In our fast-paced, 24/7 world, something has gone missing. Matthew Sleeth, M.D., executive director of the faith-based environmental nonprofit Blessed Earth and author of 24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life, sheds light on how our Sabbath has been lost and what we can do to reclaim the fourth commandment.
Q: Why is it important to observe the Sabbath?
A: Because both our personal health and the health of the church depend upon it!
The fourth commandment is the longest of the Top Ten, and the one that God repeatedly singles out to remind us to keepwe will be blessed if we honor it, but separated from God if we don't. Physically, emotionally and spiritually, we become ill when we are on the run, 24/7.
Americans work more hours than people in any other western country168 hours more per year than the Japanese. One in 10 of us are being treated for clinical depression, the highest rate in the world. Anxiety disorders, diabetes, and heart disease are all linked to stress and our always-on lifestyles.
On a bigger scale, we know that the Church is in trouble: we're losing numbers, we're losing influence, and we're losing moral authority. The Sabbath is the real estate in time that the Church was built on. Only in the last generation or two have we forgotten to renew the lease.
Q: What are the dangers of not observing the Sabbath?
A: When we go 24/7, we begin thinking that our well-being results from our own efforts. God gets taken out of the equation. We lose track of who made the universe. We start to believe that the world can't run without us.
Unrelenting work can keep us from asking life's big questions: Who am I? Why am I here? What does all this mean? Jumping off the hamster wheel once a week allows us to think about who we are, why we exist, and why we were made.
Sabbath is a time when we go from human doings to human beings. As Jesus told us, the Sabbath was not designed to be saved by humanity; rather, the Sabbath is meant to save us.
Q: In your book, 24/6 your refer to the Sabbath as a weekly "Stop Day." How has technology impacted our ability to stop?
A: The word Sabbath simply means to stop, to cease. But technology encourages us to speed up rather than slow down. We can take classes on-line around the clock, buy a car at 3 am, or cook a 3-minute egg in 30 seconds.
Many families are experimenting with the idea of a Screenless Sunday. What that looks like can vary from family to family; the important thing to remember is that holy rest is a gift from God that we are invited to open fifty-two weeks a year. In our technology-driven world, it's more important than ever to unplug and intentionally carve out time for our relationships with family, friends, and God.
Q: How has observing the Sabbath impacted your professional life?
A: The Sabbath gives me time to remember why it is I do what I do the other six days of the week. Without a weekly day of rest, I don't think I would have the energy or the focus to complete the work that God has called me to.
There is something comforting about being overworked. If work is the meaning of our lives, then more work equals more meaning. Our work ethic even extends to our time away from work. We like to say that we work hard and we play hard. But the 24/6 way of life is not about working hard and playing hard. It is about working hard and stopping. In that rhythm, the work takes on more meaning, and the stopping takes on holiness.
Q: How do you personally celebrate the Sabbath?
A: My wife Nancy and I have been married for more than 30 years, and we've established our own Sabbath traditions. The day before our Stop Day, we usually go to the grocery store, so we have food on hand. We also do a liturgical cleaning of the house. It's important that our home is clean and organized because we don't want to be distracted from our rest by unfinished chores. If we plan to drive somewhere for a hike on our Stop Day, I fill up the tank the day before. Nancy has a ritual of finishing up her email and closing her computer. I take off the wristwatch she gave me thirty years ago. It's wonderful feeling to go to bed on Sabbath eve, knowing that God's got your back for the next 24 hours.
Q: How would you tailor the Sabbath message for people who work in Worship Facilities?
A: The people who design, build, and maintain the places where we worship have a huge opportunity to impact congregations. Beautiful, peaceful, restorative spaces can minister to tired, restless souls.
But people who work in worship facilities must also model Sabbath keeping themselvesboth for personal renewal and for the well-being of the Church.We cannot fully participate in the work that God has called us to unless our hearts are aligned with God's will.
Because I travel and preach almost every Sunday, Ilike many of youhave to move my Sabbath from Sunday to another day of the week. The important thing is not to run errands or catch up on that day, but instead to spend it in holy rest. The Hebrew word for holy is kadosh, which means "set apart." Set aside a full day for holy rest and God will help you create beautiful spaces that glorify Him.
Drew Robinson is program coordinator at Blessed Earth, a nonprofit focusing on inspiring and equipping Christians to become better stewards of the earth. Prior to joining Blessed Earth, he led the Good Steward Campaign, an initiative organizing young Evangelicals towards greater awareness and activism addressing environmental stewardship and climate change. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.