Leadership (part 2 of 9): Sabbath


Editor’s Note: This is part 2 of a 9 part series on pastoral leadership that I am writing for my seminary class, Leading Christian Communities, with Dr. Kyle J. A. Small. My reflections in this series are based on the book Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership by Ruth Haley Barton.

Sabbath. Like so many words, the meaning it carries will vary from person to person. To someone who is a bit older, it may represent the day of the week the whole family goes to church and spends time together while refraining from doing chores or homework. For those a bit younger, it may simply mean the day of the week all shopping centers are closed, or at least not selling alcohol. For those younger yet, it may only be somewhat recognizable as the second half of the name of a popular rock band started by some guy named Ozzy.

I am one of those lads that knew very little about the Sabbath, and sadly, I do not think this is too uncommon nowadays.

Last week we explored the importance of resting in the Lord: to have a rhythm of life in which we care for our souls by having solitude with God. This rhythm is scalable in that we should practice it daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly.

Living the Sabbath is a weekly rhythm of life that we are called to practice as instituted by God in the first account of creation found in the beginning of Genesis.

2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. 2 And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. (Genesis 2:1-3 NRSV)

The creation of the heavens and the earth did not end with the creation of man; it ended, and climaxed, with the Sabbath.  Notice what it says in verse 2, “and on the seventh day God finished the work he had done.”  Humankind may be God’s masterpiece, but the Sabbath is creation’s crown.

Abraham Joshua Heschel writes in his stellar work, The Sabbath, “Three acts of God denoted the seventh day: He rested, He blessed and He hallowed the seventh day (Genesis 2:2-3).  To the prohibition of labor is, therefore, added the blessing of delight and the accent of sanctity” (Heschel 2).  A common popular interpretation of Sabbath is simply to cease from working.  While this is certainly true, there is more to it than that.  Like all Hebrew words, Shabbat has a range of meanings, such as, cease, stop, be at a standstill, stop working, take a holiday, or to even cease from living.  These are all verbal meanings of the word Shabbat.  God blesses the Sabbath.  To bless is to transfer power.  God gave the day significance, holiness, and sacredness when he gave it his blessing.  He created a holy space in time that we are to observe every seven days.  God also sanctifies the seventh day.  He deemed it Holy and set the seventh day apart from the other six days of the week.  Heschel writes:

To observe is to celebrate the creation of the world and to create the seventh day all over again, the majesty of holiness in time, “a day of rest, a day of freedom,” a day which is like “a lord and king of all other days,” a lord and king in the commonwealth of time.  (Heschel 7)

To live the Sabbath opens us to participate in the holiness, sacredness, and significance of the day itself, which is ultimately to participate in God!

And yet, how many of us are actually doing this?  If the Sabbath is so important, why do most people not even know what it really means?  As life speeds up we have forgotten the importance of slowing down.  Whether you work in a church, a shoe store, a restaurant, or anywhere else, if you are a grandparent, a student, a child, or somewhere in between, the Sabbath is for you.

Here’s the deal.  This is not exactly an easy journey.  To live the Sabbath is counter-cultural.  But doesn’t that make it all the more attractive?  My wife and I have been striving to practice the Sabbath regularly for over a year now.  This still does not always come easy, but we have both felt the incredible peace that comes with setting a day apart.  We resist the urge to make plans on the Sabbath. We cease from work, homework, and chores.  We do things that give us life, such as going for a long, peaceful walk with no destination in mind.  We will play games together, read together, and rest.  We are working on being more intentional with our time, to spend it more deliberately with our Lord and not just with each other.  The day is noticeably different than every other day of the week in every good way.  From our rest on Sunday we enter into our work for the coming week with a growing anticipation of the promise of the Sabbath.  While our practice of the Sabbath needs a bit more depth, we have already found life through this weekly rhythm.

What sorts of things do you do to live the Sabbath?  What have you found life-giving?  Challenging?  If you currently do not experience this in anyway, you certainly are not alone.  This is not a common practice, but it is a worthy one.  It is my hope for you to prayerfully consider beginning this all-important way of life and experience the richness of this rhythm of rest.  My wife and I can speak to the way it has changed our life for the better.  We hope the same for you.  For as Abraham Joshua Heschel so beautifully writres, “The Sabbath is the most precious present mankind has received from the treasure house of God” (Heschel 6).

Image Source: http://www.meaning-of-life.info/images/graphics/godrestingw.jpg


Leadership (part 1 of 9): Rest

Editor’s Note: This is part 1 of a 9 part series on pastoral leadership that I am writing for my seminary class, Leading Christian Communities, with Dr. Kyle J. A. Small.  My reflections in this series are based on the book Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership by Ruth Haley Barton.

“How is your soul?”

I was once asked this question in college.  It struck me as personal, abstract, and to be honest, a little strange.  It simply did not fit with the typical “how is” and “how are” questions.

“How’s your day going?”

