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  • Writer's pictureScott Carr, Jr.

The Beauty of Sabbath

All discussion regarding spiritual formation begins with the question, “What does it mean to be human?” We cannot articulate a model of discipleship until we know what the end goal of our existence is. James K. A. Smith believes the answer to that question is “You are what you love” [1]. This stands in start contrast to modern culture’s acceptance of the Cartesian formula, “I think, therefore I am” [2]. It also stands in stark contrast to another modern understanding of what it means to be human: “You are what you do.” From the time our children our young, we ask them what they want to do when they grow up. Whenever a friend asks how we’re doing, our response usually punctuates the various activities which comprise our daily lives. It is this false understanding of being human which is confronted by the ancient practice of Sabbath.

Most people’s experience of work sounds something like what Mark Buchanan describes: "You’re more like a wild horse haltered, corralled, backed into a stall. It’s more like dressing in wet denim, like having a root canal without anesthetic. You have more of these days than you like to admit-when the work is a fistful of thistles, and you dream of being someone else somewhere else doing something else." [3] Work with its frustrations, disappointments, tediousness, and exhaustion makes a poor taskmaster. Work was made to be good, but in the hands of sinful humanity, it has become a poor substitute for the life-giving Creator.

Instead of turning work into a mark of identity, its true place is to serve in worship to the Creator. “The one who is most free is the one who turns the work of his hands into sacrament, into offering. All he makes and all he does are gifts from God, through God, and to God.” [4] It is the rhythm of Sabbath rest which reforms our perspective and attitude towards work and transforms it into an act of worship. Settling our lives into rhythms of resting in God and working as an offering to him transforms us and reorients our desires towards him. “Our most fundamental orientation to the world-the longings and desires that orient us toward some version of the good life-is shaped and configured by imitation and practice.” [5]

Even pastors are susceptible to centering themselves in their work rather than in love towards Christ, whom they serve. In fact, perhaps ministers are the most susceptible to this trap. It is easy to baptize workaholism when it is “for the kingdom.” Rather than performing true ministry towards God, Eugene Peterson says: "The pastors of America have metamorphosed into a company of shopkeepers, and the shops they keep are churches. They are preoccupied with shopkeeper’s concerns-how to keep the customers happy, how to lure customers away from competitors down the street, how to package the goods so that the customers will lay out more money." [6] Peterson suggests that pastors are doing the wrong things and instead ought to be doing three principle tasks: praying, reading Scripture, and providing spiritual direction [7]. These three items could be described as the work of a minister done in the presence of God. This work is done in the rhythm of work and Sabbath rest, the same as all other Christians. While it might be easiest for a pastor to succumb to an “I am what I do” mentality, it is even more urgent for the minister, whose task is to build up the body of believers, to live their lives shaped by a love for Christ.

[1] James K. A. Smith, You Are What You Love, p. 7.

[2] Ibid. p. 6

[3] Mark Buchanan, The Rest of God, p. 13.

[4] Ibid. p. 24

[5] James K. A. Smith, You Are What You Love, p. 19

[6] Eugene H. Peterson, Working the Angles, p. 2

[7] Ibid. p. 3.

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