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A Beginners Guide to Practicing the Sabbath

October 18, 2021

Some of the ten commandments are resoundingly easy to follow.

Don’t murder people? Or steal from them? Okay cool. Simple enough.

Respect our parents? Respect other people by not gossiping about them or being jealous of what they have? Respect the person you’re married to by not cheating? Doable.

Keep God first? Respect His name? I’m not out here trying to make another golden calf (but don’t be deceived – idols are probably more common today than they were in biblical times).

The one we all seem to neglect: Sabbath. A day of rest. The very thing God did in the very first book of the Bible.

So while the other nine can be difficult at times and something we have to constantly remind ourselves of, that one about rest kind of gets pushed to the side. It’s what prompted John Mark Comer to write his best-seller (and a COVID favorite read of many) “The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry”. 

Here’s the hard lesson I’ve learned looking back at who I was in the beginning of 2020 to present day (October 2021): rest is crucial. Sabbath is crucial. And it can’t be replaced or managed by alternatives. Let me explain.

One of the terms I hear thrown around a lot nowadays is “self-care”. The things we do to pamper ourselves after a particularly hard day or week. The rituals we do that make us feel whole and loved and refreshed. Self-care can be taking time for yourself to relax and watch that movie or show you’ve been wanting to delve into. It can making a nice meal and pouring a glass of wine. Taking a bath with a face mask and candles. Using a weekend to take a trip to the beach or a cute AirBnb. The list goes on. But “self-care” isn’t “rest” or Sabbath.

Rest is something attainable – we do it every night. It’s a ceasing of movement. A period where our body is in a state of inaction. It recharges our battery and gives us energy for the next day ahead. Most of us probably don’t get enough of it or sneak naps in throughout the day/weekend, but rest is required. If we don’t rest, we get sick. We get restless. Our bodies shut down. Rest is part of our life cycle on this side of eternity.

But what about Sabbath, you might be asking? What makes Sabbath so different? Didn’t God just rest after seeing everything was good? I’m glad you asked.

Sabbath is defined as “a day of religious observance and abstinence from work, kept by Jewish people from Friday evening to Saturday evening, and by most Christians on Sunday.” 

If you’re reading this and Christian, I want you to read this definition again really slow. Ready?

Sabbath is a day of religious observance and abstinence from work.

You’re probably thinking about how you don’t go to work on Sundays. That’s the weekend, right? You’re not at work. Maybe you go to church. But what about the rest of the day?

Work is also running errands. It’s checking things off on your never-ending to-do list. It’s chores around the house. It’s refreshing your email and responding to just one or two or ten. 

Practicing the way has an even better definition:

“The Sabbath is a day blessed by God and set aside for rest and worship. One of the most important practices of Jesus was finding rest and making time for Sabbath. The human condition is prone to restlessness and our digital age and consumeristic culture only exacerbates the problem. We must model the restfulness of Jesus, which is more than just a day, but is a spirit we live by all week long.”

Sabbath is a day to worship God with your whole being. That doesn’t mean you have to lay around all day and do absolutely nothing. It’s so much better. And I’m sure that once you start practicing it and taking it seriously, you’ll want more and more of it. 

If you’ve read this far and you’re wondering where to start, or maybe you just skipped the background for this part, let’s dig in to how to Sabbath:

  1. Choose a day that works for you and your schedule.

Sundays seem like a great option for followers of Jesus. You already go to church that day for worship and teaching and it’s a typically slower day to enjoy. But how many of us are guilty of using Sunday afternoon/evening to prepare for the week? We call them the “Sunday scaries”. The rush to get everything done before the work week starts all over again. 

I work in ministry, so Sundays are a work day for me. I’m up early to prepare for church services, take an afternoon nap, and then grocery shop, meal prep, and get my life together before Monday morning comes around. 

It took me a while to figure out what routine works best for me, but I finally found a great solution that I’ll dig into more later – Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. A period of 24 hours that – for the most part – I can dedicate to practicing Sabbath without having to worry about what else I need to do.

  1. Create rituals and routines to your Sabbath practice.

This was probably the hardest part for me to figure out. You need something to mark the beginning and end of your Sabbath day and make it complete. It doesn’t have to be super traditional and make you feel like someone in a monastery (but if that’s your thing, please go for it). For me that looks like reading my Bible or saying a prayer of thanks as the sun goes down on Friday. I release all the tension from the week I just went through and ask God to give me rest and peace over the next 24 hours. To help me not get distracted by anything work related – whether that’s my email inbox as the unread count grows or from the things around my house that just need to be cleaned. 

