It has been a privilege to hang out with some of you online this past week at our conference, ‘The Manna of Leadership’. One of the topics that formed part of our conversations was Sabbath. How in Exodus 16, Sabbath is a challenge to the scarcity mindset of Egypt; it was a sign that even in the wilderness, there is enough bread through the miraculous provision of God. Unlike the bread of ancient Egypt, this ‘bread’ couldn’t be monopolised, controlled, or accumulated; it was a generous gift from a generous God.
Our conversations flowed on the topic of what Sabbath might mean for us today, with various views from ‘fasting from tech’ to ‘taking a mini sabbath each day’ and wrestling with how Sabbath might fit into a pattern of ministry for those leading churches, especially in a multi-parish context.
Discussions about busyness has become something of a national pastime. Busyness means importance; therefore, the busier we are, the more critical and essential we must be. (As an aside, I think this is more of a male problem as women tend to have a much more balanced and healthy ego.) Busyness means we are necessary – but this is part of the problem – we live by possession, accumulation, and achievement rather than gift and blessing.
From my perspective, I sense this is an area where the Holy Spirit has been looking to speak. Let me be honest; I am not the best example on this one! So, I have been undertaking some ‘lite’ research to stretch my thinking, and I offer some reflections on this in the hope that it might resonate and spark off your own conversation with God.
Sabbath comes from the word Shabbath which essentially means ‘to stop or to rest.’ The other main Hebrew word for rest used in the Hebrew Scriptures is Nuakh, which means to ‘dwell’ or ‘settle.’ In effect, we Shabbat in order to Nuakh. When we stop working, we can truly rest in God’s presence. For me, this is helpful; practising a purposeful pause enables us to make room for God to take up residence in our individual lives and communities once again.
A quick exploration of the first few books of the Old Testament shows us that the Egyptians, through Pharoah, had a closed view of the world. In this closed world there was only so much to go around; therefore, the need to accumulate, hoard, and control became the dominating values in case stuff ran out. The Western world is not so different today from the ancient world of Pharoah; we accumulate, store, control, hoard, and monopolise for fear of running out. Who can forget the great toilet roll shortage of a few years ago? We live with a scarcity mindset. Pausing and resting might mean we don’t acquire as much, and if we view the world as closed, the risk becomes one of running out.
There are some profound implications if we follow the call to ‘cease striving’ rather than living as though the world cannot continue without us seven days a week. The Sabbath is a call to faith, to trust God’s provision and work while we are ‘not working.’ Is there a prophetic call on us today to reclaim Sabbath, not as a legalistic requirement, but as a witness to demonstrate to our world that there is a different way of living?
I fear that for many, our lives bear a greater resemblance to the Greek mythological figure of Sisyphus, as we endlessly push our boulders up the mountain for them only to roll down again. Might the call of the Spirit on us at this time be to trust God again, in a similar way that the children of Israel were in Exodus 16? What if the world is not a closed system but an open one? What if we stood in the truth that making something out of nothing is one of God’s specialities?
Sabbath rest doesn't necessarily imply a cessation of all activity but rather an opportunity to rest in God’s presence. A chance to re-member a world dis-membered by sin. It is a reminder that recognition and satisfaction don’t come from the commodities acquired through rough and ready daily economics but through a relationship with God through Christ Jesus. It is time to live an alternative, counter-cultural narrative; it is time for us to re-embrace Sabbath and recognise God as our provider?
Let me finish with some wise words from theologian and Biblical scholar, Walter Brueggemann, to which I add my own question:
The deeper implications [of the Sabbath] calls us to “cease striving” and living as though the world cannot continue without us. The Sabbath is a call to faith, to trust God’s provision and work while we are “not working.” It was the first test in the wilderness with regard to the manna (Ex. 16:4-5). Might it be a test for us today in this time of transition in the life of the church?
Simon Mattholie CEO Rural Ministries