Physical Preparation for Evangelism, Rest, Rest and the Workplace

Evangelism and Physical Fitness: Respecting Others’ Right to Rest

Over the last few weeks, we’ve taken the time to look at a few techniques to help us get the rest we need to serve God at our best.  This week, we’re flipping the coin as we examine the importance of allowing others to get the rest that they need.

You’ve probably heard the old saying, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  While Jesus wasn’t the originator of this phrase, it does summarize a great deal of His teaching.  (That is, of course, presuming that you generally like others to approach you with grace, mercy, generosity, etc.)  It’s an important phrase to remember when we discuss the value of rest.  After all, everyone needs some time to relax… and helping others get away, even just for a moment, can be a powerful presentation of our Christian faith!

In Matthew 11:28, Jesus said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”  Notice He doesn’t qualify His “all”.  He doesn’t say, “Come to Me, you Jews who are weary” or “Come to Me you slaves who are weary” or even “Come to Me you temple-goers who are weary”, but “Come to Me, all who are weary.” He doesn’t seem concerned with the sex or social status of those who approach Him for rest and shows no interest in their career choice or political affiliation – His only concern is that people need rest.  Perhaps the appeal of this phrase is that in seeking to have a physical need met, a spiritual one is met as well.  And if having the one met by Christ leads to the other being met in a more important, eternal sense, then we who are “imitators”(Ephesians 5:1) of Christ ought to do all we can to help those around us experience rest.

So what does this look like in application?  To begin with, we need to be alert to the needs of others.  Stop talking and start listening.  It’s likely that you’ll begin to recognize the signs of exhaustion in the words of your siblings, the tone of your boss, or the actions of your professor.  When you do, this alertness ought to lead us to action.  Here are a few examples of the form that action might take:

  1. Respect for break times and off-work hours.  We’ve all been there:  We’re lounging in the break room enjoying our lunch when someone comes in and asks our opinion on a problem they’re facing out on the sales floor.  It isn’t that we mind weighing in, but we’d prefer to do it on the clock.  Though it may seem surprising, we aren’t alone in this sentiment.  If you see your math professor headed into the baseball stadium or your employer relaxing with a magazine, now isn’t the time to approach them for comment!  Let them enjoy their time off and wait to approach them until they’re back on the clock.
  2. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because your boss is salaried, they don’t have a right to enjoy lunch undisturbed.  Unless it’s a real emergency (like the store is burning down), leave them alone and address the issue once they’ve packed away their munchies.  Many employees won’t afford them this kind of basic human decency, so you can bet they’ll notice if you do!
  3. Don’t assume that you know what everyone else’s life is like.  It’s easy to rationalize pressuring a high performance out of someone who we feel isn’t justified in their weariness.  Unfortunately we don’t always know the full story behind why our co-worker always shows up yawning or a particular church member never seems to have the time to serve.  That exhaustion could be from a party that went on until the wee hours of the morning… or it could be from an unavoidable late-night study session.  Give the benefit of a doubt and cut others some slack when it comes to adding to their burden.  Respect their boundaries when they say they just can’t work the overtime or tend the nursery.
  4. Head off the tension at the pass.  Romans 12:18 tells us, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” I probably don’t need to say it, but conflict isn’t conducive to rest, so do your best to avoid it.  Even when you’re justified in your frustration, approaching your pastor employer, parents, or coworkers with a tone of sympathy and an expectation that they’re man or woman enough to resolve the problem can go a long way towards creating a restful environment and actually fixing the situation.
  5. Do the unexpected.  Go out of your way to teach an extra class and give another Sunday School teacher a break or sneak your boss a candy bar and keep watch for a few minutes while they consume it.  You may be surprised at how much impact an unexpected, rest-inducing act can have!

While these ideas just scratch the surface, you’re likely starting to get the picture.  We live in a stressful world and, when we take the time to relieve the stress of others and afford them an opportunity to rest, our actions get noticed.  If we take these actions in the right way, they point observers straight to the One who can give them rest not just now, but for all eternity!

