Do You Have A Sabbath?

A Watercooler Wednesday entry:

So I need your help with something. Recently, I’ve been struggling with the idea of the “Sabbath”. I think this is a spiritual discipline I have ignored for most of my adult life. I have always blamed it on the fact that I work on Sundays, but I know that’s just a lame excuse.

On my way to Atlanta yesterday I was reading a book entitled “Revolution of Character” by Dallas Willard. He said….

“When we come to the place where we can joyously do no work, it will be because God is so exalted in our mind and body that we can trust him with our life and our world, and we can take our hands off them.”

Internalizing this quote made me realize that I have more work to do then I thought. To really practice the “Sabbath” I have to get to a place where I begin to let go of my tendencies to take control, achieve, produce, and attain gratification.

So let me ask you a question. Have you found a way to really trust Him with your life and world and take your hands off both?

seeking rest,


49 Responses to “Do You Have A Sabbath?”

  1. Jan Owen says:

    Pete, yes I started the practice of sabbath keeping just this year. I was convicted by the very things you say – that I needed to rest in God and give up some control and power. I had to say “if I can’t get it done, it can wait”. I take Friday because Sunday is simply a work day for me as a worship minister. Right now it is personal and my family is not able to be off with me, but it’s a start. God is teaching me so much about trusting Him and resting in Him. And you already have my recommended reading on this topic! It may sound strange, but for me, it’s an exercise in faith.

  2. alece says:

    ooooh. this is so, so, soooo hard for me.

    and it’s been a recurring theme in my life over the past 12 months. i guess that means i haven’t learned the lesson yet.

    one look at my life/schedule will clearly show i haven’t learned the lesson yet.


  3. No. Still searching.

  4. inWorship says:

    First of all, I hope you weren’t driving while reading the book :)

    Now, I struggle with a Sabbath. Generally I am able to take Friday’s and hang with my wife. run errands, go to coffee, sit on the couch with our Mac’s and read blogs and goof off. it’s a great day for us. But, I have not done well with this lately. there have been many things that have “popped up” last minute lately and it’s wearing on me a bit.

    Can I take both hands off? I think I can, but I have a hard time separating the big from the small. It would be easy for me to be called across the country to work…that sounds exciting to me and sounds like a big God journey. But I think I fail in allowing Him to completely control the everyday. It’s feels like, if I can control it, than I do. if I can’t, than I let Him.

    Sounds strange I am sure, but I am a work in progress.

  5. tam says:

    yikes. I tend to white knuckle everything. This last winter God stripped us of just about everything. It left me day to day realizing that at any given moment i could be left with nothing. Nothing in terms of things of this world. Would I still praise Him – would i still trust Him? As HE loosened my grip I realized I could because HE doesn’t change. A faithful, unchanging God is the one and only thing that should be worthy of my grip.

    Now, several months later as He is allowing us to have some “things” back i am finding myself gripping on to them and my focus is getting blurred, yet again.

    it is a constant learning process for me to learn to rest in the midst yet away from everything. It’s a flesh war. But I’m trying…

  6. gsmartin says:

    When I read your post I was reminded of two things. The first was being raised in a church and family that exercised the practice of Sabbath out of obedience to the passages found in the bible and the second was Isaiah 58:13,14 which to me are the clearest descriptions of our relationship to the Sabbath.

    Over the years I found that just keeping the Sabbath for the sake of keeping it was empty and without meaning. It became a weight you drug through the week, always there, something you did but never embraced or immersed yourself in.

    After my fathers death and a few other interesting life happenings I found myself taking up the slack for my mother and spending a great deal of time with her and making sure, among other things, that she got to church and was able to spend her Sabbath day as she felt she ought.

    This lead to a lot of introspection and consideration of the Sabbath and from it I’ve come to the following conclusion. While I agree in part with Dallas Willard when he said …
    “When we come to the place where we can joyously do no work, it will be because God is so exalted in our mind and body that we can trust him with our life and our world, and we can take our hands off them.”
    I believe it is more than this. For me it’s a time when I choose to set aside myself and focus on God and God in others. By example, when my children were a few years old and wanted to take time to do something there were times when I would set myself wholly aside and not think about myself, my work, my responsibilities or even my own desires. I was lost in the moment, in the time of sharing, in the love of being with them and seeing the world through their eyes.

