Sometimes you feel God giving you a nudge towards something. Recently I’d felt him saying ‘take another look at the idea of sabbath, so I have been doing that and reflecting on what that means for me.

The world I grew up in saw Sabbath (capital S) as a day for going to church in Sunday best (tie included) no sport, no TV, no purchasing anything, and occasionally a few other random rules that seemed to be intended to make life as ascetic as possible. (I met a girl once who didn’t kiss on the sabbath…even I couldn’t get her to break that one…) Needless to say I have less than fond memories of my early years of sabbath.

I didn’t think about Sabbath again until I became a pastor and someone reminded me that if I ‘worked’ on Sundays then I needed to take a day off during the week – it was what pastors did… So I took Mondays and then Thursdays as a sabbath and while I was a full time church worker that seemed to be ok.

Then life became more complicated. Church planter, teacher, business operator… I returned to Saturday – the day everyone else gets and called it my ‘day off’. It made sense, fitted and I could manage it. I enjoyed it.

The two books I have read recently have been 24/6 by Matthew Sleeth (very readable without being simplistic) and Keeping the Sabbath Wholly by Marva Dawn – some excellent insights, but I sense Marva and I see the world and church a little differently…

The reading evoked some questions and reflections:

– Why do we see almost all of the 10 Commandments as essential but not the sabbath one? Fair question?

– In the sermon on the mount Jesus says ‘you have heard it said… but I say to you…’ (think adultery/murder etc)  what does that mean for the sabbath? If he raises the bar on everything else what does that mean for this command?

– God rested on the sabbath and declared it ‘holy’. Rest… is… holy?…

Sleeth advocates a ‘stop day’, one day when we stop being productive, efficient, task focused and simply rest, renew and regroup. Dawn is a little more specific with her 4 part focus of ‘ceasing, resting, embracing, feasting’. I felt like I resonated more with Sleeth in tone, but I liked Dawn’s 4 elements and found the gave me a structure to work with.

I felt inspired to re-think what Sabbath means for me and to experiment with it again. So I decided to remove it from Saturdays and place it on Sunday. Some would argue you can’t do this as a pastor because Sunday is a ‘work day’.

Yes – its true that I am required to be there, whereas others can skip a day if they feel like it. Yes – I often have to teach, lead, interact in ways I may not choose to if I were simply a member of the church, but does that mean I can’t experience Sabbath on that day?


But then again maybe not…

Part of perceiving Sunday as a workday is a Christendom mindset that sees the pastor as the paid professional. I might politely say ‘screw that’. Part of Sunday as workday assumes that I will take on certain behaviors and personas to fit with the role. I might say less politely ‘screw that!’

However what if Sunday is the opportunity to gather with the people I love and whose company I find uplifting? What if Sunday isn’t the day when I ‘have to preach’, but is the day when I get to do what I do well – when I get to be most ‘fully me’? Could it still be a sabbath? Is it more about mindset that behaviour?

I’m going to find out.

Maybe it won’t work. Maybe I will get bogged down. Maybe I will lose focus. Each Sunday I put out the chairs for our church. I haven’t asked someone to create a roster because I see it as important to do some of those menial jobs that no one gives a shit about. It a way of reminding myself that I am just one of the crew. I am not more important because I have a gift in teaching and leadership. I also set out chairs. That matters.

But maybe I will find the chairs a chore, a burden?…

Or maybe it is all about a mindset. Maybe I can choose to approach Sundays as my day to connect with some of the people God has put in my care and who I love. Maybe I can see Sundays as a beautiful day of seeing my most loved friends and ‘family’?

Maybe preaching won’t be draining, but will just be a chance to do what I can do and enjoy it?

That’s the ’embracing’ side Marva Dawn would describe. The other elements she lists are: ‘ceasing’, ‘resting’ and ‘feasting’.

One of the things I tried last Sunday in regard to ‘ceasing’ was to have no tech contact with the world. I left my phone plugged in and didn’t access email or facebook. I find that when a retic customer calls on the weekend my brain automatically kicks back into gear. My adrenalin levels rise and I lose my sense of rest. And I find myself annoyed that someone would call on Saturday… or Sunday… I find myself annoyed that I then answer that call…

Putting the phone down was hard.

I am one of the most ‘connected’ people I know, so I felt some serious withdrawals! I left my phone in Danelle’s bag during the morning, just in case our guest speaker at church needed to call me. But then I brought it home and plugged it back in. As I did I saw 3 missed calls and two text messages – all work related. I wanted to ignore them so I did… But at 4.30 curiosity got the better of me and I looked at my messages and listened to my voicemails. Nothing that couldn’t have waited…

But I couldn’t wait… What’s with that?

I avoided emails, but felt the loss and being off Facebook felt kinda weird too. Probably a good discipline then I am imagining…

I am thinking that if I can take myself out of the loop on Sundays with phone, email and Facebook then I will ‘cease’ things that cause me to work, or that cause my brain to rush.

Last Sunday we spent the afternoon in Yanchep national park with friends from church. What I observed was that I was better able to relax and be present because I wasn’t able to head home and check emails and phone calls and do something productive. I was able to be with people and not mentally be elsewhere, something I can do at times. That was good.

And it felt good to simply ignore calls and texts. There is very little that can’t wait a day… Next week I will turn the phone off for the day. It just means that if anyone wants to call me they will need to go thru Danelle…

The ‘feasting’ aspect of Dawn’s paradigm was a little less complete for me – but then I haven’t finished that chapter yet either… I sense she is saying that we ought to enjoy some friends, food and pleasures on our sabbath. So I will explore that a bit too.

Being conscious of the ‘sabbath’ I found myself looking for moments when I was rested and when I was anxious. Church was fine. No trouble there. However stopping in at Coles on the way home to get some food for lunch… that was disgusting. Busy busy busy… people everywhere… rushing… I felt it. I won’t do that again. What a contrast.

Sitting with friends in a national park, with nowhere to be. Now that was good! That was beautiful. I always have ‘somewhere to be’ in my head, so it was wonderful just to kick back and enjoy the people God has brought into my life. To give thanks, to enjoy.

The rest of the day was fairly normal and felt fairly ordinary too.

Was it a better sabbath than Saturday?

I dunno yet, but I am enjoying the learning curve.





4 thoughts on “Experi-sabbathing

  1. We’ve been doing technology sabbaths on Sundays for several months now. Needed to, on returning from Afghanistan (where you were always on a tech-sabbath…), as we were finding we were all always plugged in. So now, from when we wake up till 8pm (i.e., after kids are in bed), no technology. No email, internet, no screen time.
    Its a start.

  2. Geoff Maddock, a mutual friend, shared your great post with us. Unplugging on Sabbath can be unsettling at first, but it’s become one of my favorite parts of our weekly Stop Day. Hope to break bread with you when Matthew and I are in Australia next November. Until then, thanks for all the work you are doing for the Kingdom and for sharing the Sabbath journey with us. Every blessing, Nancy Sleeth, Lexington, KY

  3. Our church had a sabbath half-year after three years of ramping things up. Our themes were Cease, Rest, Listen, Celebrate. We scaled church activities back and gained a better idea of what things we could do without.

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