We live in a time-compressed world. Technology is supposed to make our lives easier and create more leisure time. People purchase microwave ovens, home computers and riding lawn mowers to gain more control over their time. Then, of course, they have to work overtime to pay for the time-saving gadgets.
We rush to work, rush through meals, rush through conversations so we can rush to a child's school event. We then tear off to a health club to ride a stationary bike. On weekends many people rush through church services so they can hustle home and spend a few hours trying to relax in front of the television, only to feel vaguely bored and restless.
Marriage and family therapist H. Norman Wright has written more than 60 books on family and related subjects. He calls the results of our fast-paced lives "the hurry sickness."
"It's a response that begins to make our internal clocks run faster ... and faster ... and faster. As with any illness, specific symptoms reflect the presence of the illness. In the case of hurry sickness, the symptoms are heart disease, elevated blood pressure, or a depression of the immune system that makes you more susceptible to infections and cancer. These conditions are brought on when we exist in a state of stress, pressure, or constant rushing. Even tension headaches, and ulcers are tied to hurry sickness" (Simplify Your Life, 1998, p. 39).
The result of always running full tilt is that sooner or later the days, weeks and months become a blur of activities with no purpose or sense of accomplishment. Many people have forgotten why they're running so fast and don't know how to get off the merry-go-round.
The out-of-control rush to keep up affects our health, peace of mind and relationships. We never seem to get everything done. Organized day care for children was supposed to give women more time to pursue fulfilling careers. Instead, many mothers feel guilty about leaving their children and then not being able to spend "quality" time with them because they're exhausted.
Children don't escape time pressures, either. Preteens hurry through childhood driven by incentives to grow up too quickly. Too many children, including teens, show symptoms of emotional and mental breakdowns attributable to stress.
Has all the activity created a better life for you and your family? Or are you like so many people who rush themselves into high blood pressure, exhaustion, emotional burnout and spiritual bankruptcy? Maybe it's time to take a few minutes to take stock of how you spend your time.
The forgotten blessing
How often have you wished you had more time for the important things, like family and reflection? Bookstore shelves bulge with materials that tell you how to organize your life, but many of these sources miss an important aspect of time management.
There's a lot of talk in the United States about posting the Ten Commandments in schools and government buildings. Few would argue against adhering to the instructions forbidding murder or stealing. Keeping these laws of God surely would bring a blessing to everyone. But in the debate one commandment is almost forgotten. In fact, its relevance is often debated even among those who promote keeping the Ten Commandments.
This makes the biblical introduction to the Fourth Commandment all the more potent: "Remember the Sabbath day ..." It's as if this commandment is the easiest for humans to trivialize or overlook entirely.
The need for rest
The Fourth Commandment states: "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God ..." (Exodus 20:8-10). Physical, emotional and spiritual rest are human needs. To ignore these is to sow the seeds of anxiety, illness, lethargy and depression.
Imagine a day devoted to rest and worship -no business calls, no painting the house, no lawn chores to attend to. Imagine a day with extra time to share with your family without the deadlines and pressing appointments of the remainder of the week. Even television shows with intense sound tracks and graphic scenes can leave our minds and even bodies exhausted. Imagine a day when you can shut out the noise, the violence, the preoccupation with making money-and experience peace.
Jesus says, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." A little later in the same account He explains, "For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath" (Matthew 11:28; 12:8). The Sabbath is a time to experience rest for body and mind and renew our relationship with God and His Son.
For some it may be daunting to think of spiritual rest dedicated to reflection on our need for God and to thinking about what is important in life. Sometimes it's easier to fill each waking moment with career, house, car or entertainment than to deal with our own nature. It's easier, that is, until the results in broken relationships, emotional breakdown and spiritual emptiness take their toll.
A day of renewal
The Sabbath isn't intended to be a day of idleness. God told the ancient Israelites that the Sabbath is a "solemn rest, a holy convocation" (Leviticus 23:3). It's a time for, among other things, gathering with other Christians to worship God.
It's regrettable that in our hectic society even church services often have become a matter of convenience rather than a vital element of life. Some churches broadcast worship services on short-range radio so people can sit in their cars in the parking lot dressed for golf or other activities. Then, as soon as the worshipers hear the last amen, they can rush to the next pursuit.
God, through the prophet Isaiah, reminded Israel of the Sabbath's original intent: "If you turn your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the LORD honorable, and shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words, then you shall delight yourself in the LORD" (Isaiah 58:13-14, emphasis added throughout).
