Keeping the Sabbath Wholly: Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Feasting

Keeping the Sabbath Wholly: Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Feasting

“But I don’t wanna go to church!” Marva Dawn has often heard that cry—and not only from children. “What a sad commentary it is on North American spirituality,” she writes, “that the delight of ‘keeping the Sabbath day’ has degenerated into the routine and drudgery—even the downright oppressiveness—of ‘going to church.’” According to Dawn, the phrase “going to church” both...

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Title:Keeping the Sabbath Wholly: Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Feasting
Author:Marva J. Dawn
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Edition Language:English

Keeping the Sabbath Wholly: Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Feasting Reviews

  • Laurie

    I want to explore this Sabbath Rest -- I have never studied the idea of keeping the Sabbath, and apart from attending church, "Sabbath-keeping" has not been part of my spiritual experience.

    Key quotes:

    The Sabbath is an intentional day of remembering how Yahweh ordained the practice of Sabbath keeping by his own example at Creation, how the people of Israel observed it throughout their history, and how Jesus continued to practice it and to honor it, especially in his acts of compassion. Moreover,

    I want to explore this Sabbath Rest -- I have never studied the idea of keeping the Sabbath, and apart from attending church, "Sabbath-keeping" has not been part of my spiritual experience.

    Key quotes:

    The Sabbath is an intentional day of remembering how Yahweh ordained the practice of Sabbath keeping by his own example at Creation, how the people of Israel observed it throughout their history, and how Jesus continued to practice it and to honor it, especially in his acts of compassion. Moreover, to keep the Sabbath is also to look to the future, when we will finally know the perfect ceasing of all work, the ultimate resting in the completion of God’s purposes, the total embracing of all God’s best gifts, and the eternal feasting in the very presence of our Lord.

    All the great motifs of our Christian faith are underscored in our Sabbath keeping. Its Ceasing deepens our repentance for the many ways that we fail to trust God and try to create our own future. Its Resting strengthens our faith in the totality of his grace. Its Embracing invites us to take the truths of our faith and apply them practically in our values and lifestyles. Its Feasting heightens our sense of eschatological hope—the Joy of our present experience of God’s love and its foretaste of the Joy to come.

    A great benefit of Sabbath keeping is that we learn to let God take care of us—not by becoming passive and lazy, but in the freedom of giving up our feeble attempts to be God in our own lives.

    To cease working on the Sabbath means to quit laboring at anything that is work. Activity that is enjoyable and freeing and not undertaken for the purpose of accomplishment (see the next chapter) qualifies as acceptable for Sabbath time. -- so then, creating/planning lesson ideas is enjoyable and freeing and therefore fine to do on Sabbath.

    First of all, we must note that the day is “a Sabbath to the LORD”; in other words, it is a ceasing in order to honor the covenant God.

    Oh, this is SO true and too easily ignored:

    "We need to learn again the psalmists’ delight in the law as God’s instruction for true blessing in our lives. (See, for example, Psalms 1, 19, and 119.)"

    Too often, I / we seek blessings in experiences rather than in obedience to God's Word.

    I want to pray this way as I begin each Sabbath (at sunset on Saturday? at bedtime?):

    I pray an extended prayer beginning with these Jewish phrases: “Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who hast hallowed us by His Commandments and commanded us to kindle the Sabbath light!”13 The Jews focus especially on creation in their Kiddush rituals,14 so I usually spend most of the time thanking God for all his creations in the week that is past and for the Joy15 of his creating now an opportunity to cease from its labors. I pray about the ways that I will spend the next day and ask that these activities will draw me closer to God and fill me more fully with a sense of his presence in my life. This is also a special time to pray for the Church and for pastors, musicians, and others who contribute to the worship services taking place throughout the world on Sundays. This prayer creates in me a global perspective and provides a weekly preparation so that I can be more ready to worship and less distracted by any thoughts or worries of work.

    Good advice: I commit all the things I do for my work into the Lord’s hands during the Kiddush prayer at bedtime. If anxiety still continues to plague me after my Sabbath observance has begun, I try to write down my concerns as quickly as possible and as thoroughly as necessary in order to remove the worry from my mind. Another especially important practice to help me cease worrying is to focus on relationships—particularly my relationship with God—during my Sabbath observance. Instead of status seeking, the day promotes friendship building. In the love of the Christian community we cease being anxious.

    The Sabbath is not a running away from problems, but the opportunity to receive grace to face them.