    In other words, the Sabbath is about my relationship, with God, a time to see the world, the universe, those around me through His eyes. A time to set aside me, myself and I and run with him and play follow the leader for the sheer joy of it or to dare I say selfishly share his company.

  7. Chilly says:

    I try… but I’m sure it won’t be perfected until ‘the big sabbath’!! There’s a sense of urgency – work while it’s still day – in it, to win it lifestyle & attitude in guys like us. Words like balance & routine rarely work for pioneers – but we try, we catch our breath, chill with our kids, escape with our spouse; and then with a smirk dive back into something crazy ( cause that’s where God is at that moment )… We get enough sleep when we can & wait on the Lord for our strength when we can’t. He’s faithful!

    We live our dreams and only sleep to get more.

    It’s 3am right now … enough said.

  8. Chris says:

    Hey Pete, I try to keep a sabbath – some weeks are better than others. Certainly it is hugely important. For me I try to put a rhythm to my sabbath to encourage me to take it. I get up late (around 9:30ish) have a good breakfast and then do jobs around the house and town. In the afternoon I blog, watch things like The West Wing, and listen to a sermon on itunes. Then in the evening I cook dinner for my wife Hannah and relax with her, possibly helping her with preparing for school (she is a teacher).

    My big issue with the way my sabbath works at the moment is that it is on a Tuesday and Hannah is away at work. In some ways it is positive, and I normally find Saturday has some margin, and when I took Saturday everyone tried to crowd in on it. But at the same the majority of my day off is away from Hannah, something we are looking to change.

  9. Holly says:

    I guess with me I come from the other end of the spectrum. Being 19 it’s really easy for me to take both hands off seeing as I don’t have kids or a partner.

    Resting is hard, especially when the internet and twitter and facebook and so many other little things can be used to cure boredom when really I could be doing something constructive. In a way I think after I got sick, loosing that control helped me realise that what ever God has given us to do is a gift. My need for control is only through fear that God can’t do his job and really letting go of that fear was a necessary thing.

  10. Pete Wilson says:

    I am so loving this converstaion. Mr Martin I love the line “follow the leader for the sheer joy of it”. Good stuff.

  11. Starwoodgal says:

    I personally struggle with “taking my hands off” and letting God control things in my life. I’m sure it stems from the fact that I’m an A-type personality, multi-tasking fulltime Mother, IT geek and right brained control freak of nature. I have to have reasoning in logic in my life decisions for some reason. It goes against my nature to let go. As I’m getting older, I’m realizing there’s no way possible for me to control everything(even though I wish I could) and things are just going to happen no matter how much I plan or what I do. So, I’m learning to “let go and let God” more and more these days. This also goes back to the “listen” blog you posted last week. I believe we have to step back from the world more these days to reconnect with (listen to)God. “Find a happy place, find a happy place.” (name that movie). Rest is difficult when going 100 mph with your hair on fire, isn’t it. (statement, not a question).

    Praying for peace within.

  12. Tommy Sircy says:

    I struggle with this, too. I always get the idea that I need to be helping God along a little bit….maybe He’s taking so much time because I’m not doing enough. But, the truth of the matter is, God doesn’t need our help, He wants our help, so we can fellowship with Him. There is a big difference.

    When we understand that, it’s little easier to let go. When I do, I usually find, God had something important to show me, I just wasn’t taking the time to listen.

    Btw, Pete, I did take Sunday afternoon off, just like I told you. Got the pic, too.

  13. pastoralex says:

    if by Sabbath you mean taking a day off, the answer is yes. if by really truly taking my mind (and hands) off of work on my day off, the answer is no.

