Practicing the Better: Sabbath #3

Sabbath rest leads to restoration.  It brings things which get lost in the whirlwind of activism back into view.  We will look at two restorative aspects of sabbath–one in this post and another in the next.

Restoration restores our perspective.  For one thing, it reminds us we are not indispensable. No matter how long we go away for sabbath time, the world keeps going. Only God never slumbers or sleeps (Psalm 121:3). Excessive activity fosters an artificial sense of our importance, and the ego swells like a blowfish with the increasing gas of self-aggrandizement. 

Even more amazing and challenging is the fact that the first creation story includes a day when God rested!  The paradigmatic nature of the story is plain.  God is saying, “If I cannot be God without sabbath, what makes you think you can be human without it?”  Yikes!

In his devotional classic, ‘The Testament of Devotion,’ Thomas Kelly noted how activism can arise out of a good heart.  Because of compassion, we are moved by the needs around us, but if we are not careful, compassion can turn into compulsion. Kelly turns us away from compulsivenesss by saying plainly, “We cannot die on every cross, nor are we expected to.” [1]

Years ago, Richard Foster told me of a time in his life when he was feeling over-committed and experiencing the early stages of burnout.  Into his increasing depletion God spoke this restoring word, “Richard, you must learn that there are more things going on than I am asking you to be involved in.”

I have gone over this line more times than I can count.  It takes sabbath time to restore the wisdom found in the words, “Do a few things well.” We each have a coverage area–a territory, and it is there where we are called to practice the better. Sabbath restores our perspective. Without it, we eventually become a mile wide and a half-inch deep.  

And as Richard Foster put it in the opening sentence of his book, ‘Celebration of Discipline’–“Superficiality is the curse of our age ” [2]. Sabbath restores the sacredness of the ordinary, the importance of locality, and the joys of living here-and-now.

[1] Keith Beasley-Topliffe, ed., ‘The Sanctuary of the Soul: Selected Writings of Thomas Kelly’ (Upper Room Books, 1997), 61.  This quote comes from Kelly’s classic, ‘A Testament of Devotion’ (Harper & Row, 1941).

[2] Richard Foster, ‘Celebration of Discipline’ (Harper & Row, 1978), 1.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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