    When we order our lives around the focus of our relation-ship with God by letting our Sabbath day be the highlight of our week, toward which everything moves and from which everything comes, then the security of God’s presence on that day will pervade the week.

    Agreed: Increasingly in our culture, the Ten Commandments do not provide the moral foundation for society. The commandment to worship God and him only was the first to be lost, but now, to a tragic extent, our culture no longer respects the commands to honor parents and not to commit adultery. Many people wonder how these outdated commandments can matter in a twentieth-century world. In fact, the commandments as a clear basis for morality are desperately needed more than ever in our fragmented, disrespectful, violent, covetous society. It seems to me that to recover the command to keep the Sabbath might help our Christian communities to restore the other commandments. Certainly if we honor one day as a day set apart to concentrate on the holiness of God, our priorities will be restored, and we will again seek God’s will concerning our relationships with parents, with sexual partners, and with possessions.

    We already set ourselves apart from the surrounding culture when we choose not to work in any way on the Sabbath. We further extricate ourselves from society’s values if we give up the need for accomplishment and abstain from worry and anxiety about our position. We choose deliberately to be different from our culture if we give up our striving to be God and let Yahweh be God instead.

    Hmmm: God’s softness and the ways in which his people can extend it to others were important concepts for me to grasp that day because I don’t usually think of myself as soft. I usually have to be the strong one in charge, the one with answers, the teacher. But for the last few years I’ve been gradually discovering and learning to concentrate on how I can be a healer, a source of softness.

    keeping the Sabbath ushers us into the recognition that all days derive their meaning from the Sabbath...a day especially set aside for worship teaches us to carry the spirit of worship into our work.

    ALTHOUGH PHYSICAL REST is the first dimension that readily comes to mind when we think of Sabbath rest, we can’t begin immediately with that aspect because it is really impossible to rest our bodies thoroughly if our spirits are ill at ease.

    Martin Luther stressed the importance of spiritual rest in his “Treatise on Good Works” as follows: The spiritual rest which God especially intends in this commandment [the covenant command to keep the Sabbath holy] is that we not only cease from our labor and trade but much more—that we let God alone work in us and that in all our powers do we do nothing of our own.

    Matitiahu Tsevat, a scholar of the Hebrew Scriptures, insists that the basic meaning of the biblical Sabbath is an “acceptance of the sovereignty of God.”

    One of the necessary tools for spiritual resting is the Word of God...For Christians, the entire canon of Hebrew and Christian Scriptures teaches us about God’s covenant love—as we both privately read and meditate upon it in our personal Sabbath devotions and publicly hear it proclaimed and preached upon in our corporate worship (an essential aspect of Sabbath keeping)

    Heschel’s discussion of menuha continues as follows: To the biblical mind menuha is the same as happiness and stillness, as peace and harmony.... It is the state in which there is no strife and no fighting, no fear and no distrust. The essence of good life is menuha. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want, He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters” (the waters of menuhot). In later times menuha became a synonym for the life in the world to come, for eternal life. Six evenings a week we pray: “Guard our going out and our coming in”; on the Sabbath evening we pray instead: “Embrace us with a tent of Thy peace.”

    Wow:

    God’s enfolding rest and peace descended upon me once in an astonishing measure. In the middle of writing my dissertation, I was feeling horribly overwhelmed by it all. One afternoon one of my favorite pieces of music, Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Variations on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, came on the radio just when I’d reached a point of exhaustion and despair. I ceased working, settled into my beanbag chair (so dilapidated that it enfolds me), and listened to the piece undisturbed. During those weeks I had also been studying W. Bingham Hunter’s The God Who Hears in my quiet time and trying to relate to God more as “Abba.”47 As the lush harmonies of the strings playing Vaughan Williams’ music moved me to the emotional breaking point, the thought of God as a tender father holding me on his lap suddenly flooded my imagination. I felt the security of being enfolded, yet the gentleness of a grasp not too tight. I was not controlled, but set free; understood, yet not so vulnerable that I could be crushed. I was held, and, in the love of that embrace, I wept in relief. It was a rest more deep than any other I have ever known, and since that time I have come closest to experiencing such rest again on Sabbath days. On days set apart to focus on who God is, his gifts of rest and peace are most likely to be experienced. Indeed, the possibility for that first enfolding moment was created by a Sabbath ceasing from work and resting in Vaughan Williams’ exquisite melodies and harmonies, which ushered me into the very presence of God himself. The greatest result of Sabbath resting is the opportunity to know the presence of God, no matter what our present circumstances might be.