    Seth Godin had a blog post back in January titled “Workaholics”. In it he said –

    “A new class of jobs (and workers) is creating a different sort of worker, though. This is the person who works out of passion and curiosity, not fear. The passionate worker doesn’t show up because she’s afraid of getting in trouble, she shows up because it’s a hobby that pays. The passionate worker is busy blogging on vacation… because posting that thought and seeing the feedback it generates is actually more fun than sitting on the beach for another hour. The passionate worker tweaks a site design after dinner because, hey, it’s a lot more fun than watching TV.”

    I’ve benn wrestling with this ever since. I truly enjoy what I am doing and as I long as I gaurd my time with family and not cheat them, I don’t mind the work. I can’t think of anything else I would rather be doing. And quite honestly, I don’t experience the “drain” that most pastors talk about. I am energized by spending my time with people. maybe I’m odd?

  14. Jenny says:

    I recently stumbled unpon your blog yesterday and I must say that in what I have read so far I am challenged. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and how God is speaking to you and using you. May God continue to bless you, your family and your ministry.

  15. anne jackson says:

    emailing you something…

  16. jon says:

    do i have a regular Sabbath…no. have i found a way to really trust Him with my life and world and take my hands off both…no, not both. i’m too much of a control freak do it myself so it gets done right type of person…

    thanks for the book info!

  17. Heidi says:

    I just posted last night about a monkey and penny and its relevance to letting go and then I come over here. I think God is telling me something. Having a full day of sabbath is quite difficult for me. So I take “moments”, like last night as I was sipping tea and enjoying a writing project.

    Moments of SELAH I call them. If I don’t I get very tense and I tend to get “controlish” and I don’t let God and Heidi runs down. Great reminder Pete.

  18. Jonathan says:

    I also struggle with this most weeks.

  19. royalfarris says:

    I used to have Friday as my day off but I found I was too wound up and usually not through with sermon writing……I moved my day off to Monday and most of the time I can completely Sabbath out on Monday….I sleep late…don’t answer the phone……go for a motorcycle ride….pray off and on at different times of the day…usually thanksgiving prayer….
    yesterday was Monday…. I was on the back porch chillin for most the day except for mowing the yard in the morning….

  20. Jan Owen says:

    one more book you might consider as I think it addresses the WHOLE topic of why we need sabbath and other spiritual disciplines is “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” by Peter Scazzero. WOW! His own experience was a great motivator for me to take a deeper look at my own life.

  21. My issue is getting my mind to stop working. I can have a “sabbath” and not do anything but I THINK about all the things I have to do. It’s hard to make my MIND take a sabbath.

  22. mpt says:

    Is this that day when I’m not supposed to go out and pick up manna? Dang. You see, I love me some manna. Come to think of it, I’m gonna go see if I can get some right now.

  23. My wife and I lived in Israel for 2 1/2 years. Every Friday and Saturday we HAD to take a sabbath. The country literally shut down. At first it was tough, by the time we left, it was the thing we missed the most. I’m having to relearn that its ok to take a day, turn my phone off, don’t answer emails, do nothing except just be. The world existed before I got here, it will continue to exist after I’m gone. So one day of being unplugged from life, and plugged only in to God will make little difference on the world at large, but will revolutionize how I live in my personal world.

  24. Pete Wilson says:

    Hey MPT…go get all the manna you can handle!

  25. Pete Wilson says:

    Jan, I love the book, “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality”. A good friend gave it to me about a year ago. It was life changing.

  26. gofocus says:

    I am no good at this at all. Sabbath? When was the last time I really thought of it as sacred? If it wasn’t for our commitment to be at church I might completely miss it (that’s only been less than 2yrs). I try not to conduct business, but I’m no stranger to working my tail off until dark… then I sit down wishing I had not worked so long. What kind of an example is this going to be for my daughters? I’m working through the issue of focusing on the “big things” first to protect that time and space for the really important stuff and let the little stuff fit in where it will, or not. I have a long ways to go. Sounds like we need a series on this one!

