Take the Sabbath Challenge

by Rob Muthiah, Ph.D.

Have you ever played misery poker? Here’s how the game works: you sit around with a group of friends and each one takes a turn sadly sharing how busy you are and how overwhelmed you feel. The key to winning is one-upping all the other players—if you are the most stressed out, work the longest hours, and are the most miserable, you win! But . . . do you really want to win that game?

As Christians, we have an ancient practice that sets us up to lose at misery poker. It’s called Sabbath keeping. The core of the sixth commandment is this: don’t work for one day a week. Stop! Cease! Halt! In this different kind of time, the blessings of Sabbath bubble up as we orient ourselves toward God through worship, spend undistracted time with our families and friends, celebrate the beauty of God’s creation by getting outdoors, set aside extra time to pray and read Scripture, and maybe even take a nap!

Let’s be honest—if you relate in any way to the misery poker game, a move toward Sabbath rest isn’t going to be easy. Is it worth the effort it will take to push things out of this one day onto the other six days in order to slow down, breathe, and rest? Is that even possible in today’s culture?

That depends. If we take as our starting point the urgency, expectations, and values of the dominant culture and try to add in Sabbath, then Sabbath keeping may in fact prove impossible. Yet we can choose a different starting point. Let’s view the Sabbath as a precious gift, a rhythm of life set in place by our generous, loving, and gracious God who in six days made the heavens and the earth and then rested on the seventh day.

When we open our hands to receive this gift and begin to taste its sweetness, we long for more. Then Sabbath can become the starting point, the cornerstone for our week rather than an add-on in our non-stop world.This rhythm of life is dramatically counter-cultural and that means it’s not easy to sustain. Sabbath does have a built-in protection factor: community. Observe the practice as intended, with others, not alone. Find others in your church and encourage one another along the journey.

So take the challenge! Try a Sabbath experiment this week or each Sunday for the next month. Check out these Sabbath guidelines or come up with some of your own. Invite friends to join you. Step out of the rhythm of our culture and into God’s rhythm for the day. Taste and see if this practice isn’t still as sweet today as it was for the ancient Hebrews and for the people of God down through the centuries. And prepare to lose your next game of misery poker!

Video on how we see the Sabbath

Adapted from The Sabbath Experiment: Spiritual Formation for Living in a Non-Stop World (Cascade) by Rob Muthiah, Ph.D.

Rob Muthiah, Ph.D., is a professor of practical theology in Azusa Pacific Seminary.