The biblical Sabbath isn't about a ritualistic obligation to participate in a once-a-week hour of worship. It is a day dedicated to revitalizing our relationship with God in both private and congregational worship. It's important to understand that God didn't design the Sabbath to be a day of puritanical restrictions. The Sabbath is to be a time of physical, emotional and spiritual renewal. The Creator says we should recognize this day for what He intended it to be-a delight!
Someone questioned Jesus about healing a man on the Sabbath. He answered: "What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it, and lift it out? Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath" (Matthew 12:11-12).
We can help renew the life of another person by visiting the sick or elderly on the Sabbath. Giving time to others takes our thoughts off our own problems and brings rest to troubled minds. Such actions put God's way of life into action (James 1:27).
Observing the Sabbath sets the tone for the next week. With rested minds and bodies, and a renewed relationship with God and Christ, a person is energized to reflect Christ in the subsequent six days.
The weekly plan
Some time-management gurus of several years ago promoted micromanaging each hour of every day to increase efficiency. But adopting this management style drove many people to nervous breakdowns.
A common approach to time management is to organize blocks of time for specific purposes. This method uses the week as a natural management framework.
The week is the framework God used when He told mankind: "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 ..." (Exodus 20:9-10). By planning our time according to a weekly structure, we can get control of the whirlwind and begin to balance our activities. We can schedule our time throughout the week for work, family meals, exercise, household chores, personal Bible study and recreation.
The weekly schedule also gives us a goal at its completion. Biblical days begin and end at sundown, so, no matter how hectic the week, the goal of Friday at sunset-the beginning of the Sabbath-awaits with its promise of physical, emotional and spiritual renewal. As the Sabbath approaches, it is time to forget the work problems and mortgage payments. It's time to shut out the noise of the daily pressure cooker.
At the creation of the Sabbath "God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made" (Genesis 2:3). God set aside the seventh day as holy time. Jesus declares, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27). The Sabbath was created as a blessing from God to all humanity.
Preparing for the Sabbath
God freed ancient Israel from slavery in Egypt. As the Israelites traveled to Mount Sinai, where God would give them the Ten Commandments, the descendants of Jacob's 12 sons faced a food shortage in the barren wilderness. Through Moses God told them He would miraculously supply their daily needs. The Israelites would call the edible and nutritious substance they found every morning manna.
God also instructed them to gather extra manna on the sixth day so they wouldn't have to work on the Sabbath. Human nature being what it is, some people went out on the seventh day to gather manna, but it wasn't there.
God responded: "How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My laws? See! For the LORD has given you the Sabbath; therefore He gives you on the sixth day bread for two days" (Exodus 16:28-29). Here God teaches the important concept of preparing for the Sabbath.
It's easy to spend the day before the Sabbath in a frenzy of activity only to collapse as the sun sets. We can avoid this if we start our physical and mental preparation earlier. Begin planning early to make the Sabbath special. Sabbath evening is a great time for a family dinner with favorite recipes and special china. This is a perfect occasion to invite a widow or family to share a Sabbath meal. Be creative in selecting Bible games and crafts for younger children to help them learn more about their Creator.
It is also important to prepare ourselves emotionally for the Sabbath. As you come home from work at the end of the week, take a little time for prayer. Ask God to relieve you of your burdens and help you experience the holy time He created for our renewal.
The Sabbath as a memorial
In addition to the practical blessings of Sabbath-keeping, God teaches us important lessons through our observance of the seventh day as holy time. The Fourth Commandment in its entirety reads:
"Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. 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: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates.
"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 20:8-11). The Sabbath stands as a weekly testimonial to God as Creator.
Some will ask: But wasn't the Sabbath given only to the Jews?
The Fourth Commandment states that God hallowed the Sabbath at the beginning of creation, before there was a distinction between Israelite and gentile. Jesus didn't claim the Sabbath was made only for Jews, but that God made it for "man."
When Jesus declared Himself the Lord of the Sabbath, He showed the Sabbath as a day to focus on what God is doing through His Son. Humanity turned its back on its Creator. The result is sin-the breaking of God's laws and disregard for His will-which causes death. Humanity's only hope is redemption.
Redemption is God setting us free from the enslavement of sin and death. Since we human beings can't save ourselves from death, God sent His Son to die for us, to take on Himself the penalty of our sins and make eternal life possible. The Sabbath stands as a memorial to the redemptive work God is doing through Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath.
Have you been missing out on this special gift from God? Is your life so hectic that you don't have time to experience spiritual rest with Christ? Instead of cramming every day with exhausting activity, it's time to start enjoying the day God set aside for you to rest and renew your relationship with Him. It's time to begin celebrating the Sabbath.