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Boundaries Between Rest and Ministry, Physical Preparation for Evangelism, Rest

Evangelism and Physical Fitness: Setting Boundaries Between Rest and Ministry Part II

Last week in “Setting Boundaries between Rest and Ministry Part I”, we discussed some of the dangers that we encounter when we fall prey to the false belief that the only way to serve God is through the doors of the church.  We considered the importance of taking the time to prayerfully consider opportunities to serve and determining whether we have the time and energy to do so.  This week, we’ll be looking at the tension which sometimes exists between our need for rest and our prior commitments to serve.

If you’ve been in any form of ministry for long, you already recognize that the energy you can commit to service isn’t a constant.  Some days go better than others and, while we always want to give our best, it isn’t always possible to do so.  An overlong day at work, a grumpy customer, or an irritating classmate can put a crimp in our day… and in our physical reserve.  When this happens, our best bet is to pray and press through, allowing God to handle our energy deficit and enable us to accomplish His will.

Other times, however, the pressure which pits rest against service comes from within the congregation.  There’s an old statistic (I’ll let you decide whether or not it’s true) that claims that 90% of the work is performed by 10% of the church.  Once you’ve accepted one position of service, don’t be surprised if someone approaches you about another.  This isn’t always a bad thing, but it isn’t always a good thing either.  If you’re going to keep your sanity and get enough time for the relaxation that your body so desperately needs, you’ll need to learn to set a few boundaries.  Here are a few top-notch ways of doing just that:

  1. Make a habit of considering each offer to serve on an individual basis.  Just because you’ve helped out in a capacity before doesn’t mean that you’re obligated to do it again… nor does it mean that you may not be willing to do so in the future.  If, after prayerful consideration (I can’t emphasize the importance of this enough), you determine that you can’t serve and get the sleep you need, feel free to say no.  But don’t forget to let the party (or parties) asking that you may be willing to reconsider the situation in the future.
  2. If you have to decline an offer to serve, don’t feel obligated to explain why.  In our overworked world, it isn’t that uncommon for people to have trouble understanding why someone else won’t overwork themselves.  A full-blown explanation of the factors you considered while making the decision can sometimes lead to an argument… and may lead to your being cowed into doing something God didn’t call you to do.
  3. If you’re asked for an explanation, there’s no sin in keeping it vague.  A simple “I had other obligations” is usually sufficient to stave off further enquiry and often goes much further than a statement that you failed to feel God calling you (even if the latter is more precisely the case).  Your obligation is to God first and is expressed in obedience to His Word – even when that Word indicates that you need some time to yourself!
  4. Don’t feel compelled to answer every ministry-related call or e-mail immediately.  Set specific hours during which you pick up the phone (though you may want to keep them to yourself) and let calls outside of these hours go to voicemail.  If there is an emergency, the caller will leave a message.  Don’t feel pressured to pick up just because the person on the other end happens to be your pastor or a particularly needy member of your Sunday School class.  And don’t feel compelled to break your hours if the caller is persistent!  They need their space and you need yours.
  5. Just because there is an event related to your ministry doesn’t mean you need to be there.  This can be a particularly difficult boundary for others to accept, but a failure to set it may lead to exhaustion.  If you teach a Sunday School class and everyone decides to get together once a week for dinner, you are under no obligation to show up.  Weigh your commitments, then prayerfully make a decision.
  6. Don’t show up just because the ministry event will be “fun”.  I admit to struggling with this.  Truth be told, I really enjoy the ministries in which I’m involved… and I find it difficult not to jump at every chance to fellowship with certain members of my congregation.  But just because an activity is “fun” doesn’t mean it’s also “restful”… and sometimes that means that I don’t need to be there.

