christ. He has the answers, and He will give you peace if you are obedient to His will and respond to His love.

If you worry about your life and the world around us, remember Jesus’ comforting words:

Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? (Matthew 6:25–27).

Christ knows we’re working hard to feed ourselves and take care of our families. And He promises to help us if we look to Him! Then, notice what else He says:

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble (Matthew 6:33–34).

We can have peace of mind. God knows the anxiety this world produces, but He offers us a weekly Sabbath—a total break from work for a 24-hour period, week in and week out. Doesn’t that sound wonderful?

Just imagine that every Friday at sundown, you left your work behind. You spent time with your family. You read the Bible and reflected on God’s plan for you. You went to church on Saturday with others of like mind and fellowshipped with them. You spent the remaining hours of the Sabbath not mowing the lawn or doing chores, but going for walks and reflecting on what you’ve learned.

That’s the way God designed the Sabbath—not the way the Pharisees made it a burden. The Pharisees actually disapproved of the way Jesus and His disciples kept the Sabbath:

Now it happened that He went through the grainfields on the Sabbath; and as they went His disciples began to pluck the heads of grain. And the Pharisees said to Him, “Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” (Mark 2:23–24).

The Pharisees accused Jesus and His disciples of breaking the Sabbath, but Jesus turned their accusation around and explained the right perspective:

He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him: how he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat except for the priests, and also gave some to those who were with him?” And He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:25–28).

Yes, Jesus Christ—our Savior—is Lord of the Sabbath. He created the Sabbath, establishing it as a 24-hour period to step back and think about our life. Every one of us can claim this gift for ourselves.

So, do you need a break? Do you need rest? The Sabbath isn’t just an idea of snatching some downtime now and then; it is a weekly gift from God to refresh us and give us peace. The Sabbath is also a promise of a better world to come—a gift that God has given to an anxious world. That gift is yours for the taking.

By Rod McNair.

Source: A Sabbath Rest for an Anxious World | Tomorrow’s World (tomorrowsworld.org)

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