Tag Archives: Stress management

Do You Keep Sabbath?

If you have the sort of job that requires you to work on Sunday, you may have long ago abandoned any notion that that you can observe a Sabbath. For starters, you probably already understand that Christ’s death and resurrection fulfilled all the ceremonial law for making people righteous. You already know that to be a fanatic about no work on Sunday is to be Pharisaical about your faith. You already know that Sabbath isn’t about Saturday or Sunday or any other day.

So forget about it. Right?

Wrong.

Jesus spent a great deal of time teaching us how to observe Sabbath, but people often miss that teaching because they focus on other aspects of each story. The teaching about Sabbath gets lost in the diatribes against the Pharisees. That is sad, because many twenty-first century Christians enjoy feeling smug about not being Pharisees, but in the process, they lose the real lesson Jesus was teaching.

The truth is also often buried in arguments about why we worship on Sunday rather than Saturday. It may suffer through arguments over watching movies or playing sports on Sunday, or on whatever day we consider to be our Sabbath. Should people cook on Sunday? Should they eat out on Sunday, thereby motivating restaurants to operate on the “Sabbath?” There are many discussions about Sabbath that are not about Sabbath at all.

Jesus taught that Sabbath was a gift from God intended to be a blessing for humankind, because God knew that people will make themselves crazy if they don’t rest. People need rest. Probably no adjective could be so universally applied to contemporary humans as the phrase “stressed out.” Many common diseases are rooted in or exacerbated by stress. People are extremely stressed because when they stop stressing about work, they start stressing about how to optimize their playtime. Jesus said that God never intended for us to dash madly in all directions.

God’s gift was presented to humans wrapped up in the Ten Commandments, and that is part of the reason people fail to see the blessing. People think it is a commandment to be obeyed, and they worry how to obey instead of simply enjoying the release from stress. It is, indeed, a commandment, but when Jesus talked about the commandments, he said, “Blessed is he …” and it helped people to understand better that obedience to God’s commandments is like eating the right food; you do it because of the blessing, not the anger at disobedience. When people think of any desireable behavior as a legislated behavior, they also think of ways to avoid it without penalty. When people think of something as a prize, they crave to do what it takes to obtain it. The first thing people should think about Sabbath is that rest is a prize human beings should desire, and they should be willing to shed anything that is an obstacle to obtaining it.

People who are not stressed are so unusual that they stand out, and that explains a second good reason to observe Sabbath. When someone feels free to let go and get off the contemporary merry-go-round, it is noticeable. It could be a Wednesday for a person whose days off from work are Wednesday and Thursday. Someone who works split shifts or a rotating schedule, may not have a single day that can be a Sabbath, but Jesus says, “Sabbath was made for people. People were not made for Sabbath.” Sabbath is a conscious choice to accept God’s gift of time to rest even if that time is on Tuesday this week and Friday next week. If that time does not coordinate well with established worship schedules, keeping worship may require some intentional and counter-cultural behaviors. Remember that Jesus observed worship and Sabbath on the same day, but if you simply can’t do it, Jesus has set you free to do it a different way. Your peaceful, grateful testimony may be the way you weave Sabbath and worship and faithful living together in the midst of the same frenzy that engulfs everyone else.

A cab driver whose territory included a city grocery store was well-known for his laid-back attitude, because whenever anyone came bustling up to his cab in a fizz, Joe always said, “Take your time. I’m in no hurry,” and he meant it. He either helped to load the trunk or stood quietly by as his passenger rooted through her purse looking for her billfold or her phone. He never appeared to have anything more important to do than to serve his customer. A Christian who never puts people off because of being stressed out, or overloaded, or simply distracted by too many commitments will be noticeable. A peaceful, patient individual invites comment and questions. People want to know how he or she does it. A Christian who keeps Sabbath, on whatever day, gives a testimony that people notice. The fact that this attitude stands out opens the door for a spoken testimony of gratefulness to God for rest and peace.

People certainly notice if a person is out the door and off to church every Sunday, and this is part of the testimony that develops when a Christian keeps Sabbath. It is just as powerful if worship is some other day. Happy greetings in passing, maybe the invitation, “Want to come to church with us?” testify to happy gratitude for God’s blessings. Of course, judgmental comments or scathing criticisms only fuel rejection of Christ’s message of love. Gracious, peaceful behaviors say that Christ matters, that Christ in the heart of a Christian overflows in the blessing of rest, not the stress of being driven to be religious.

Jesus pointed out that the gift of Sabbath did not preclude kindness and actual exertion on behalf of other people. Every one of the healings that took place on Sabbath angered the religious establishment, because to them, the legalities took priority. Healing someone was defined as work, and work was to be done in the other six days. Jesus reminded us not to stress over the definitions of “rest” and “work” so much that we became too stressed to be kind and loving.