Next week, we’ll be looking at the importance of respecting the boundaries of others when it comes to getting rest.  Meanwhile, you can probably think of a few more good ideas to tack on to this week’s post.  If you do, please feel free to share them in the comment box below!

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Boundaries Between Rest and Ministry, Boundaries between Rest and Work, Evangelism, Physical Preparation for Evangelism, Rest

Evangelism and Physical Fitness: Setting Boundaries Between Rest and Ministry Part I

Rushing home from work, I crammed my dinner down my throat.  Taking a quick glance at the clock, I hopped in for a three minute shower, then out of the tub, back into my clothes, out the door, and to the church.  A long day at the office resulted in my leaving late and everything between that and the time I walked through the doors of the sanctuary was just a blur.  I was exhausted, but the night was still young.  Inside were kids (lots of them) waiting for my attention.  “Did I even eat dinner?” I asked myself, truly wondering whether I had as I plopped my Bible on the music stand.

We’ve all been there.  School and work can be tiring and sometimes overly so.  We look forward to our time off, but before we reach that blessed relief, we find another demand or two knocking on our door.  Unlike the demand for an education or the money to pay our bills, these demands are more persistent: they come from the church.  Often wrapped in the sentiments of “will you please pray about God’s call regarding your service” or “could you do this just once… no one else will”, it can be hard to see these demands as “optional”.  After all, if we love God, we should be about His work.  Right?

While it’s true that those who belong to God will serve Him (John 12:26), we are severely mistaken if we believe that the only way to do so is through the doors of the church.  After all, Jesus’ commission to us was to “Go into the world…” (Matthew 28:18), not to ask it to come to us!  The result is that, while service within the church is important, a good deal of our work as believers ought to take place outside it… in the halls of academia, in supermarket aisles, and even in the company break room.  It is in these places that our ability to shine the light of Christ matters most because here, the darkness is greatest.

This doesn’t, of course, mean that we ought never to serve in our local body of believers.  Scripture is pretty clear about the importance of service within the body of Christ.  (Galatians 5:13, 1 Peter 4:10)  What it does mean is that we ought never to serve simply because we (or others) feel that service is somehow more “godly” if it is done from a pulpit or the front of a classroom.  There are plenty of ways to be a useful member of the body of Christ and each of them is important to the health of the whole!  (Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 7:7 and 12:4-31)

How does this relate to rest?  Quite honestly, it means that whenever we are given an opportunity to serve, we need to prayerfully consider the whole equation.  Has God gifted you for a particular task?  If He has, doesn’t always mean that He’s calling you to exercise that gift right now.  Take the time to consider whether you have the resources in both time and energy to do the job well.  If not, there’s a good chance this isn’t the right time for you to commit to being the church organist or teaching a preschool class.

While some would argue that those whom God calls, God equips, there are others who equally rightly point out that there is a time and a season for everything (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).  Take some time to pray about the opportunity.  If you receive peace and the pieces fall into place, say yes.  If you don’t, bow out gracefully.  You may disappoint others, but I can guarantee that you’ll disappoint them more if you show up grumpy and unprepared because you really did need some rest!

What about those who are already in regular ministry?  We’ll take a look at that next week, but for now, feel free to share your own thoughts in the comment box below!

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Boundaries between Rest and Work, Evangelism, Physical Preparation for Evangelism, Rest

Evangelism and Physical Fitness: Setting Boundaries Between Rest and Work I Enjoy

If you sometimes have difficulty finding the line between work and play, you aren’t alone!  Engaged in a form of employment that allows me to explore my passion and utilize my creativity, it’s sometimes difficult to see where rest ends and work begins.  Unfortunately, this pleasant blur doesn’t change the fact that rest is still essential if I’m going to effectively share God’s love with others.