  27. Ash says:

    I do a pretty good job of taking a day off each week (though I do have so many crazy-stinkin’ productive people in my life who I totally look up to and who NEVER stop that I feel lazy and guilty even admitting that), but not so much on the resting in the Lord so fully that I take my hands off. Still working on that one…

  28. Harold McKee says:

    This has been on my mind lately. It seems like the more I “do for God” the less I know Him. There are so many things I want to accomplish and yet sometimes I ignore the most important thing of all, my relationship with Him. To cultivate that relationship I must obey Him and spend time with Him. It appears the sabbath is a part of both.

    I will continue to push in this direction.

  29. Tommiann says:

    Is Sabbath and individal philosophy? I’ve never totally have understood Sabbath. My parents always tooks Sundays off, but that incorporated LONG Sunday drives..ugh. But..I take Sundays off and take a long run, cook a meal, bake bread, this considered Sabbath? Just wondering,

  30. Julie P says:

    Yeah, I’m not so good at the Sabbath thing myself. I want to be. I’m reading “Bright Evening Star” by Madeleine L’Engle and she said something in it that I think goes right along with your post. Here’s the quote:

    “God’s work is done better if periodically we leave all that we think we have to do and go off quietly to be with the Maker so that we can be refilled with the energy needed for the work of love. One of my problems, as I suspect it is for many others, is doing too much without giving myself enough time to be with God. Time to be with God is essential in order that our work may indeed be God’s work, not ours. Sometimes I think of myself as a very small car turning into a gas station to be filled with faith.”

  31. jamesotis says:

    Hi Pete,
    I used to observe a day of rest, even when I worked in healthcare & had to shift it to another day of the week. All I can say is that I was healthier in general & seldom caught the crud that plagued everyone else. I was also less stressed and my mind was much clearer.
    I’ve been thinking of resuming the practice. Thanks 4 ur post! It’s encouraging to know that other believers are thinking about this.


  32. mandy says:

    fridays. i don’t work on fridays. and if i need to, then i don’t work on saturdays. and if i need to, then i don’t work on sundays after church.

    then there are also the weekend getaway every so often. that’s nice!

  33. DEb says:

    I don’t really have a SET Sabbath Day…. but because I am in His word daily, if He just so happens to fill my heart that particular day, it then becomes my Sabbath! I just get so full of joy that I can’t even THINK about anything else BUT HIM! It becomes a full day of worshipping…then I know it’s my Sabbath!! I LOVE HIM! (can you tell TODAY is my Sabbath!haha)

  34. ncarnes says:

    I haven’t had time to read all of the comments, so someone may have already shared something along these lines.

    First of all, no, I really do not practice a sabbath and take my hands off. Its not because I refuse to, its because I am really unable to. Sure it sounds like an excuse, but I pose the question, how does a semi-bi-vocational church leader get a sabbath?

    A typical week looks like this for me:
    Monday – Friday 40-45 hours full time job
    Wednesday Nights – Volunteer Leader Student Ministry
    Sunday – Host Team Coordinator & Community Group Facilitator
    Saturday – Work around the house/ Other Tasks/Family Time – Things I am unable to accomplish during the week.
    Leadership Meetings at various times throughout the month.
    I have no single day to just stop and rest…

    I would love a Sabbath, I just don’t see how I can get one at this point in my life. However, after typing this out and being forced to look at it…I think I’ve realized why I’ve been so tired lately! :) (sorry this is so long)

  35. Hi! I can remember specific moments in my life where I was forced to take a sabbatical. I am one of those people who takes pride in my work. I love what I do and I do it with all my heart. Sometimes I lose sight of who has gifted me and gives me the gifts to heal. When God puts me on the shelf it is to to restore and push me to a higher level spiritually. To me a sabbath is a necessary practice to be able to do God’s will. The hebrew word “Sabbath” means to set apart as holy. God instituded the practice of a sabbath to remind us that our giftings and strength to do our work comes from our creator. As I have read this blog and the responses I have noticed that one verse has not been mentioned.

    Ex 31:12
    “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Say to the Israelites, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the LORD, who makes you holy.'”

