You should keep a Sabbath.
Yes, I’m talking to you. You’re a going to be a university student? Yes, you should keep a Sabbath. I’m not talking about going to church on Sunday; I’m talking about Sabbath, Shabbat, Shabbos. That Jewish thing, you should keep it, and let me tell you why.
What do I mean by “Sabbath?” The Hebrew word “Shabbat” (Strong’s H7676) comes from a root that means “to repose, to desist from exertion.” It means literally, to rest. And that is exactly what I’m suggesting. Throughout your degree you need to take one day of the week to not do any schoolwork, or any work at all for that matter. Take 24 hours to rest and to enjoy reprise. But this is not a day to simply forget your responsibilities and do whatever you want. No, it’s far richer than that. It is a day to restore your soul to God, to rededicate your life to him. It is an appointment between you and him. In the midst of your business (literally, your busy-ness) he wants to meet with you. But you’re going to be a university student (or perhaps you already are). There is homework, there are readings, you may have a part time job, maybe you joined a club or a sports team—there will be a thousand things to take up your time. But in the midst of this reality, you should still do it. Let me give you my reasoning, both from scripture and from my own experience.
God Said So
First, from scripture:
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labour, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:8-11)
There it is smack dab in the middle of the Ten Commandments! So unless we also believe that we don’t have to honour our father and mother or that it’s ok to worship other gods, this verse makes it pretty hard to maneuver away from the fact that God wants us to have Sabbath. It is about rest but it is also about repeating what God has done. As He rested on this day, so do we, and therefore enter into the sacred rhythm that has existed for as long as creation.
“And the LORD said to Moses, You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you.”
This verse is key to our understanding of Sabbath. First of all it’s HIS Sabbath, not our Sabbath, not the Jewish Sabbath, not the Christian Sabbath, but the LORD’s Sabbath. Second, it is a sign between Him and us. That is to say, it is a sign of association, of partnership, of agreement, of friendship, but most of all a sign of our sanctification. If you want your university degree, and your life as a whole, to be dedicated to God, then you need to start by sanctifying your time. Not only is it a sign to the world that you belong to him, but it is actually the mechanism that allows Him to dedicate you to himself even more. As He says, “I, the LORD, sanctify.” He is the one that does it, and the primary means by which He does it is the Sabbath. So sanctify your time and everything else will follow.
This quote from Heschel communicates what I’m getting at:
“One of the most distinguished words in the Bible is the word kadosh, holy; a word which more than any other is representative of the mystery and majesty of the divine. Now what was the first holy object in the history of the world? Was it a mountain? Was it an altar? It is, indeed, a unique occasion at which the distinguished word kadosh is used for the first time: in the Book of Genesis at the end of the story of creation. How extremely significant is the fact that it is applied to time: ‘And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy.’ There is no reference in the record of creation to any object in space that would be endowed with the quality of holiness. This is a radical departure from accustomed religious thinking. The mythical mind would expect that, after heaven and earth have been established, God would create a holy place–a holy mountain or a holy spring–whereupon a sanctuary is to be established. Yet it seems as if to the Bible it is holiness in time, the Sabbath, which comes first.” -Abraham Joshua Heschel
And that’s exactly what Sabbath is—a sanctuary in time for you to meet with God, to waste time with him, to linger in his presence.
It Will Change Your Life
I started keeping Sabbath when I was in my second year of university and it changed my life. In keeping with biblical tradition I personally kept it from Friday night to Saturday night. Suddenly, instead on the monotonous repetition of workdays, there was a day where I didn’t have to do any work. The wave of countless tasks stopped on the shores of Friday night; I could forget my to-do list and just enjoy life with my creator and friends. On that day, more than any other day, I would get a tangible sense of God’s closeness, as if the depths of knowing him were suddenly vaulted open before me and all the glorious riches of knowing Christ became impressed upon my spirit. It became the anchor that kept the rest of my life from becoming overwhelming. I would enter it with the expectation of encountering God and I would leave it refreshed, refocused, and ready to take on the week. It is no coincidence that the last two years of my degree were the most enjoyable years of my life (so far). Not only were they the most enjoyable years of my life, but the two most successful academic semesters of my degree also happened during that term. That’s because there is an inverse relationship between your work and your rest; the better you rest, the better you’ll work. This is even communicated in the scripture, “Six days you shall labour, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God.” (Exodus 34:21) You could even read this as a command to work hard for six days in order that you’ll be able to rest on the seventh. You work to rest and you rest to work. But this reciprocity is only realized when there are clear boundaries. You can’t have them bleeding into each other—it creates unfocused work and anxious rest. When the boundaries are clear, the work is diligent and purposeful and the rest is deep and satisfying. As Moses said, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)
You may say, “This is a great idea, but I just don’t have time to implement it.” That’s the whole point! If you don’t have time for keeping Sabbath, it’s all the more urgent that you do. Of course no one can force you to do it, not even God, but by not doing it I believe that we miss out on so many blessings that God has for us. It’s not legalism to say that I think this is something you should do. Think about it this way, no one can force you to exercise, but if you want a healthy body, you have to exercise. In the end it’s not going to happen by itself, you need to make time; you need to set those boundaries. Find the day that works for you. I highly recommend Saturday, but that’s another article altogether. The important thing is that you have a dedicated day, and if that happens to be Sunday, then great. Like I said at the start of this article, this is not about going to church, this is about you and God, one on one. Do things with Him. Sleep in, pray, go for a walk, read the word, listen to a sermon or worship music. God wants to meet with you! Furthermore, the whole day doesn’t have to be all “religious” things (whatever that means). You can hang out with friends, read a book, eat some good food, go on a date, or call your mom. Remember, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27) I pray that God would bless you deeply throughout your University degree and beyond. May you be able to create a temple in your time to meet with him and may the blessings of Sabbath delight your heart and spill over into every area of your life.
“So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.”