Being married to a worship music leader means I spend most Sunday mornings getting my family ready for church by myself. It means getting up extra early to do my devotions and be dressed before my twin toddler boys wake up. It means rushing to get them dressed and fed, gulp down my coffee, and make it to the car with boys in tow … if I’m lucky. Usually one of them makes a run for it and I end up chasing him around the car a few times before catching him and wrestling him into his car seat. It means trying to keep them from running down the aisle during the service to their daddy who’s on stage. By the time we get home from church for lunch, I’m wiped out.
Too often I view Sunday as just another busy day with a church service thrown into the mix. Too often I forget that God set apart the Sabbath as holy.
Keeping the Sabbath holy is so important to God that He included it as a command in the Ten Commandments. Exodus 20:8 says, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” So it should be important to me too!
I tend to put a lot of weight on the other commandments: don’t murder, steal, or covet, but I don’t usually give Sabbath-keeping a passing thought. I’m not alone. Lauren F. Winner discusses this in her book, Mudhouse Sabbath:
The Hebrew word for holy means, literally, “set apart.” In failing to live a Sabbath truly distinct from weekly time, I had violated a most basic command: to keep the Sabbath holy. I am not suggesting that Christians embrace the strict regulations of the Orthodox Jewish Sabbath. Indeed, the New Testament unambiguously inaugurates a new understanding of Shabbat…. It commemorates not only God’s resting from Creation, but also God’s Resurrection.
I’ve realized that I need to recognize that the Sabbath should be set apart in some way from the rest of the week, thus “holy.” But how do I do that?
A strict list of dos and don’ts isn’t the answer.
The New Testament doesn’t erase the importance of keeping the Sabbath holy; it instead provides clues as to how to live a “holy” Sabbath in today’s world. It uses the Sabbath to point to the very heart of my faith: salvation. Christ has already fulfilled the Old Testament law through his death and resurrection. He’s the only one that ever kept the Sabbath perfectly holy. Now that Christ’s work is complete, I no longer have to keep the law the way Old Testament people did, through my works.
Keeping the Sabbath holy — or set apart — ultimately reminds me that salvation is a gift and eternal rest waits for me in Heaven. It’s not about rules and rituals. The Bible beautifully describes salvation as resting from my efforts to gain salvation by my own striving: “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:9-11). The Sabbath is a day to thank the Lord for His work on the cross.
His work gives me spiritual rest. I don’t have to perform all those rules and regulations the Pharisees tried to do to be accepted into God’s kingdom. Instead, I can rest in Christ’s work of shed blood that covers all of my sin. And I can also look forward to someday experiencing an eternal Sabbath-rest spent in Heaven with Christ. I now try to view Sunday as a reminder of God’s grace through salvation. There was nothing I can do to earn it.
But still, how do I set the day apart practically?
Although the Sabbath doesn’t have to be Sunday (some churches hold services on Saturday, for example), I go to church on Sunday. I’ve started trying to orient my week toward that day.
There are some practical things I can do so that Sundays will be a time of spiritual rest, renewal, and growth. Josh Harris, in his book, Stop Dating the Church: Fall in Love with the Family of God, states, “You and I are very likely to be missing out on God’s best for the day unless we learn to build our week around Sunday, and not the other way around.” Here are some suggestions to set Sunday apart that I have practiced and benefited from, gleaned from others, or want to put into practice in the future:
- Go to bed early Saturday night, if possible, so my body is rested.
- Don’t skip Bible reading and prayer just because I’m going to church. Prepare my heart for the service by spending some time in God’s Word before church.
- On the way to church pray for those who are serving and the pastor delivering the message.
- Listen to music that focuses my mind on God’s Word and prepares my heart for the worship service.
- Listen to the preaching of the Word, it is a form of worship. This takes discipline. I am not to be a passive observer. Listening is something I do.
- Take notes. This helps me listen and remember what the message was about.
- Be a doer of the Word that was taught. How can I apply what I just heard in the upcoming week?
These have helped me and aren’t rules to be legalistic about. Sometimes I may practice all of them, other times just a few. And they may change over the years as my children grow older or I find new ways to make Sunday spiritually substantive.
The fact is Sundays will always be busy. Sometimes there will be meetings or family events after the Sunday service. But that doesn’t mean Sunday is a loss. Harris encourages us to prayerfully ask ourselves: “How could my family and I invest joyfully in all of Sunday in a way that truly celebrates God’s love and presence in our lives — and helps us carry this celebration over into the rest of our week?” Good question. The ultimate goal is glorifying God by setting His day apart and making the day spiritually meaningful. It’s to be reminded I don’t have to work for my salvation, but only rest in it. I pray my Sundays won’t just be busy, but holy too. Even while I’m feeding my boys cheerios to keep them quiet during church.