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Long Beach, CA

Escaping the Drift (Sabbath I)

When I was little, my family would vacation at a beautiful Gulf Coast beach in Florida. We’d first set up our yellow umbrella on the sand before hitting the water, jumping into the waves and looking out for jellyfish. As I got older, my parents would let me stay in the water by myself, and it was heaven learning to body-surf the waves. Many times, when I was ready to get out, I’d look up at the beach, expecting to see that yellow umbrella. Confusion. Disorientation. Where am I? Finally, I’d spot the umbrella and realize where I was, having drifted a hundred, a hundred-and-fifty, sometimes two hundred yards down the beach. I’d been caught in a drift the whole time and never realized it. I’d been pushed down the beach with no awareness that I was being pushed.

That’s just like life. It’s so easy, buffeted as we are by the waves of life, to slip away from an awareness of God’s nearness and goodness. Away from a life focused on making present the kingdom of God for others. Away from the practice of asking, “Jesus, what are you speaking to me?” and responding. The drift is just a part of life, and it’s not going away.

But God knew this, and he gives his people a way to counteract it. The practices of unhurriedness and silence are ways of stepping out of the drift, but a further critical practice for establishing The Slow Life—and thus avoiding the drift—is the practice of Sabbath. Sabbath is a period of time dedicated to withdrawing from the normal activities of life and work in order to come back to our spiritual center, which is the place where we connect with God. Scripture takes Sabbath seriously because without Sabbath, it can become very difficult to remain centered in God. Without Sabbath, we will likely find ourselves swept down the beach.

To the Hebrews, Sabbath was a twenty-four hour period that lasted from sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday. During this period, they rested, celebrated life, and gave thanks to God.

We read about Sabbath from the very beginning. It is established in the second chapter of the Bible: “On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all His work. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation.”[1]

When Israel was established as a nation, they were told to keep the Sabbath as a holy day: “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God.”[2]

The prophet Isaiah celebrates Sabbath as a sign of God’s future blessing, not only over Israel but also for the Gentiles.[3] The writer of Hebrews in the New Testament uses the idea of Sabbath as a metaphor to describe the spiritual rest that God’s children are to enjoy.[4] In his classic book on Sabbath, rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel writes that, to this day, Jews receive the Sabbath as one would receive a queen. Sabbath, he writes, is an “architectures of holiness” that finds its place not in space, but in time.[5]

The Scripture is clear and consistent: God gives rest. God has rest for his people. And God has rest for you.

You may believe that, but are you able to receive that? Are you able to understand that your longing for rest—not just physically, but emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually, amidst all of the storms of life—is a reflection of God’s own deep and compassionate longing for you?

Just as with the practice of silence, Sabbath makes us confront our unbelief and our inadequate views of God. Remember that what drives The Human Paradigm is a misshapen view of God—namely, the belief that God is angry or ambivalent or absent altogether. You cannot rest if you worship an angry God, or a God who doesn’t care, or a God who’s not there at all. Sabbath is about exposing all those views of God so that, in being exposed, they can be torn down and replaced with a new understanding, guided by the Spirit of God.[6] Indeed, in Sabbath we create space for the Holy Spirit to bring us into this reality of the beautiful God whom our souls cannot help but love and worship. By this work, the Holy Spirit brings us out of the chains of our misshapen beliefs and into freedom; you cannot fully rest until your soul is content in God. Scripture points to the reality that one of our clearest expressions of trusting God is rest.[7] Trust, in a very real, sense, is rest. We become our best selves, most open to God, when we are rested.

Thus, Sabbath is about learning to rest well. It’s also about coming to see who God really is in a way that renews you at the core of your being. This is the purpose of Sabbath as presented in the book of Deuteronomy. God tells his people to “observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” and then tells them that the purpose of Sabbath is to remind themselves who God is and what He does for His people: “Remember that you were once slaves in Egypt, but the Lord your God brought you out with his strong hand and powerful arm. That is why the Lord your God has commanded you to rest on the Sabbath day.”[8] In other words, through keeping Sabbath, God’s people will stay out of the drift of forgetfulness and will instead remain grounded in their knowledge of God’s character and love. Sabbath will keep them anchored in the reality that God is good and near and that He always leads his children out of bondage.


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[1] Genesis 2:2-3.

[2] Exodus 20:8-10.

[3] See Isaiah 56:2-8. Gentiles meaning those who are not of the nation of Israel, the Chosen People. Even they will be “grafted in,” as prophesied here and as Paul will later explain it. See Romans 11:11-31.

[4] See Hebrews 4:9-11.

[5] See The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, NY. 1951.

[6] See John 16:13.

[7] Cf. Exodus 14:14, Isaiah 30:15, Psalm 131, Hebrews 4:11, and so on.

[8] Deuteronomy 5:12,15.