EHC#4 – The Rhythm of Sabbath

EHC#4 – The Rhythm of Sabbath

“Emotionally Healthy Church”
The Rhythm of Sabbath
Reading: Exodus 20:8-11, Hebrews 4:1-11
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain

If we want to be able to care for other people we must start by caring for ourselves, and in this next instalment of our “Emotionally Healthy Church” series we are exploring the Biblical principle of “Sabbath” and how stopping, resting, delighting and contemplating can bring us life. The rhythms of the Sabbath is more than just about taking “me time” but finding ways to renew and refresh so we can give our best to our other endeavours.

Click here to download PowerPoint Slide PDF

Questions for reflection or small groups

Be Still / Waiting on the Lord

Phil started his sermon by highlighting the biblical principle of stopping, resting, and waiting on the Lord.  If you would like to be reminded, read through some of the following verses:

  • Mark 6:31
  • Psalm 46:10
  • Psalm 27:14
  • Isaiah 40:31
  • Ecclesiastes 3:7
  • Psalm 37:7
  • Job 6:24
  • Psalm 131:2
  • Mark 4:39-41
  • Exodus 14:13
  • Luke 10:38-42

Do you find the process of stopping, resting, and waiting on the Lord easy to do?  What do you find gets in the way of this happening more?

When it your Sabbath?  Do you take a whole day or split it over a number of days?

Perspective #1 – Emotionally Healthy Church Book
  • Do you agree with Scarezzo’s statement that if we get our work/rest rhythm out of whack then our spiritually can also become out of whack?
  • What are some practical things that you might be able to do to make your Sabbath include the rhythm of stop, rest, delight and contemplate?
Perspective #2 – Sabbath – Self soothing vs Selfcare
  • When you have a time of rest / stopping your normal work, would you say you mainly self-sooth (enjoyable, distracting, in-the-moment activities), self-care (being mindful of your needs and taking steps to fulfil those needs in a way that rejuvenates your body and soul) or an equal mixture of both? 
Perspective #3 – Stop doing and just be
  • Do you agree that we as a society are loosing our ability to be fully present with other people (or with God)?  What are some practical steps that we might take to be more present when we are with other people?  Or with God?
Suggested Prayer triggers:
  • Pray for the peacemakers, those endeavouring to bring peace to conflict
  • Pray for those who are reaching out and helping those who are often forgotten or neglected
  • Pray the worldwide church that we might be close to the agenda of Christ
  • Pray for those who are struggling in their faith
  • Pray for each other and yourself – for your own needs and situations


Sermon Text

Over the past 3 weeks we been exploring some issues out of a book called “Emotionally Healthy Church” and encouraging us to honestly address some of these “below the surface” issues in order to help us be in a better place to grow and spiritually mature.   So far, we have explored our past or upbringing or our response to grief and loss – and today I wish to the idea of  time management and self-care through the lens of the biblical principle of the Sabbath.

This time last year we did a sermon series looking at this crazy 24 hour period in the life of Jesus where Jesus just had one of those days.  Everything was happening – teaching, miracles, pigs flying, storms on the sea, interruptions and demands and even grief.  In Mark 6:31, we find Jesus and the disciples exhausted, hungry and totally spent and Jesus says “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

Ok, let’s be honest – who thinks that sounds pretty good.  Going to a quiet place and getting some rest and just being with Jesus. There is plenty of other parts of Scripture that encourages this idea of slowing down, pausing, resting…

Psalm 46:10 – Be still, and know that I am God

Psalm 27:14 – Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

Isaiah 40:31 – But those who wait for the Lord’s help find renewed strength;  they rise up as if they had eagles’ wings, they run without growing weary, they walk without getting tired

It sounds great … yet for many of us that is just not realistic… we live in a society and an era where everything is sped up. 

We are always on the go, go, go.  We rush through each day, each week … who can believe it is nearly halfway through the year already?  We cram so much into our lives that we become time poor … so the idea of slowing down just seems crazy.  If Jesus said to us, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” we would probably answer … that is a lovely thought Jesus but we just don’t have time for that… 

And so we rush on, cramming more and more things into our day but in doing so we miss all the blessings, all the benefits that come with slowing down and making space for God.

Our first reading from Exodus 20 is the part of the Torah where Moses receives the 10 commandments.  There are actually 613 laws given by God to Moses, but these 10 are specifically highlighted by God as commandments.  So, it makes it even more amazing that in choosing which laws to highlight, God decides one of the 10 should be about rest – about the Rhythms of the Sabbath.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work… For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested on the seventh day. Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

Let’s just be clear here … God is telling us that we should learn the rhythms of the Sabbath, to regularly stop and rest because this is good for us physically and spiritually.    

Ok, before I go on, there are two big problems with me preaching about the Sabbath.  Firstly, the obvious one that I am not a good person to preach on this because I struggle to practice what I preach.  But secondly, I don’t think that a single message on the Sabbath will connect with everyone because we all struggle with issues of time management and rest in different ways.  So, here is what I am going to do.  I am going to briefly share three different points or perspectives on the Sabbath – one in from a current discussion from mental health experts, one is an insight that I had a number of years ago and the third will come from our book on “Emotionally Healthy Church”.  Each of these will bring a different idea or challenge when it comes to embracing the rhythm of the Sabbath and at the end, if you are brave, I am going to ask you which one best resonates with you.  (So you better listen to all three).  You up for this?

  1. “Emotionally Healthy Church” chapter on the Sabbath

Let’s start with our book as it paints a great picture of the Sabbath.  Scarezzo starts by talking about rhythm and how spirituality is learning and aligning our rhythm with God. 