Unlike the cranky Christian discussed in “Resting One Moment at a Time”, those who love their work run the risk of becoming an obsessed Christian.  Instead of grumping about everything, obsessed Christians often find their ability to relate to others limited by the things which they feel most passionate about.  The result is that they are often incapable of sharing God’s love outside of the very limited circle of people who share those passions.  I probably don’t need to point out that this isn’t the best profile for anyone seeking to follow Christ’s Matthew 28 commission!

To avoid becoming obsessed Christians, we need to learn to rest… and cultivate interests beyond the sphere of our employment (no matter how thrilling that employment may be).  To do this requires effort, so here are a few tips to get you started.

  1. Set aside time to avoid work.  It may be a full day or just a few hours, but applying your brain to something other than what you do for a living or the subject that you’re studying in school is a healthy habit.  A good rule of thumb is to avoid any activity that may even appear to be related to either of these venues.  (If you aren’t sure whether an activity fits, ask a friend or family member.  Their observations are usually spot-on.)  If you’re studying for a degree in horticulture, don’t spend your “rest time” reading books on plants.  If you’re a graphics designer, set the sketch pad aside.  I may be tempting to cheat, but don’t!  You need this time away.
  2. Explore other people’s passions.  You aren’t the only one completely in love with your vocation!  Take some time to find out more about the hobbies and occupations of your friends and family, then participate with them as they indulge their passion.  Even if it’s work for them, it’ll be a break for you!
  3. Try something new.  The world is full of interesting things to do.  Never picked up a brush?  Why not check out a local painting class?  Wonder why martial artists yell when they attack?  Take a  Karate class!  Never read a fantasy novel?  Ask your local librarian to recommend a good one.  There are plenty of things to explore, so use your rest time to do just that!
  4. Cultivate relationships.  Most Americans don’t have many close friends… so why not fill that gap for someone else?  Take a break from the things that consume you to get to know those within your family, church, or community.  A few hours and a cup of coffee may be all it takes to make a new friend.  If all goes well, you’ll both walk away feeling rested!
  5. Deepen your connection with God.  It’s amazing how quickly He can get sidelined in our lives… even though He’s the One who gave us our passion to begin with!  Why not rekindle that connection?  Instead of doing a quick devotional every day, set aside a larger chunk of time for Bible study and/or prayer.  You may be surprised at just how refreshing this time can become… and how odd your day will feel without it!
  6. Finally, surround yourself with people who have your best interests at heart.  More than once, it’s been my family that has intervened to let me know that I need to slow down a bit.  From the outside, they can see the lines between work and rest quite clearly… even when I can’t.  Find yourself some close friends who are willing to keep an eye on you and who are strong enough to tell you when it’s time to quit.

These are, of course, just a few ideas to get you started.  Apply yourself and you’re sure to come up with a few more!

Next week, we’ll be exploring the tension which often exists between our need for rest and the needs of Christian ministry.  Meanwhile, feel free to share how you escape from becoming an “obsessed Christian” in the comment box below!

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Boundaries between Rest and Work, Evangelism, Physical Preparation for Evangelism, Rest

Evangelism and Physical Fitness: Resting One Moment at a Time

Last week in “Setting Boundaries between Rest and Employment”, we took a look at a few of the employment-related obstacles which stand in the way of our setting aside a scheduled time for rest.  We examined the difficulties encountered by those who live paycheck-to-paycheck and considered the reality that “taking a stand” for our “right” to time off isn’t always prudent or wise (at least not if we want to eat our next meal).  And we discussed the importance of recognizing that God’s provision for us doesn’t always result in our having a great deal of control over our circumstances.

How we react when confronted with such obstacles can make a big difference in both our lives and the lives of others.  Will we give up and simply accept that getting enough rest just isn’t possible?  Will we become the cranky Christian no one wants to be around?  Or will we find a way to navigate the obstacles, find the time to relax, and put ourselves in a position that will help us better demonstrate God’s love?  Those of us who want to fulfill Christ’s commission in Matthew 28:19-20 chose the latter and learn the fine art of resting one moment at a time.

