"Slow Down, You Move Too Fast"
Camping Sunday February 4, 2007
Made for Rhythm
As humans, we were made for rhythm. Even our heart has a beat - lub-dub, lub-dub. Our lungs have their own rhythm: fill - release, inhale - exhale. We celebrate all kinds of events in song, we listen to music as background -- and what would music be without beats and measures? We seem geared to rhythm.
Our daughter, who works at a home for the developmentally challenged, was commenting how everything changes when they start some music playing in that house. Individuals who normally stay in their room all day (for example, playing with blocks) come out to see what's happening. Others want to dance. The whole atmosphere changes, becomes more friendly or communal. Even a low-functioning individual who seems unresponsive, when a CD is put on, may start moving their feet or swaying their body in time to the music. You know for yourself hor hard it can be hard to resist tapping your foot when good music with a catchy beat is heard!
We're used to a rhythm in the seasons. Yes it was very cold and snowy this week, but it's the beginning of February -- this is 'normal', just as we expect heat waves and thunderstorms in July. Even the birds, and groundhogs like Wiarton Willie, know their times and rituals.
Along with the seasonal rhythm, God designed us for a weekly rhythm of work and rest. Sabbath is about a healthy rhythm in our use of time. There's a danger in this culture with such affluence, so many options of things to see and do, places to go -- there's a danger in this culture to get so caught up in our comings and goings, our 'a-musements', that we have no time for 'musing', we skip the beat or 'rest' in the music that's meant for our good. In our pursuit of shallow pleasure, we forget the One who can truly supply the wholesome music of joy and refreshment in our souls.
Fending Off Freeloaders & Pharisees
A couple of words to set the context here before we dive in. Sabbath is not an excuse for idleness. Work is good, it existed in Eden before the fall when God put Adam in the garden "to work it and take care of it" (Gen 2:15). Work just became sweatier and pricklier after our first parents sinned. But work was originally designed to be good, probably a lot of fun in a weedless, humid, oxygen-enriched environment.
It's not that work is inherently bad, or slacking off a virtue. Jesus and the apostles emphasized that "the worker deserves his wages" (Lk 10:7; 1Ti 5:18). Paul told the Thessalonians to work with their hands so their daily life would win the respect of outsiders, and so they wouldn't be dependent on anyone (1Th 4:11f). Thus the quality of our work can be a witness, bringing honour to Christ; and learning a trade offers freedom, instead of being dependent or a mooch -- you're making a contribution to society. Paul later reminded the church he as a gospel worker didn't eat anyone's food without paying for it; they worked night and day, labouring so as not to be a burden to anyone. He commanded 'busy-bodies' to settle down and earn the bread they eat, adding that if someone wouldn't work, they shouldn't expect a free lunch (2Th 3:6-12).
So, Sabbath rest isn't an excuse for laziness. Work is good, it's part of the 'rhythm'. But neither is the Sabbath something to become legalistic about. Jesus encountered sharp criticism from legalists because He healed on the Sabbath and didn't stop his disciples from plucking and winnowing heads of grain to quell their hunger. He stood against the burden of the man-made interpretations that had been introduced over the centuries advising precisely what weight one was allowed to pick up on the Sabbath. He reminded the religious vigilantes, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath"; and, "It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath...The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath." (Mk 2:27; Mt 12:8,12) Some of the little laws that had been added on discounted or nullified the original intent of the commandment; Jesus sought to restore the Sabbath to its rightful place as a help to people, not a hindrance.
Mark Buchanan is a Baptist pastor in British Columbia. He's written a book, The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath. When he uses the word Sabbath, he means two things: the day, but also an attitude. This helps guard against becoming legalistic. Buchanan writes that the Sabbath attitude "is a perspective, an orientation. I mean a Sabbath heart, not just a Sabbath day. A Sabbath heart is restful even in the midst of unrest and upheaval. It is attentive to the presence of God and others even in the welter of much coming and going, rising and falling. It is still and knows God even when mountains fall into the sea. You will never enter the Sabbath day without a Sabbath heart."
Sign of God's Sovereignty
So if Sabbath is not about being deliberately lazy, nor on legalistic patrol, what IS it? Let's look at a few key Scripture passages that emphasize its role for believers. We'll begin at the beginning: Genesis 2:2-3. "By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done." On the seventh day God rested; He blessed and made it holy because on it He rested (not that the Almighty was tired out from creating; He was just setting a pattern for His creatures). The same Hebrew word shaw-BATH is used, meaning to cease, desist, rest. And God made the day He rested 'holy', kaw-DASH, He set it apart as sacred, made it special, claimed it as His own particular day. So, Sabbath reminds us that time is not our own, not something we made and can claim title to: we enjoy time as a trust from the Creator.
Exodus 20 features the injunction to observe the Sabbath as number 4 of the Ten Commandments. We're told to remember the Sabbath by keeping it holy (kaw-DASH again, set apart). We have 6 days to work; the 7th, we're not to do any work, nor are any servants or employees within our sphere of responsibility. Why? "FOR" in 6 days the Lord made everything, but on the 7th He rested (here NOO-akh: to rest, settle down and remain; to repose, have rest, be quiet). Therefore - for that reason - God blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy (kaw-DASH). Because God made it (along with all the rest of time), He can claim it: it's His to do with as He pleases. Here then Sabbath is an acknowledgment of God's sovereignty and Lordship.