    By practicing a regular sabbath we tap into the source of all creation. As a result, we become more clear about what it is we are suppose to be doing with our life. In the book of Hebrews the write talks about entering a “sabbath rest of God” Among other things what he means that when we enter a time of sabbath it is sign that our current life work is come to completion and a we beginning a work. I truely believe that if all of us reflect back on our lives we can easily indentify times of rest. In these times we withdraw from the ordinary routine of life. A divinily instituded sabbath can be brought about by a death of a loved one, or some other life trauma. Sometimes times a sabbath can be very painful. This is usaully caused by our uneasiness of being still. We are taught early in life that if we want something we have to “do” something to get it. Taking a Sabbath helps us to connect to the truth that we are more than the sum total of what we do. By practicing a regular sabbath our life and work brought into balance. Most of the time in our culture our indentity is defined by what we do. The sabbath teachs us that it is our character that defines our work.

    Finally, sometimes being forced to take a sabbath can be scary. This many be because it is in the presence of God where we come face to face with the real us. True holiness is born out of a deep realization of who we are and who God is to us. By taking a sabbath we are forced to pay attention to the lies that we are currently telling ourselves. In the sabbath there is no hinding from our true selves.

    My personal experience practicing a regular sabbath has helped me realize that God and I are never seperate. It is through prayer and stillness that my eyes are openned to who I really am. I am often suprised by God when comes what I thing I am. I have come to learn that it is not God who as a negative view of man; It is man who hates himself. Through practicing a sabbath I connect to the God of love who sees nothing but love. When I allow myself to rest in God’s presence I always see things more clearly. As a result my life is filled with love and compassion.

  36. Paul Kuzma says:

    I do Sabbath, and it is usually Mondays for me. It works. When it doesn’t, I change it to another day that does. I like Seth Godin’s stuff a lot. However, the passionate worker thing doesn’t work with Sabbath, in my opinion, when the word “sabbath” literally means “to cease; to stop”.

    The point really is to stop doing what we do to produce and realize that any moment we move to producing, we put our hands ON rather than OFF.

    My experience with Sabbath is that it takes quite a while to get used to stopping one day a week. But once I got it in rhythm, I can’t really live without it!

  37. Tracey says:

    When my husband and I married 4 years ago we felt a pull to do, go and be many places every weekend. Between church, both our families, entertainment and all the other distractions we found ourselves quickly spread too thin. It was then that we decided to start keeping the Sabbath. We schedule nothing other than church on Sundays and we don’t do housework or projects on Sundays. It has blessed us beyond belief. Honoring God by obeying Him always feels so good!

  38. Heather says:

    Hmmm….well, I like to say that I keep Sunday’s as the Sabbath. However, in all reality…my Sunday’s are CRAZY! Church, teaching Sunday School, Small Group. I guess if I am honest with myself and God…There really isn’t a day that I do ‘nothing’. OK….if I am going to be completely honest….I’m not sure I know how to do NOTHING. If I am home…I must be cleaning. I am the OCD person that see’s one thing out of place and must get up right that instant and fix it! OK Pete. I’ve been challenged. AGAIN! (I’m gonna HAVE to stop reading this blog;)

  39. cbgrace says:

    Our church has a Saturday service. We were attending that service for a while and when we did, then Sundays were “no work” days…nothing, just enjoying the day. My husband started a new shift so we started going on Sundays again. It’s funny but church on Sunday morning is a stessor…we have to get up early, get everyone ready, rush, rush, rush. But going on Saturday is more casual and enjoyable. Sundown on Saturday and then resting on Sunday…we are definately switching back to Saturday church. (And Praise GOD that we aren’t the pastors at our church!!)

  40. hanochneeman says:

    We live our lives seven days at a time, hopefully each week on a higher level. God is the Lord of Hosts, and we have to remember to be grateful guests. The Sabbath, which I as a Jew observe on Saturday of course, reminds us we are justs guests in the world. Yes sir, have to be hands off!

  41. randy morgan says:


    i’m sure (like me) you have a pile of books you need to read, but you should check out “the rest of god” by mark buchanan. buchanan is an amazing writer/pastor with a passionate heart after god. he also happens to have a rare insight on the subject of personal sabbath.

  42. TC Morgan says:

    Some how I’ve gotten myself far from any kind of “Sabbath” & it has been even longer since I’ve set foot in a church building – so I’m really a mess.