This can be a difficult skill to acquire.  To begin with, we need to throw away the notion that real rest takes real time.  If you’ve ever seen someone return to work looking worn out after spending an entire week just relaxing on the beach, then you know this isn’t true.  What is true is that “a change is as good as a rest”.  And if we are to become skilled at acquiring rest through moments rather than hours or days, that’s where we need to begin.

Think back over your day, paying special attention to “free moments” you may have had while walking to school, taking a break at the water cooler, or even performing some mundane chore like dusting the living room.  “Free moments?” you ask.  Indeed.  While you were physically occupied during these tasks, it’s doubtful that your mind was very deeply engaged.  And it’s from this “free time” that we can sculpt opportunities for rest.  Consider the following tips for turning this time into a mini-vacation:

  1. Read or listen to a devotional.  This activity often takes just a few minutes, but it has the power to draw you closer to God, reset your brain, and influence your outlook for an entire day.
  2. Block out the break room chatter.  Few things are as toxic and non-restful as the gossip which goes on in company break rooms.  Instead of increasing your tension by listening in, plug in a set of headphones and listen to something else: a great podcast, some energizing music, or soothing nature sounds.
  3. Step it up.  Believe it or not, exercise often heightens our ability to rest.  If you’re in a physical job, challenge yourself to step up the intensity… not so much that you hurt yourself, but enough to leave you with a feeling of pleasant soreness when you’ve finished.  If your job isn’t physical, take advantage of your break time and take a stroll around the parking lot.  The change of scenery will do you good!
  4. Take a cat-nap.  Set an alarm, then take a snooze on your lunch break.  Even fifteen minutes of extra sleep has the power to reenergize your day.  If you’re afraid of missing the alarm, then just sit quietly with your eyes closed.  Breathe deeply and enjoy some time on an imaginary beach somewhere with a frosty glass of lemonade.
  5. Work a puzzle.  Instead of stuffing your face with a candy bar during your break, try working a puzzle instead.  Crosswords, Sudoku, chess puzzlers, and other mind-benders take you out of the world around you while helping to sharpen your cognitive abilities.
  6. Explore new ideas.  Grab a book or magazine and disappear into another world for a while.  Like a vacation on a paper, the printed word can take us to places we’ve only dreamed of!

Next week, we’ll take a look at the difficulties that confront us as we try to set boundaries between rest and work that we enjoy.  Meanwhile, feel free to share some of your own relaxation tips in the comment box below!

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Boundaries between Rest and Work, Evangelism, Physical Preparation for Evangelism, Rest, Sabbath

Evangelism and Physical Fitness: Setting Boundaries between Rest and Employment

Life is a balancing act and, if you’re at all like me, you’ve probably struggled at times to maintain that balance: especially when it comes to rest and work.  We live in a high-paced society filled with schedules, deadlines, and difficult-to-meet expectations from bosses, professors, family members, and friends. Our lives are dominated by activities ranging from mundane chores like doing our laundry and cooking dinner to tasks which (seemingly) have the ability to make or break our future job prospects.  And the Church has its demands as well!

With all of this going on around us, it isn’t surprising finding a spare moment to sit down and relax can sometimes seem like an impossible dream!  Indeed, setting and maintaining boundaries between the tasks we must accomplish and the relaxation our bodies and minds so ardently desire can be quite a challenge.  That’s why, over the next few weeks, we’ll be taking a look at some simple ways to set boundaries between work and play.  We’ll explore three types of work/rest boundaries that confront each of us, along with some tips for overcoming the impossible and actually getting the rest that we need.  We’ll be exploring the delicate balance that exists between rest and employment, what to do when the line between work and rest gets blurred, and how to handle the tangible tension which often exists between rest and ministry.