    According to Lerman’s theory, failing to rest after six days of steady work will lead to insomnia or sleepiness, hormonal imbalances, fatigue, irritability, organ stress, and other increasingly serious physical and mental symptoms. Lerman suggests that this need for rest every seventh day is rooted in the fact that the human biological clock operates on a 25-hour cycle.49 Because organized society prevents us from getting up one hour later each day to follow our natural internal clock, our body demands the time to “sleep in” or rest every so often to recover from the forced 24-hour time cycle that is too short. Lerman insists that we must “cease labor” once every seven days and rest our bodies for longer periods than on other days in order to catch up on our cycle of time. He also adds that the biblical Sabbath commandment includes the ideas of both cessation of labor and refreshment.

    When so much of life is unsure and dependent upon circumstances beyond our control, the sureness of one day in every seven to set everything aside gives us emotional stability.

    the invisible Truth of his love is larger than the visible reality of this world’s pain.

    An effective tool that brings me into God’s presence is beauty

    Whatever gives us physical rest will probably also put us more deeply in touch with the grace of God.

    Similarly, the things most conducive to intellectual rest are those aids that either lead us into new, creative paths of thinking or strengthen our minds in God so that the painful thinking that we have to do in days to come is undergirded.

    Sabbath keeping fosters instead an increase in our gentleness and tenderness, a non-aggressive stance toward others, the ability to dismantle our own power.

    To receive his grace and to experience his restoration of my broken and sinful life stirs me to want restoration for everyone. To discover ourselves enfolded by grace in the holiness of God causes us to desire that same celebration for each person.

    Our prayers at Sabbath dinner might include the petition that our own privilege of celebrating would remind us of the needs of others and deepen our activity in caring for the hungry. Similarly, the prayers for Sabbath peace in our own lives will inevitably lead us to prayers and action for the peace of the world.

    Ours is an ethic of freedom,57 of loving response because God loved us first...the value of our work is determined by our Sabbath rest (in contrast to our society’s ethics, in which work deter-minesthe value of everything else)—a point emphasized in the chapter on physical rest. This leads to valuing persons not for their accomplishments, but for who they are. We discover new serenity in our lives when we allow ourselves to be rather than forcing ourselves to do.

    If we become people of peace through the intentionality of our Sabbath keeping, then we will, out of that character of peacemaking, live in a way that promotes peace.

    Nicholas Wolterstorff emphasizes that the very practice of weekly worship and rest is an essential part of the character of the Christian. In his book entitled Until Justice and Peace Embrace, he asserts that “a rhythmic alternation of work and worship, labor and liturgy is one of the significant distinguishing features of the Christian’s way of being-in-the-world.” Furthermore, as this chapter has stressed and as Section IV will develop, Sabbath rest is not the rest of exhaustion or an escape from boredom, but a rest of delight, even as God delighted in his creation when he rested on the seventh day.

    The important point in all our imitation [of God] is its deliberate intentionality. We don’t just think God’s values are good. We embrace them wholly.... To embrace is to accept with gusto, to live to the hilt, to choose with extra intentionality and tenacity.

    Christians would do well to follow that kind of inten-tionality. If we were more deliberate about our lifestyles, we might be more conscious ourselves of God’s grace, of who we are as God’s people, and of how discipleship involves careful choices. Paying such close attention to living a truly Christian lifestyle would give better witness to the world.

    The grace of Sabbath refreshment and the consequent deliberateness of Sabbath contemplation and prayer can thus be carried over into the week in the ways in which we act on the values of the Christian community in every aspect of our lives.

    Acts 2:42-47 confronts us with the following set of values: • being continually devoted to our relationship as a community; • wanting more than anything else to have our lives guided by the instruction of God’s Word; • sharing deeply in each other’s needs and carrying one another’s burdens, since the true meaning of fellowship is “having in common”; • gathering together for the breaking of the bread and thereby “discerning the Body of Christ,” which means to care for the poor, to eliminate class distinctions between the people of our world; • spending time in earnest prayer for one another and for the needs of the larger community and the world; • owning possessions in common so that we have more resources to share with those in need; • meeting regularly in the temple as well as in each other’s homes to share meals with gladness; • experiencing signs and wonders among us.