Above everything else, Jesus taught that faithful Sabbath-keeping is a testimony that God comes first. In today’s culture, religion is being shunted out of the public view, because of a cultural perception that obedience to God ought not to interfere with important cultural objectives. A Christian who keeps Sabbath on any day whatsoever testifies that God is important. One way to say it is that the First Commandment demands that God take priority in the lives of believers while the commandment to keep Sabbath actually sets aside one day a week just for God. That day that is “separated,” which is to say it is “holy,” is a testimony to God’s priority in someone’s life.  A better way to understand it is to say that the God who wants to be first in people’s lives loves them so much that he ordains one day in seven for rest. As the psalmist reminded us, God knows that humans are dust. God knows that people disintegrate when they are stressed; they need rest.

Sabbath is not about Pharisaical definitions of what work is and what it is not. It is not about trying to fool self and God into thinking you are giving God the day for rest when you are completely indulging selfish ambition.  It is about living as a grateful steward of all God’s gifts, including the gift of rest. It is about taking time to say “Thank you,” to God and to do kindness and share hospitality with family and friends. Enjoyed this way, the command to observe Sabbath becomes an invitation to rest and joy and peace.

How do you observe Sabbath?

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Coping With Stress

Yesterday, I read an article which elaborated on a problem that occupies my mind frequently: the stress level of contemporary life in the USA and the price people pay because of it. People cannot respond to my email or answer my phone call or call me back, because they are so busy. When they do reply or call back, they can’t answer my questions or comment on issues I raise, because they need to vent about the stress in their lives.

I have wondered from time to time if I were misinterpreting the problem, but David Kupelian’s article reports statistics that make it clear I did not make a mistake. Americans are extremely stressed, and most of them do not know what to do about it.

I was extremely interested in Kupelian’s suggestions for dealing with the stress. Here they are:

  •  Regular exercise
  •  Healthful food
  •  Daily time for prayer and reflection

These suggestions are not complicated. It seems as if everyone should be able to do these three things. I am not a specialist in either exercise or nutrition, but I think I know enough to do some physical exercise, and I loved the recommendation not to eat anything my grandmother would not have recognized as food.

The suggestion that really caught my eye was the third one: daily time for prayer and reflection. Do you have time set aside for this purpose? Even friends I thought had long ago adopted this discipline tell me they just don’t have the time, and this is disturbing. Why do so few people make time for prayer? Why do people claim Christ as their Savior, and then never again make any time to talk with him?

Let’s think about it this way. How is it that we say that Christ has rescued us from horrors in this life and the next, and yet, we have no time to talk with him?

So, skipping the judgmental question, let us move on to the real question. What do we do when it seems we have no time for the most important relationship in our lives?

If you doubt that your relationship with Christ is important, think about people for whom it has become everything. In Iran, Pastor Saeed Abedini is the most visible example of people who have been imprisoned for their faith, people who suffer daily torture with the objective of persuading them to recant. For these people, Christ is not an abstraction they conflate with an argument about whether we sing praise songs or ancient hymns in worship. Christ is the center of their lives. Christ is all they cling to. Their food is inadequate. They are beaten or worse every day. When someone persuades their jailors to take them for medical treatment, the doctors and nurses refuse to touch them because Christians are “unclean.” Talk about phobias! Terrorists with what they call holy agendas burn down their homes, slit the throats of their children, and throw bombs into their churches. These Christians, in Iran, Laos, China, and Kazakhstan and other countries around the world, suffer daily. The only way they survive is by being in constant close communion with Christ.

Those who simply struggle to survive twenty-first century multi-tasking and taxes and oppressive work schedules and claim no time for prayer or reflection are fooling themselves. Someone who claims the name of Christ and yet makes no effort to step aside and stop running in place and take just a few minutes to say, “Thank you, Jesus. I am yours,” is missing the one thing that might make a difference in the daily chaos.

There is a simple way to get started. If you don’t have time for prayer, stop where you are right now and simply pray, “Lord, please open my eyes to your gift of time.” Pray that prayer right now. Let go of the stopwatch. Rest your feet on the floor, take a deep breath, and pray the prayer that Martin Luther’s spiritual mentor taught to him. “Jesus, take me. I’m yours.” This is the place to begin. This is the time to begin. You may think you do not have time, but your life, now and hereafter, will be different if you don’t do it.

That is Step One. Step Two is easy, too. Buy a copy of the Daily Texts for $9.95 plus shipping. (I receive no commission on these sales. I just know how grateful you will be if you do this.) You will receive a book with two verses for your prayer and reflection every day. You can do this. Two verses, one prayer, five minutes. Time for prayer and reflection every day. You need this, more than you know. The Christ who saved you from your sins is ready to save your daily life if you let him be part of it.

Why don’t you make time for him every day? Who do you know who is like you, too busy to take any time for prayer and reflection? Do it for yourself, and do it for somebody else. Then please let me know how things work out. I believe you will be grateful that you set this time aside. If you don’t do it, why not?