Sabbath and Identity
I left our gathering last night wondering: What if God is actually good? I know this is a strange thing to ponder as a follower of Jesus and someone who has experienced God’s goodness. But, as much as I believe that God is good, I don’t know that my actions always reflect that belief. Last night, some things started to come together for me. The topic of Sabbath is fascinating. It’s the only one of the Ten Commandments that we would call outdated and old-fashioned. It’s the only one we carve out as an unnecessary requirement for the modern-day follower of Jesus. And yet, at the same time, we are almost secretly drawn to Sabbath, kind of like when we dream wistfully about the “old days” when we didn’t have access to the whole world on a device in our pockets or experience life as a Facebook post waiting to happen. Could there really be something called rest, in which we simply delight in the actual world around us and see in small, quiet moments the everlasting goodness of God?
In his teaching, Steve Carter reminded us of the origin of Sabbath in the creation story when God rested and pronounced what he had created as very good (Gen 1:1-2:3) and the gift of Sabbath in God’s emancipation of the Israelites from their seven-day-a-week, back-breaking, brick-making slavery under Pharaoh (Ex 16). As Steve shared, by gifting a day of rest to the Israelites, God was reminding them that he was nothing like Pharaoh. He was not a taskmaster tyrant who would reward them for meeting their brick quota and punish them if they fell behind. Their identity was not tied to what they could build and how much they could accomplish, but rather to their status as the children of a good and holy God. The Israelites would only remember this, though, if they remembered to set apart one day, the Sabbath, to rest in the goodness of God.
As I listened to Steve’s teaching, I felt an increasing unease. I continuously walk in slavery to my own “pharaohs,” trading my identity in Christ for my identity in achievement, approval, and activism. But who am I without these things? What do I have to show for myself? What would I talk about at cocktail parties and social gatherings if not the ways in which I have built, created, and designed? I am afraid to stop and rest because I don’t know what I might find there. I wonder if God is good enough to love me even if I stopped all my striving. Could he actually love me just as I am?
Last night, as a community, we held this question in God’s presence: In what way am I working, struggling, and hustling to build an identity other than the one You have given me? And to prompt our thinking and reflection we considered these questions from Tim Keller’s book Counterfeit Gods:
What do I daydream about?
What do I have nightmares about?
Where do I find my most unyielding emotions?
I filled up a page with a long prayer/random list of fears as I considered these questions. And this morning, I’m holding this page in God’s presence again, with tears in my eyes, not out of fear, but because I am stunned by his gentle care and goodness. I want more of it. I want to remember it, to breathe it, to live in it.
Would you join us this week in continuing to hold this question in God’s presence and see how he might help us identify our “pharaohs,” showcase his goodness, and invite us into the sacred gift of Sabbath?
Also, let’s keep learning and diving deeper. Some resources we recommend…
(1) Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives, Wayne Muller
(2) Sabbath as Resistance: Learning to Say No to the Culture of Now, Walter Brueggemann
(3) Sabbath Booklet and The Revolutionary Act of Sabbath-Keeping, Pete Scazzero
Last thing: Have you looked at your calendar for October 17 and 18? We would love for you to join us in practicing Sabbath on one of those days for a 24-hour period, or if you can’t do it for that long, maybe an 8-hour period. We’ll dive into the practical, nuts-and-bolts questions of Sabbath-keeping this Sunday, October 12!
May you soak in the goodness of God today,