    We must return to the question of how we in our busy lives can afford to spend a whole day in Sabbath ceasing, resting, embracing, and feasting when it seems we don’t have enough time to do what has to be done. Surrounded as we are by the rapid pace of too much change, we think we cannot set aside such time. However, when we take the day to assess our use of time, we learn what is important in all those changes and how to prioritize our tasks and desires so that we aren’t overcome by the tyranny of the urgent. We must develop an objective perspective (rather than thinking we are “out of time”) to assess the quality of our days. This perspective has many aspects, but one of the foremost is the deliberate decision to focus on events in time with persons rather than using time to acquire or accomplish things.

    if we keep the Sabbath by embracing persons, that practice invites us to carry those same values into the other six days of the week. Our Sabbath remembering strengthens us to stand against the technologization of our culture and pursue the intimacy of Christian community and Christ-like caring. Furthermore, when we experience being enveloped by Sabbath time, we become people who are not enslaved to time. As we embrace time, then, we squander less and less of it for the things of space. We get in touch with eternity and bring eternal values into all the days of our week.

    To keep the Sabbath is to focus on the immensity of God’s gifts to us, especially the priceless gift of salvation. We can respond in no other way than to want to give in similar fashion. “Christ’s love compels us ...” (2 Cor. 5:14a).

    profound: In The Mustard Seed Conspiracy, Tom Sine emphasizes that we ask the wrong question if we search for God’s will in our lives. He says that we should instead see what God is doing in the world and become part of his program.

    Part of the weakness of our Christian witness stems from the fact that often it is so lackadaisical, so lackluster. The early Christians set their world on fire with the exuberance of their Joy. We might not necessarily be happy in the particular circumstances of the moment, but we can always know Joy because the Resurrection is an accomplished fact. We can be sure “that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” and “that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:18, 28). Furthermore, we can be confident that nothing will ever be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:38-39). These unfailing assurances lead us to profound Joy. Everyone in the world is looking for such confidence and hope, and each of us is particularly suited for sharing it with those whom we encounter in our daily worlds. We can embrace our calling.

    Perhaps the most important aspect of Sabbath keeping that contributes immensely to wholeness in our human existence is the prevalence of order. We crave order to give us a sense that things are under control, that we can cope with whatever might be happening because it fits into a larger plan. That is why the keeping of the Sabbath rhythm is so important: the orderly cycle of six days of work and one day of resting and embracing God’s values matches the rhythm of our creation, which God has revealed to us in the Scriptures.

    We Christians, too, can establish certain regular customs for Sabbath days. By observing them on a constant basis, we give order to our lives, although we want to be careful lest such customs degenerate into dull routines and onerous legalistic burdens. We want our worship to be a delightful habit, not the empty ritual of “going to church”! The most important ordering takes place in our lives when we observe the Sabbath focus of placing God at the center and then prioritize everything else in proper relation to that focus. Keeping the Sabbath day constantly reminds us that Yahweh is to be pre-eminent in our lives.

    The Sabbath rhythm, then, enables us to integrate all the scattered parts of our selves into a whole. Even in the times of darkness and sadness, keeping the Sabbath gives us a means for finding wholeness in the midst of our pain. This is illustrated by the unusual ending of 2 Chronicles.

    Even as we cease working although our work is not done and spend the Sabbath as if we have no work to do, just so we embrace wholeness on that day even when we are not experiencing wholeness in our present circumstances. The God who ordained that the Sabbath be kept holy is able to watch over our dark nights of the soul and give us Sabbath rest and hope even in the midst of the desolations. We move from the negative action of trying to cease being anxious into the positive hope of wholeness.

  • Stephen Lake

    Dawn's quiet, contemplative sabbath routine inspired my family and others in a Saturday evening church we helped found some years. She had a rich but practical theology about entering into the rest of God through the practice of sabbathing. An excellent book, the best I've found on the topic.

  • ♔Ƙƴℓιє♔

    While I may not fully agree with every finite detail the book discusses I was overwhelmed with the conviction and wisdom it held. After studying in Exodus and discovering more about the command of keeping the Sabbath and being recommended this book I learned soooo much. I would greatly recommend it to any Christian to just get the juices flowing on what a modern celebration of the weekly sabbath might look like and truly the heart behind that decision and what it is a reflection of. I think this

    While I may not fully agree with every finite detail the book discusses I was overwhelmed with the conviction and wisdom it held. After studying in Exodus and discovering more about the command of keeping the Sabbath and being recommended this book I learned soooo much. I would greatly recommend it to any Christian to just get the juices flowing on what a modern celebration of the weekly sabbath might look like and truly the heart behind that decision and what it is a reflection of. I think this would also be a great book for a group study and I find myself referring to it often in my bible studies.

  • Melody C Drown-Parker

    The caliber of the book and message. It has life changing suggestions to increase the spiritual part of your life.