We’ll get started this week with the trickiest of these three: the balance between rest and employment.  Unless you happen to be independently wealthy, you have to have a job.  It is through your employment that you are able to pay your electric bill, cover the cost of your groceries, and ensure that you aren’t running around in just a loin cloth.  If you’re amongst the richest 25% of world population (those who make over $3,706 a year), you probably also have the ability to occasionally see a movie or buy a candy bar.  But even those who are among the “richest” aren’t always rolling in the dough and a loss of hours can lead to serious financial hardship.

That this can lead to conflict when it comes to scheduling time for rest is undoubted.  For example, what do we do when we really have to work that extra day this week or risk losing our employment?  What should we do when the boss says we can have the extra hours we need to pay off our student loan, but we haven’t had a day off in over a month?  And how do we handle it when those who control our time on the clock feel they have the right to control our time off the clock?

While some might be tempted to argue that those facing these circumstances ought to “take a stand”, say no, and trust God, those who have lived through similar situations know that doing so isn’t always wise… or even possible.  We recognize that God’s provision for our needs doesn’t always come in a way that is comfortable or appealing and that sometimes we’re called to do something which doesn’t permit us a great deal of freedom or control.  We aren’t necessarily allowing ourselves to be used as doormats (though it may appear that way to others), but we are submitting ourselves to authority in order to achieve the end that God has put before us – in this case, earning a living.

The result is that some of us have to learn the delicate art of “resting one moment at a time”.  Unlike the full day off we discussed in our series on the Sabbath, this art demands that we learn to look for the little breaks in our day that allow us even just a few minutes to “escape” from the world surrounding us and into fellowship with God.  It requires that we learn to make the best of the time we have, investing it in the activities and relationships that really matter.  And it can make the difference between our being Spirit-filled representations of God’s love for humanity or just another cranky Christian.  It isn’t always an easy skill to pick up, so next week, we’ll be taking a look at a few tips to help you on your way!

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Evangelism and Physical Fitness: Rest and Relationship

Last week, in “What the Sabbath Rest Is”, we discussed the value of the Sabbath as a celebration of deliverance: both Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and our deliverance from sin.  But that’s not where Sabbath observance ends.  God didn’t rescue either the Hebrews or us from something just to leave us wandering in a desert.  Freedom isn’t just about delivering people from slavery: it’s about delivering them to something else.  And in this case, that “something else” is a relationship.

In Titus 3:4-7 we read that, “when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”  Romans 8:14-17 declares that, “all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” This word, “heir” is used throughout the New Testament (Galatians 3:26-29, 4:1-7, Hebrews 6:17 and 11:9, to name a few) and indicates a relationship far more intimate than that of mere acquaintances… it is a relationship of sons and daughters.

It is this relationship which we celebrate as we observe the Sabbath.  Not merely a day of rest, but one of focused rest, this single day each week is to be centered upon our Heavenly Father and dedicated to those things which will draw us closer to Him.  But what exactly are those things?  Here are a few ideas.

  1. Read the Bible.  Can you imagine getting a letter from a friend and just ignoring it?  Probably not.  To do so, would show your disinterest in the relationship… yet all too often, that’s what we do to God.  If you’re looking for a good way to celebrate your relationship with Him, start with His letter to you: the Bible.
  2. Prayer.  Jesus teaches His disciples to pray beginning with the phrase “Our Father” (Matthew 6:9 and Luke 11:2) Unlike the prayers of the heathens (Matthew 6:7), this one isn’t the mere repetition of words.  It’s a conversation between intimate friends and, as with any dialogue, it has the power to deepen and expand our relationship with the One addressed.  Perhaps you can even take the opportunity to share your thoughts about what you just read!
  3. Enjoy each other’s company.  This may seem obvious, but one of the best parts about a friendship is the ability to simply “be” together.  Instead of making your time with God all about study, why not simply sit and listen?  You may be surprised at some of the things He has to say to you!
  4. Fellowship.  One of the best ways to celebrate relationship is in the company of others.  While attending a Church service, Bible study, or Sunday school isn’t compulsory for believers, doing so can play an important role in deepening our relationship with God… and the rest of His family.