You may have noticed that on the graphics for this service there was a picture of a metronome.  You probably just thought it was there because I was speaking about rhythm.  Well, yes, a metronome does keep the rhythm … but I was noticing that for it to work, it needs to stop – briefly before moving back the other way.  A metronome is not continuously moving  – there is a rhythm of moving, slowing down, stopping and starting again.   It is the same with our spirituality – spirituality is learning and aligning our rhythm with God.         

Scarezzo would say the Sabbath is about embrace the weekly rhythm of work and rest … and it is that rhythm that is spiritually helpful.  Or inversely, if the work rest rhythm gets out of whack, then we are in danger of getting spiritually out of whack too.       

Which sort of links in with that weird second reading from Hebrews.  It is a passage that usually isn’t read out in church because it sort of jumps around and is hard to follow – but in a sentence, the writer is saying that God promises us rest – but this rest is not continual.  Rather it belongs to rhythm that God set – to work and on the seventh day, to rest.  Work then rest, work then rest.  It is this rhythm that brings us life.

Scarezzo finishes his chapter by saying that the Sabbath should not be understood as “you must do nothing” but rather we are invited to actively participate in the Sabbath in four ways:

  1. To Stop – The Sabbath is first and foremost about stopping and stepping away from your regular work.
  2. To rest – this could be to physically rest (take a nap) but biblically it is about doing the things that bring you life … spending time with family, sitting in the sun, working on a hobby, going for walk, anything that is lifegiving
  3. To Delight – to enjoy the things that give us life, but particularly to delight in God and all of God’s blessings.  This is why we have weekly worship, as a way of delighting in God’s presence.
  4. To Contemplate – to pause and reflect and consider and learn – about God and life. 

We are giving this gift once every seven days – to stop, rest, delight and contemplate.  Are we making the most of this opportunity?

  • Self-Care vs Self Soothing vs Sabbath

As we have just talked about – the Sabbath is about taking time to stop and rest – and this next perspective particularly relates to those times when you have one of those days (or weeks or month)s and you just need to stop and take a break.  You need to step away from the pressures of your life and have some “me-time”.  You know what I am talking about?  You are at breaking point and you need to care for yourself.

This is a good thing to do, I am encouraging self-care … but I wanted to share about an interesting discussion happening in mental health circles about whether self-care is too broad a term and have suggested an additional term called self-soothing.  And understanding the difference between the two is important.

Let’s say that you are exhausted and just need to stop and have some “me-time” – and so you might just binge watch a TV show or make yourself a G&T and sit out on the back deck or do some retail therapy or “treat yourself” to a nice meal or play a computer game or scroll on your phone.  It is like a distraction from the pressures of life and finding some comfort in the moment.  It is a good thing to do but this is what mental health professionals would call self-soothing.  Self-soothing is great in the moment but may not have any long-lasting benefits.  Which is where it differs from selfcare.

Self-care is something that makes you feel rejuvenated or filled up in some way.  It is about taking care of yourself not just in the moment, but also flowing into your future.  It could be things like exercise or going to therapy or making time for friends and family or practicing mediation. 

Self-care can even be as simple as a boring, mundane task such as refilling your prescriptions.  Self-care is being mindful of your needs and taking steps to fulfil those needs.

So how does this relate to the idea of the Sabbath?  I would say that the Sabbath should be about self-care, not just self-soothing.  This is a particularly challenging idea for me, because I push myself so hard during the six days that when it comes to my day off … I do crash.  If I am honest, my Sabbath is largely self-soothing … watch TV or playing computer games – which is great in the moment but am I really embracing all that the Sabbath can be?  How do I move from the self-soothing Sabbath to the self-caring style Sabbath?  How do I embrace the Sabbath as a way of enriching and rejuvenating my soul?

  • Doing vs Being (with God)

The last perspective comes from an interesting play of words in another passage from Exodus – still part of the narrative when God is giving the laws to Moses.  In Exodus 24:12, God says to Moses, “Come up to the mountain and stay here.”

It is interesting that all the translations of the Bible use the word stay but that it not the word in Hebrew.  The word we translate for “Stay” in Hebrew is the work Hi-ya which means to be or to exist.  So God is saying to Moses … Come up on the mountain and be on the mountain. 

I think that this is brilliant.  As humans we are very much doing people – we are always doing things … but we are not as good as just “be”-ing.  God knows how we are wired and knew that Moses probably was spending all his time thinking about coming up the mountain and when he got to the top he’d be thinking how he was going to get down.

But God wanted Moses to fully present on the mountaintop.  God was saying to Moses … come up on the mountain and just be with me.  Just stop and be fully present with me for a while.

But that is not the way we live is it.  We are always on the Go … Go … Go …  We are either thinking about what we are supposed to be doing next or dwelling on things that have already happen.  How good are we at being fully present in the here and now?  Have a look at these very challenging pictures that I found a few years ago.  Have a look at them … what reaction do they stir in you?

[Get some input back]

I think one of the challenges of the Sabbath is not just to stop and rest, but maybe we also need to learn how to be present again – to truly BE with the people around us, and how can be simply BE with God. 

There you have it – three different perspectives – three challenges…

  • The book encouraged us to embrace the rhythm of the Sabbath and to stop, rest, delight and contemplate
  • Then we explored the idea of self-care vs self-soothing and whether we have made our Sabbaths too much about self-soothing and missing the blessings that could come from self-caring.  How do we embrace the Sabbath as a way of enriching and rejuvenating our soul?
  • And then we pondered as people who are so much doing people … what does it mean for the Sabbath to be a time when we can just be … to be present with each other and be present with God.

Which one of those resonates with you?  What is God saying to you today through this message?

May we commit to embracing the rhythms of the Sabbath and in doing so, find rest, rejuvenation, life and spiritual growth.