  • Deirdre

    Good, thorough exposition of what it means to keep the Sabbath. It's a bit dated in some places, she says some odd things in other places, and it's a bit repetitive, but overall it was quite good. I like her robust theology of Sabbath, which calls for Sabbath-keeping not only as something you as an individual do to become a better follower of Jesus by acknowledging your limits and trusting God with the work that you do but also something that draws you deeper into your community and the pursuit

    Good, thorough exposition of what it means to keep the Sabbath. It's a bit dated in some places, she says some odd things in other places, and it's a bit repetitive, but overall it was quite good. I like her robust theology of Sabbath, which calls for Sabbath-keeping not only as something you as an individual do to become a better follower of Jesus by acknowledging your limits and trusting God with the work that you do but also something that draws you deeper into your community and the pursuit of justice. Challenging and thought-provoking.

  • Stephen Hoogerhyde

    An excellent book on keeping the Lord's Day. Dawn focuses on four key aspects that will inform, shape, and deepen your delight in keeping the day. Ceasing from work, from productivity, from trying to be God, among other aspects. Resting, finding spiritual, emotional, physical, and intellectual rest. Embracing intentionality, the values of the Christian community, wholeness, giving. And finally feasting, feasting on the eternal, with music, with food, with beauty.

    Dawn gives a number of examples o

    An excellent book on keeping the Lord's Day. Dawn focuses on four key aspects that will inform, shape, and deepen your delight in keeping the day. Ceasing from work, from productivity, from trying to be God, among other aspects. Resting, finding spiritual, emotional, physical, and intellectual rest. Embracing intentionality, the values of the Christian community, wholeness, giving. And finally feasting, feasting on the eternal, with music, with food, with beauty.

    Dawn gives a number of examples of how she keeps Sabbath, and a number of suggestions. But she constantly warns against rigidity, a checklist mentality, and a Pharisaical attitude. Everyone doesn't--shouldn't--keep Sabbath exactly the same.

    I highly recommend this book!

  • Erin Henderson

    This book helped me identify sabbath principles that I could commit to and adapt so that I could practically apply them in my life. I’m seeing that keeping the sabbath is essential for my family’s wellbeing, and I am thankful for this book helping me think through the nuts and bolts, as well as the reasoning for sabbath keeping.

  • Andrew

    This classic on the Sabbath steers far clear of the legalism that has often surrounded Sunday. Marva Dawn frames this gift to God's people positively with emphases on ceasing, resting, embracing, and feasting. The Sabbath is a time for renewal that can actually make us more alert and more productive and more in tune with God than if we push each day of the week. A fine introduction.

  • Lisa Lewton

    This is an excellent intro to the importance of Sabbath. Very accessible for lay folks interested in discovering the freedom of the 3rd commandment. It is a bit ramble and windy, but there are lots of wise nuggets throughout, as it threads through the scripture and everyday life.

  • Tanner Hawk

    Loved Part I (Ceasing) but felt that Parts II-IV were a bit fluffy and repetitive. In the end, though, this book offered profound and practical insights on Sabbath-keeping that have changed how I live my life. Definitely recommend.

    "Calvin Miller stresses that intimacy with God cannot be rushed, that we cannot enjoy the presence of God if we are always looking at our watches. That is why keeping the Sabbath is so important--because on that day we never wear our watches at all. Except for attendin

    Loved Part I (Ceasing) but felt that Parts II-IV were a bit fluffy and repetitive. In the end, though, this book offered profound and practical insights on Sabbath-keeping that have changed how I live my life. Definitely recommend.

    "Calvin Miller stresses that intimacy with God cannot be rushed, that we cannot enjoy the presence of God if we are always looking at our watches. That is why keeping the Sabbath is so important--because on that day we never wear our watches at all. Except for attending certain specific hours of worship and Bible class, we have the whole day long to move as the Spirit leads us" (p. xii).

    "This is what we celebrate on the Sabbath day. We join the generations of believers--going all the way back to God's people, the Jews--who set aside a day to remember that we are precious and honored in God's sight and loved, profoundly loved, not because of what we produce" (p. 20).

    "Sabbath keeping teaches the dialectical truth that Christian feasting is both temporal and eternal. Our weekly celebrations help us to be more aware that God is eternally present, but the fact that Sunday moves on into Monday keeps reminding us that our short-lived Sabbath celebrations are but a foretaste of the eternal feast that we will someday enjoy in God's presence" (p. 153).

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