These are just a handful of “celebratory” ideas to get you started.  There are plenty of ways to cultivate any relationship – including our relationship with God.  The more time you spend “resting” in His presence, the deeper that relationship will become.  A side benefit?  The closer that connection grows, the easier it will be to act in obedience to God’s command to share His love with others!

Next week, we’ll be looking at a less relationally-centered form of rest as we explore the importance of setting boundaries between our time at work and our time off.  Meanwhile, feel free to share your own thoughts on the Sabbath in the comment box below!

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Evangelism, Physical Preparation for Evangelism, Rest, Sabbath

Evangelism and Physical Fitness: What the Sabbath Rest Is

Last week, in “What the Sabbath Rest Isn’t”, we discussed the pattern of rest God established for His followers as well as how that pattern became corrupted.  But recognizing what the Sabbath isn’t doesn’t always help us when it comes to recognizing what the Sabbath is… or even whether it’s something that (medical evidence aside) ought to be observed by believers today. Was the Sabbath merely meant to be the Jewish equivalent of a “day off”?  Or was it intended to be something more?  And if it was, are there consequences involved with ignoring it?

For the answer to these questions, we must turn first to the Ten Commandments.  (Exodus 20)  Delivered to Moses on Mt. Sinai, these ten basic rules outlined the behavior which God expected from His people.  More than just a set of guidelines for righteous living (or, as Paul would later point out in Romans 3:20, a spotlight to help identify sinful behavior), these commands set the parameters for our relationship with God.  They helped the Israelites identify those behaviors which would either deepen or destroy the intimacy they enjoyed with their Creator.

If you’ve taken the time to thoroughly read the New Testament, you’ve probably noticed that each of these commandments is repeated… but with a single exception: “Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is the sabbath of Jehovah thy God.”  (Exodus 20:9-10a)  Why isn’t there a Sabbath command to be found in all of the teachings of Christ or His Apostles? 

While most of us are familiar with the initial giving of the commandments in Exodus, far fewer Christians are acquainted with the reiteration of these commands to be found in Deuteronomy.  It is here, in chapter 5, verses 12-15 that God explains to Israel that there is far more to this day of rest than simply relaxation.  Indeed, those who follow Him are commanded to, “Observe the sabbath day to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant or your ox or your donkey or any of your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you, so that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to observe the sabbath day.”  The reason for the Sabbath?  To remember Israel’s deliverance from slavery. 

Since not every member of the expanding Church was Jewish, it’s not surprising to find the Apostle Paul advocating the type of freedom which allowed believers the choice between observing the Sabbath or abstaining.  (Romans 14:4-6)  But even then, the issue wasn’t cut-and-dried.  Many believers both then and now continue to see a parallel between Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and our own deliverance from sin.  And if the Hebrew people were to celebrate the one on a weekly basis, how much more should we as Christians take time to celebrate the latter!

Next week, we’ll dig a bit deeper as we examine the relational nature of a Sabbath rest, but for now, feel free to share your own thoughts on the subject in the comment box below!

 

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Evangelism, Physical Preparation for Evangelism, Rest, Sabbath

Evangelism and Physical Fitness: What the Sabbath Rest Isn’t

Last week, in “Rest and the Biblical Case for Taking a Day Off”, we took a look at the practical value of rest and the ways in which a regular pattern of rest can influence us both physically and mentally.  We explored the pattern of rest which God established in Genesis and considered Jesus’ declaration that, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”  (Mark 2:27)  So what exactly is the Sabbath?

According to Exodus 20:9-10, the Sabbath was to be a special day set apart from all others – a day in which those who followed the God of Israel were to do no work.  Starting with this understanding, we can begin to construct an idea of what it means to rest… or at least what it doesn’t mean.