Look too at Exodus 31(12-17). Here God says the Hebrews must observe 'My' Sabbaths as a SIGN between Him and them for generations to come, "so you may know that I am Yahweh who makes you holy (kaw-DASH)." That's a twist. The Sabbath is a sign / signal / distinguishing mark [NLT: sign of the covenant] which sets the people themselves off as sacred, holy, belonging to God. So, the Lord's Day calls us to be different, to not just 'go along with the crowd' and use it for ordinary tasks like doing laundry or other mundane jobs we somehow didn't get around to the previous 6 days. What we do Sunday should distinguish us, set us off as God's people in a distinctive way. It's a public sign of our allegiance and God's sovereignty: He's the one in control of our lives.
Employed not Enslaved
Exodus 20 does not contain the only version of the Ten Commandments; Moses reviews them in Deuteronomy 5. There the reason for keeping the Sabbath is different. Vv12-15 start out similarly, saying Jews and their servants and resident foreigners mustn't do any work "...so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day." Notice the difference there? It's not rooted in Creation but in the Deliverance from Egypt. It's a reminder they as a people were once crushed and without hope, brutally bossed around by Pharaoh and his bully foremen. So when they are privileged enough to obtain employees and slaves of their own, they're not to treat them like machines, overtax them, abuse them or take advantage of them in any way. Instead they ought to extend GRACE to them as God did to the Hebrews when they were oppressed and had no future prospect.
Submission Allows Supply
When we turn to Jesus Christ in repentance, confess our stupid and willful wrongs, and turn over to Him the steering wheel of our life, that submission and yieldedness makes possible the coming of the Holy Spirit to be our strength and re-construct our personhood and behaviour in a far better way. Submission on our part makes possible God's Supply, His refreshing of our lives.
Look closely at the end of Exodus 31:17: "...on the seventh day [the Lord] abstained from work and rested." Both King James and New Revised Standard versions have a more literal approach: "He rested [shaw-BATH] and was REFRESHED [naw-FASH: to take breath, refresh oneself; as we might say these days, "to take a breather"]. Here's something positive, a charging of the batteries when our supply is run out.
Isaiah 58:13-14 has a promise for God's people if they keep the Sabbath sincerely; 13 the 'if', 14 the 'then'. Note the emphasis on God's sovereignty as opposed to us being in control, doing as we please: "If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the LORD's holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then [note the THEN - here's the promise] you will find your joy in the LORD, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob." You can see from these verses how much Sabbath is a heart-issue, an attitude, not just a day; it's about what we DELIGHT in, what we consider HONORABLE, giving priority to the Lord's leading instead of just doing as we please. If we yield to His sovereignty, He promises joy and feasting in return. That sounds like a good deal! Sabbath observance becomes the outward indicator of our inner alignment.
Coming to the New Testament, our Lord Jesus emphasizes our need for 'rest' with Him in a couple of passages. In Mark 6 the twelve disciples have just returned from a preaching mission to the villages. In the midst of a beehive of activity and at the height of His popularity, Jesus calls them apart to a solitary place to rest. Vv 30-32, "The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, "Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest." So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place." That must have been a scene - so many dropping by that they couldn't even squeeze in a sandwich for a bite to eat! But they had just returned from a major mission, and Jesus knew that in the rhythm of work and life, they needed rest. Although they were in hot demand, He led them in withdrawing their services for some overdue self-care. The Greek verb here translated 'rest' means "to cease movement or labour in order to recover and collect one's strength; to give rest, refresh." Jesus calls us to recharge, lest we become totally spent.
The other place where Jesus offers rest and replenishment is Matthew 11:25-30. Here again, God's sovereignty figures prominently: Jesus praises the Father for revealing the Good News to the childlike, yet hiding it from the wise and learned (the towns in which He'd performed miracles but did not repent). God's rule is also evident as Jesus acknowledges the Father has committed all to the Son, and it's the Son's sovereign CHOICE to reveal the Father to someone. In that context of God's sovereignty acknowledged, Jesus offers an invitation for us to come to Him, accept His yoke, and thus enjoy true soul-rest. Here's how it reads in the New Living Translation: "Come to Me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light."
There's submission required - taking His yoke, stepping into the traces of the harness alongside Him, allowing Him to teach us; but His yoke is 'easy', literally 'kindly' - you couldn't ask for better. He's not a harsh taskmaster, but 'gentle / humble' in heart, building up not driving into the ground. And He says, "I will give you REST...you will find REST for your souls." Robinson notes this is similar to "I will refresh you"; far more than mere rest, this is also REJUVENATION, close to the English slang expression 'to rest up'.
Ponce de Leon may have gone searching for the legendary Fountain of Youth, but he never found it. He would have had to look to the cross, not the Americas. When we feel things are coming apart at the seams, when we're worn out, it's time instead to "come apart" with Jesus to a quiet place, in solitude learn from Him and re-orient our lives to His sovereign purpose and direction for us. We'll come away feeling rejuvenated, restored, rested up. Hence Mark Buchanan's subtitle for his book: 'Restoring your soul by restoring Sabbath'.