I end it in a similar way. On Saturday evening, I reflect on the day behind me. I actually started keeping a journal where I write down: what I did during the day and with whom, the things I was grateful for that day/week, the things I need to release and place in God’s hands, and what I feel God saying to me in that moment. It takes just a few minutes, but is an act of worship in it’s own.

But the preparation for a day of Sabbath is probably the hardest: Fridays and Saturdays are my weekend technically. I work for a few hours Friday morning, doing some last minute work before Sunday and sending out my end of the week projects. Come noon or 1pm, I transition into doing all my errands – car maintenance, laundry, sweeping and mopping, cleaning out the trash and bathrooms and kitchen sink, working on some side projects, scheduling appointments. The list goes on. It’s usually a little bit chaotic knocking it all out, but knowing it’s done before Sabbath begins is the best feeling.

  1. Do your Sabbath stuff.

Now for the fun part. Like I said earlier, Sabbath isn’t just sleeping all day or laying around. It’s doing the things you love to do that aren’t work and taking life slow. Disconnecting from the things of “work” and enjoying the life God has given you. Reconnecting with your loved ones in a way you can’t when to-do lists are in the way. Spending time with God. A dedicated amount of time with God. That’s worship to Him. 

Every Sabbath looks different for me. If you’ve read Comer’s book mentioned above (and I highly recommend you do because he’s way better at this than me), he gives tons of ideas. 

On Fridays, after I spend some time in prayer, there’s a good chance I’ll either: a) make a big meal and enjoy it on the sofa while watching a movie or b) hang out with my people doing all kinds of things. I’ll go on a long date or a baseball game with friends. I’ll hang out with my family. I’ll go to the park or a patio bar and catch up on what’s happening in everyone’s lives and what dreams we have in our brains that are waiting to become reality. 

On Saturday, I sleep in (which for me becomes more and more difficult because I keep becoming more of a morning person). I *try* to not endlessly scroll on my phone first thing but go to the window and open the blinds. I make a cup of tea or coffee and a huge breakfast – I’m talking eggs, bacon, pancakes, fruit, the works. I crack open my Bible and read for a while. Sometimes I go for a long walk. Sometimes I go to the park with friends and we sip on coffee and get into very deep discussions. Sometimes I wake up before the sun and drive to the beach to catch waves and watch the sunrise. Sometimes I drive out to hike a trail. Sometimes I grab a book and don’t move for hours. Sometimes I volunteer with a local org that I’m passionate about.

By the time the afternoon comes around, I enjoy some kind of favorite lunch or go to a restaurant I love. I usually will make plans to spend time with loved ones if I spend the morning in at home. But sometimes I’ll just enjoy the talents and hobbies God gave me: reading, playing guitar, creating with all kinds of things. Sometimes I’ll try a new recipe or bake a sweet treat, which somehow always takes me way longer than the recipe says it will. I’ll take a long nap in the sun or hammock or on the couch. I’ll grab an early dinner with someone and enjoy lots of laughter.

The thing that helps the most the entire day: I try to ignore my phone as much as possible. When I ignore all the distractions around me but especially the ones in my pocket or palm, I’m way more present in what’s happening and what God is trying to show me or let me enjoy. 

The common thread throughout the entire Sabbath day is enjoying everything as an act of worship. Being grateful for the things you have and do, the people around you, the life you live, the community you belong in. Letting God move in the entire day and every word you speak. Praising Him for the life you get to live. Enjoying some much needed rest and peace and stillness and knowing it all comes from God.

  1. Make it a habit.

The hardest part that I’ve found is keeping the practice and discipline holy. It’s easy to just enjoy the day and live your best life. But it’s about more than that. It’s about letting everything you do throughout the day point to God.

It’s increasingly difficult to carve out a full day for Sabbath. It’s so tempting to do work and just do one teeny-weeny thing on my errands. Especially that one thing I didn’t get to do the day before. Or that one thing nagging me at the back of my brain that I know I can do tomorrow. But that wouldn’t honor the discipline of Sabbath.

So find your day. Find your routine. Find your people and practices. Do Sabbath and don’t take it lightly. And soon enough it’ll become the day you look forward to the most. A habit you can’t wait to dig into. A day that you get to spend with and dedicate to God. 

*Want to dig in a bit more or read another breakdown of how to Sabbath? I highly recommend Tim Keller’s “Six Ways to Practice Sabbath

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