How delightful is your Sabbath? Seventh-day Adventists are sometimes accused of being legalists because of our adherence to the Ten Commandments, especially the fourth commandment. And in some cases church members fuel this idea by making Sabbath observance so onerous and giving the impression that one can somehow gain heavenly approval because of our denial of something on Sabbath. This behavior takes us back to the times of the Jewish nation, when Sabbath became such a burden that it really wasn’t a very happy day.
Sabbath should be one of the most joyous experiences we can have. It is a time of release from the cares of everyday activity: Scripture, the fourth commandment itself, unfolds this perspective. Because it is the sign of God’s creatorship, and will thus be the distinguishing seal of God’s people in the final days, the devil works furiously against the Sabbath, seeking to obliterate its significance and undermine the joy God intended it to be.
The devil would like nothing better than to encourage church members to see Sabbathkeeping as a method of working our way to heaven, or, better yet, to transform the Sabbath into something so heavy and restrictive that our children will learn to hate it. But every moment of Sabbath, not just the worship experience should be a delight. The Sabbath is “from evening to evening,” and it is designed to be a sanctuary in time, through which we’re rejuvenated. As we experience the joy of Sabbath we will hardly be able to wait for the best day of the week to arrive.
Tuning In to God
As Sabbath approaches on Friday evening we will be able to sense a difference. This is the day God sanctified, He blessed the day, He made something special of this particular day (Gen. 2:3). We must remember this and resist the temptation to allow extraneous things to enter into the day, such as business activities that carry over into the Sabbath hours.
In the past, it was easier to avoid intrusions on the Sabbath by simply turning off the television or radio, and not picking up the newspaper. But now millions around the world hold Smartphones in their hands seven days a week. Yes, we may use the new technology for good purposes—reading digital versions of Scripture, even looking at a Sabbath school lesson—but we are too easily connected with unwelcome and unholy things as well.
More than ever we have to take responsibility for not letting anything interfere with the delight of the special day with God. Our busyness is rarely God’s path to holiness.. As my wife, Nancy, told me: “You just need a rest from that.”
But true and joyful Sabbath observance doesn’t come simply by turning off the computer or by turning off the TV and just saying, “OK, now we’re going to start the Sabbath.” Sabbath is not only about what we don’t do—it’s also all about what we do on Sabbath. It is about individually taking the time to foster your own walk with the Lord. Keeping the Sabbath holy and finding it a delight is possible only through a vibrant relationship with the Lord of the Sabbath.
While my relationship with the Lord is very personal and between my Lord and me, the implications of that relationship will be felt by everyone I deal with. For example, instead of rationalizing the commandment and saying, “Well, Sabbath is a day of rest, so I should refrain from work, and go out to eat at a restaurant,” I will try as far as I can not to cause extra work for others and help them see the beauty of the Sabbath. Those who come in contact with me should also come to know something of the promised joy and delight of the Sabbath: it is not only a day meant to rejuvenate believers.
The real principle of Sabbath is reconnecting ourselves to the Creator. Rather than focusing on many specific actions, we should look on the Sabbath as a time in which to reconnect to God, with His created world, and with our families and loved ones. When we do this, the Sabbath will take on a new and different significance. It will become a bridge, from one week to the next, that reminds us of where we have come from, why we are here, and where we’re going.
Worship and Fellowship
It would be a wonderful idea for local churches to hold Sabbath seminars that focus on the practical ways in which Sabbath can be made a joy, involve families, and promote spiritual growth. The local church plays a pivotal role in whether members will consider Sabbathkeeping as a legalistic practice or see it instead as a beautiful sanctuary in time. God made us, and He provides us with an opportunity to rejuvenate our lives spiritually and physically once a week as we turn to the One who knows more about us than we will ever know.
Some may say, “Oh, I get my spiritual experience by going hiking in the mountains.” And you can do that once in a while to refresh both body and spirit. But God placed us in a fellowship of believers for a good reason: we need to be with those who share our beliefs, and to whom we can minister. For me, one of the best parts of the Sabbath is Bible study and the Sabbath school lesson.
While Internet-streamed worship services and televised religious programming are available in many parts of the world and bless many, these media should never replace belonging to and attending a local congregation on Sabbath. Every Adventist ought to physically “belong” somewhere. The Bible tells us that we should gather together on the Sabbath (Heb. 10:25). If we miss the fellowship of other believers, we will also miss the strength and encouragement God intended for that week of living. People who move from one church to the next, who go to where the best preacher is, or where the best food is, will not receive the full Sabbath blessing.
Sabbathkeeping, while ultimately joyful, will not always be easy. For many families with young children it’s often a challenge getting everyone to church, and then keeping the children engaged during the service. But it’s well worth the effort as you invest in your children’s eternal future. Their experience of Sabbath will be built on the positive memories you help them to experience in the company of other believers. Adventist churches ought to be places where members are welcoming of children, and where the occasional childish outburst is not seen as the end of the world.
We are there to worship God and also to fellowship with each other. We have to support each other and to encourage those who may find themselves in some frustrating experiences at the moment.
Active in Worship
Although Sabbath is about rest, it’s also about involvement, especially in the worship experience, where as many people as possible should be actively participating. Church should be a dynamic, active place with lots of helping hands. Everyone should find their “niche,” whether it is in the worship service or even the fellowship dinner. Young people should especially be encouraged to be involved.
When we gather for worship and Bible study, we also find a place to use the gifts God has given us—in music, in teaching, in service, in hospitality. We give to others in love and care because we have received the gift of God’s grace in this blessed 24-hour experience of Sabbath.
As your next Sabbath approaches, invite the Lord of the Sabbath to be the One who guides you into experiencing all of its potential for rest, for worship, for study, for service—and for delight.