“How’s your family?”

“How are you?”

“How is your soul?”

I quickly realized I did not have a clue how to properly answer the question.  I recognized I had never really thought about how my soul was doing.

I discovered I have not properly been caring for my soul.

Think about it.  Really.  How is your soul?  How is that innermost part of you, that soft and quiet place that knows you and your needs better than you know yourself?  Ruth Haley Barton describes the soul in her book Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership in this way: “It is the part of you that longs for more of God than you have right now, the part that may, even now, be aware of “missing” God amid the challenges of life in ministry” (Barton 13).

This understanding of the soul illuminates the importance of caring for our soul, and strengthening our soul.

So how do we that?  What does it look like to care for our soul?  To strengthen it?  To even be aware of it’s current state?

This 9 part series will be exploring these very questions in a number of ways.

To care for our soul, to strengthen it, to even be aware of how it is, we must first rest and abide in the presence of God.

Psalm 46:10 says it this way, “Be still, and know that I am God!  I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth” (NRSV).

To effectively lead others, we must first care of ourselves.  If we are not in a right place with God, we have no right to be leading others.

In order to do the work God has in store for us, we need to first spend time with the Father.  When we close our minds to all the outside noise of life and rest in the presence of our Lord, we open ourselves to listen to the promptings of the Spirit. We are designed to work from a place of rest.  To first abide in God, and then to go forth to produce fruit (see John 15:1-12).

Our souls are strengthened when we spend time with God.  God is the King of the Universe, and we are here to rule on his behalf (see Mike Breen, Covenant and Kingdom).  Did you catch that?  We are His royal sons and daughters!  This is a worthy calling!  To best serve our Lord, to take up this calling, we need to first have a deep relationship with our Lord.

Rest.  Then work.  Repeat.

In closing, I’d like to consider these words from Ruth Haley Barton:

“Moses’ whole life can be viewed through the lens of his private encounters with God and how his soul was strengthened through those encounters…Moses’ encounters with God in solitude were clearly his lifeline, his only means of survival.  When he got to the end of his life, he was described as the greatest prophet in Israel, whom the Lord knew face to face.  He did not achieve his vision the way he had envisioned it, but he knew God and God knew him—which is perhaps the greatest achievement of all.  These days, that is all I want.” (Barton 32, 33).

So, how is your soul?

Optimism or Hope?

I have the odd feeling that I may never be truly happy with a blog title. I did not like the one I had before, so I changed it. I’m not entirely sure I like this one either, but at least it’s not what it was. So I will probably change again when another title comes to mind that is hopefully a bit better, and the cycle will continue until I finally find the right one. So it goes…

I’m in a good mood today. This confuses me. Today is Monday, I had an early morning after a late night, I worked, my back is yelling at me, and yet, I can’t help but be in a good mood.

I’m certainly not complaining. I love it. I love being happy. That’s kinda a silly thing to say…I mean, who doesn’t like being happy? Even the Grinch discovered he enjoyed happiness. Same with Scrooge.

Anyway, I certainly am what you call an optimist. If there’s only a drop of liquid in a glass, I’ll tend to call it half full. That’s just who I am. I used to love the fact that I’m an optimistic fella’. But then I realized, hey, it’s not always good or appropriate to search for the good in everything. There are moments in life when you must focus on the bad and allow the weight of this world to rest upon your chest. For too long I have recognized pain and hurt and hardship without allowing myself to feel all the weight of those things. But then I met a certain someone who has changed my life in so many beautiful ways I would get in trouble if I started listing them off here. I will try to refrain from being cheesy (to the best of my ability), but since I met the love of my life, I have began a slow process of appropriating my emotions. I have experienced much joy in the past 20 months and 20 days. So much so, that many things I used to be optimistic about now seem lame compared to the true happiness I now experience. Being in relationship has also taught me the extreme importance of being happy when it is right to be happy, and being sad when it’s okay to be sad. I am in the process of shifting from a place of constant optimism to a place of realistic hope. I am hopeful for many things. I strive to live joyously through all I do. But if I am going to be the best person I can be, I need to allow myself to feel the proper types of emotions at the appropriate times.

Jesus, after all, was not a blind optimist looking only at the good. The Bible actually tells us quite differently. Jesus felt the pain of everyone around him. He cried, he yelled, he hurt, he bled, and he died with and for us. We must remember these things. I must remember these things. Yes, he also laughed, smiled, felt joy, and was raised from the dead as well, which gives us hope. I want to overcome my optimism. I want to be hopeful. I want my hope to rest in Jesus’ hands daily.

So here I am, on a journey, as we all are, in search of a proper balance in my life. I must say though, life is so good. It is really good right now, so I will enjoy it, and be glad. Life is good. 🙂

*edit* apparently I already wrote a similar post on this topic a while back. I am aware of this, but oh well! I guess it’s been on my mind for a time. Toodles! 🙂