God's Boost for Your Battery
Meredith's car had been sitting for some weeks in the parking lot in Ottawa, unused, because it wouldn't start. In the meantime, two tires went flat. Her older brother, Keith, came by one day, took the tires to get some air, and gave her a jump-start. However, halfway to her place of work, the car quit again in the middle of the busy road. The spare tire she'd just installed was going flat. As she directed traffic around the stalled car, she was starting to get quite discouraged. But Keith, who'd followed behind in his car and gone to phone his workplace to let them know he'd be late, noticed a service station close by. It 'happened' to have a mechanic available who 'happened' to have a battery booster pack handy. He came right over, reversed the car into the garage, and soon Meredith was all set with a new battery and 2 new tires. She concludes that day's blog by saying, "Through it all, I've gained a bit more knowledge about cars, a greater appreciation for family nearby, and a deep gratitude to God for working through even the bleakest situations." She felt God was looking after her, the way things turned out.
The point of this analogy is that sometimes our lives seem like that stalled car in the middle of the busy rush-hour traffic. There's no 'juice' left, and circumstances have conspired to let the air out of our tires. Maybe it's financial pressures -- too much month and not enough money. Maybe it's family friction: others ignore you, tend to bad-mouth you, or write you off as a fanatic. Perhaps you're a student just now realizing the program you've signed up for isn't going to take you where you vocationally felt you needed to go. Maybe it's a stubborn habit that's being plain hard to unload. Whatever it is that's letting the air out, that's draining your battery, Jesus is your jump-starter. You need to connect to His battery-pack. He understands your situation / your background completely and can show you the way ahead. But that requires time when you can give Him your undivided attention. Harness up with His yoke - just His - not 50 million other clamouring things.
Mark Buchanan tells the story of one man who just couldn't quite manage to keep all the plates spinning...
"A man in my church became sick and couldn't shake it. It went on for months. He was usually a man who went full tilt at every thing, night and day. In Dr. Seuss's The Cat in the Hat, there's a page where that frolicsome, troublesome cat is pirouetting on a rubber ball while balancing a teetering mountain of stacked objects: a fish- bowl on a rake, a tray with a milk jug on his free foot, a cake and a teacup on his hat, a toy boat on one hand and a tower of books on the other. He holds a Japanese fan in the curled tip of his tail. The cat claims he's capable of even greater feats than this. But:
That is what the cat said
Then he fell on his head!
He came down with a bump
From up there on the ball.
And Sally and I,
We saw ALL the things fall.
"That's a suitable metaphor for this man's life. The sickness stripped him down. The sickness collapsed him and scattered his circus act. He had to spend whole days and weeks housebound, idle, waiting, banking energy just to go up and down stairs. He spent more time with his wife and children in those few months than he had in all the years he'd known them. He read more than he ever had and pondered more and prayed more.
"One day he said to me, 'I know God is trying to get my attention. I just haven't figured out yet what he wants my attention for. He must want me to do something.' I thought a moment. 'Maybe,' I said, 'that's the problem: you think he wants your attention in order for you to do something. Maybe he just wants your attention.' Maybe that's what God requires most from us: our attention."
If you need to come apart with Christ before you unravel due to stress, why not give Family Camp a try? When I was there in 2005 I found the cabin sheltered under the pines quite conducive to reading, resting, and rediscovering my guitar. The speaker input and worship each day were excellent. And the meal and prayer times offered a healthy amount of interaction with other believers. But best of all, it was AWAY from the tyranny of the telephone and all those unfinished household chores that steal solace around home.
We need time aside in order to hear from the Lord, to bless Him with our full attention. Develop a Sabbath attitude, a heart that looks for opportunities to draw aside with Him. "Pray without ceasing", never stop being alert to ways you can get alone and focussed with Him. In Acts 10(9), as the noon mal is being prepared, Peter goes up on the roof to pray - and is given the vision of the clean and unclean animals let down on a sheet which foretold the acceptance of Gentiles into the Kingdom. It was only because he'd made himself available to God, creating a silent solitary space where he could listen with his soul, that he benefited from God's direction. What other answer might he have given when Cornelius' messengers came, had he not seized the time to check in with the Almighty? Would we Gentiles be in the church?
God is not glorified by busy believers rushing to and fro who remain spiritually shallow because they don't take time to get alone with Him. It's in the silence that He can whisper to us, show us visions where He wants to take us. Carve out for yourself that corner, that nook where you can meet each day with your Maker. Keep the Sabbath a priority for worship, rest, and rejuvenation in Him. It will change your life - because He's involved!
Carl Sandburg, in his biography of Abraham Lincoln, describes Lincoln's childhood this way: "In wilderness loneliness he companioned with trees, with the faces of open sky and weather in changing seasons, with that individual one-man instrument, the axe. Silence found him for her own. In the making of him, the element of silence was immense."
In the making of him, the element of silence was immense. May the Lord help us find that silence in which we may rest in His presence, and allow Him to shape us. Let's pray.