So what qualifies as work?  According to rabbinic tradition, to work was to engage in creative action.  It was labor with the intention of bringing about something new, in similitude with God’s act in creating the heavens and the earth.  While it’s obvious that men can’t create something out of nothing as God did, we’ve certainly proven ourselves capable of transforming one thing into another – and it’s this type of labor which is forbidden on the Sabbath.  If the rabbis are correct (and many Christians argue that they are), those who wish to observe the Sabbath must cease from any task which results in the production of something else.

But even this definition leaves us with some gray areas.  For example, most of us would agree that building a house, baking bread, writing a poem, and painting a picture are creative (or at least transformative) activities.  But what about an activity like walking which results in the “creation” of muscle mass or eating which results in increased energy?  Are these creative acts and, if so, who is responsible for the creation?  Is it God who originated the process by which the thing is created or the men who provide the material with which to create?

In an attempt to answer this question, the rabbis established a number of rules concerning everything from how to prepare Sabbath meals (an activity performed a day in advance) to how many steps one could take between sunset and sunrise.  It wasn’t long before these rules dominated everyone seeking to observe the Sabbath, turning the day of rest into a burden rather than release.  The rules which had been created to aide in the enjoyment of the day had resulted in the same type of legalism which Jesus condemned in Matthew 23:1-4.

The Apostle Paul (unlike the rabbis) was quick to note that it wasn’t the actual activities which occurred on the Sabbath which made it a day of rest, but rather the attitude with which those activities were performed.  Addressing the Church in Rome (a congregation made up of both Jews and Gentiles), he asked, “Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord…”  (Romans 14:4-6)

So where does this leave us as we seek to observe a day of rest?  Quite honestly, with a great deal of freedom.

Next week, we’ll take a closer look of the practical issues surrounding the Sabbath as well as some ways in which regular observance of this day of rest can better prepare us to share the Gospel with others.  Meanwhile, feel free to share your own thoughts in the comment box below!

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Evangelism, Physical Preparation for Evangelism, Rest

Evangelism and Physical Fitness: Rest and the Biblical Case for Taking a Day Off

If sleep is important to our work as evangelists and faithful Christ-followers, then so is rest. Taking a day or even a few hours off at regular intervals allows our bodies to heal and our minds to refocus, spurring our creativity and opening our eyes to new possibilities.  Proper rest allows us the time to explore and enjoy the world around us.  It gives us the opportunity to marvel at God’s creative power and loving care.  And it opens the doors which allow us to better develop our relationships with both our Master and our fellow humans – both of which play a key role in our endeavors to share the Gospel.

For many of us, however, finding time to rest can be just as challenging as getting a good night’s sleep!  Between all of the things we have to do, how are we supposed to find time for the things we want to do?  And how do you create the opportunity for genuine rest when you have a brain that, like mine, never seems to turn itself off?  Do we just surrender to the realities of our modern world… or is there a better way?

To answer these questions, we need to begin with the understanding that God set a pattern for our rest early in the Scriptures.  Genesis 2:2 tells us that, “By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.”  That God intended this to be more than a moment of relaxation for Himself is evident; the following verse declares that, “God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.”

This sanctification is clarified in Exodus 20:9-11 in which Moses commands the Israelites, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.”  According to Jesus, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”  (Mark 2:27)  This day was intended to be a special gift from God to us… and it’s up to us to choose to accept it.

So how do we do that in a world packed with deadlines and schedules beyond our control?  Over the next few weeks, we’ll take some time to delve into the issues which help or hinder our ability to embrace the rest that God offers.  We’ll investigate what it means to properly observe the Sabbath, talk about the importance of setting boundaries between work and play, explore the value of developing and maintaining a few hobbies, and discuss what to do when opportunities for genuine rest are few and far between.

Meanwhile, don’t forget to drop us a note in the comment box below!  We’d love to hear about your own journey as we learn to embrace the gift of rest!

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