    Perhaps there is a reason for the phrase: Shabbat Shalom .

  43. Mark Jaffrey says:

    @jubileecoaching – yes! It’s actually a command from God to keep the sabbath holy. Wow, and we wonder why we all suffer from burnout and stress and why the pressure of 21st century life is slowly killing us. In this day and age we can’t afford not to take a sabbath – a real sabbath, which means rest, peace, calm, sanctuary, retreat. Holy = set apart. The sabbath is a day set apart for God, and if you are in full time ministry like me, then Sunday can never be a real sabbath. We HAVE to find an alternate day.

  44. Jim Drake says:

    sabbath…hmmm. Pete, that’s an interesting question. Just this year we’ve implemented a mandatory sabbath in our schedule (3 consecutive modules =mod meaning 1 6 hour period). So typically, Saturday is it. I’ve found though it is hard to get everything else done around the house when I take a complete sabbath–I just have to compromise here and there. I’m like one of your first posts–Fridays by myself were always the best Sabbath for me.

    Great post!

  45. Michelle Parker says:

    My understanding is that the Sabbath was instituted for man, not man for the Sabbath. Mark 2:27 Our freedom found in Christ allows us the opportunity to pursue the renewal that it brings. My family instituted a “Sabbath’s day rest” on Monday’s for several years. Being on staff at a church left our Sundays anything but restful. Monday’s were great until I found myself beating myself up for not sticking to the discipline. I had lost the joy that it brought and had chalked it up as another request/command of God. I forgot that it was a blessing for my family whether we chose to accept it or not. Just like any practice we take on… the Sabbath too has to come with a desire to rest, surrender and enjoy. It was introduced for our sake, not to be forsaken, but rather taken!

  46. Sam says:

    Pete –

    I had some similar questions a while back and found some information that was really helpful for me. But it didn’t come from traditional sources on the Sabbath which usually define it (like many commenting) as a period of time. Jacob Neusner and Bruce Chilton turn that idea on its head (“Judaism in the New Testament,” Routledge, 1995, pp. 135-144).

    These guys say that the resting on the Sabbath was a way to imitate God since he had done the same after creation. The point was not rest or “doing good”, it was about holy imitation – a way of reflecting their Creator. To be holy is to be like God. So, that explains some things about Jesus’s interaction with the Sabbath that ran so countercultural to the religion of the day. Jesus took on the question: what do we do to imitate God? Most people were thinking what do we NOT do (like work or travel)? His answers shocked the religious people…and it had nothing to do with linear time. He purposefully healed on that day…to imitate God. So much so that he created eyes from muc – imitating the creation of man (John 9:1-34). Rather than just “not working,” Jesus also spent that time with his friends and family. He imitated the communal aspects of God found in the Trinity by strengthening his friendships. Another way he reflected God.

    Anyway, those ideas meant a lot to me when I came across them and really helped me get away from the Western mindset of time. The Sabbath isn’t about time – it’s about quality imitation of the Creator.


  47. Rindy Walton says:

    As a single mom of 3 travel hockey playing sons, working as a full time professional, coaching, volunteering in multiple ways in church and the community, even my “free time” had an agenda! I told myself I had no time to take a “Sabbath”.

    Truth is…there is always time. We just have to be intentional about making it a priority and put it on our schedules first, in ink, and stick to it. Spending time “not doing” helps us to appreciate, refuel, and actually be more productive when we get back to working!

    A couple of great reads are “Making Room for Life” by Randy Frazee and “Choosing to Cheat” by Andy Stanley. Both worth reading!

  48. Cyndi says:

    I think my husband and I are learning to let go and let God. Right now he may end up pastoring at one of two places. We know where we want to be, but God may have a different plan. The hardest part has been accepting that he is in conntrol of this situation and we can do nothing but stand still and let him have his way. Sundays are work days for us, so finding a Sabbath day has been really hard. When you figure it out let me know the secret (lol).

  49. A good book for pastors and how to practice the sabbath is Eugene Petersons book “Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction”

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