“Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.”
What does this mean?
“We are to fear and love God, so that we do not despise preaching or God’s word, but instead keep that word holy and gladly hear it.”
-Martin Luther, The Small Catechism
For some of us, when we hear the third commandment, we can almost hear God in our heads (sometimes in a voice that sounds surprisingly like our parents) saying, “You are going to go to church every week, and your are going to like it!” In many of our busy lives this can come as yet another crazy expectation piled on to our already overflowing plates. We can easily forget that God is not just another coach or teacher who doesn’t realize that we already have a lot going on. Instead, when God tells us to remember the Sabbath, God is telling us to take a step back, rest, relax, and spend some time with God. Therefore, Sabbath is when we consciously take a break to seek God’s presence.
In order to better understand our need for rest, let’s take a look at at the life of Phillip, a middle school boy who has aspirations of playing high school sports, achieving the rank of Eagle Scout in his local Boy Scout troop, and getting into college. As we read this story I want you to keep track of the blessings that Phillip has been given by God.
Philip had always been a natural athlete. He was always able to make his dad smile by hitting a home run, scoring a goal, or beating everyone else in a race. But ever since last thanksgiving, Phillip has had a new sports goal in mind.
While eating his third helping of sweet potatoes in front of the TV with all his uncles, Phillip couldn’t help but notice all of the praise the quarterback was getting. Each throw was heralded as a great decision. Even when it was an incomplete pass, it was almost always the receiver’s fault. When the quarterback managed to lead his team down the field with less than two minutes left in the game to earn a victory on a passing touchdown, it was all anybody talked about for the rest of the day. It was then that Philip made up his mind that he would be a star quarterback in high school.
The rest of the year Phillip spent most of his free time throwing the football to anyone who was willing to catch it, and he trained as hard as he could at track practice to make himself faster. By late summer before his eighth grade year, he was ready for football tryouts. This was the first year he would be allowed to play tackle football and he knew that how he handled this year could set him up to be a star quarterback in high school. At tryouts he blew away the coaches and was selected as the starting quarterback for the freshman team. Not only was he good enough to be a quarterback, but the coaches were bumping him up to the next level.
As the summer turned into fall, it became increasingly harder to keep up with his duties as starting quarterback for the freshman team. Besides all of the regular practices, Phillip had to memorize the entire playbook for every offensive position so that he would know where everyone was at all times. He also had to stay late after Friday practices to watch film from the game the night before. By the end of the week he was exhausted, and Saturday couldn’t come soon enough.
Which of Philip’s blessings that you have written down are starting to become burdens? Why?
Even before Philip had decided to play football, his family had instilled in him the dream of graduating from college. Although Philip was good at football, he was certain that he wouldn’t be able to play at the next level, let alone receive a scholarship to go to a good school. Before he entered his eighth grade year, Philip’s parents told him that starting now, colleges would be able to look at his grades when determining admission and scholarships. His parents also let him know that in addition to good grades, colleges would consider volunteering, extracurricular activities, and musical abilities when offering scholarships. All of this was really important because although his parents weren’t poor, they weren’t rich either and they told him that it was unlikely that they would be able to help him pay for college.
Philip was always pretty good at school, in fact his teachers told his parents that he was a naturally gifted and curious learner. As his classes became harder and the assignments longer, Philip found himself spending at least an hour on his regular homework each day. When he received homework at the beginning of the year, he was actually excited to find the answers and finish the assignments, but as the year dragged on he found it harder and harder to get himself to work on his homework. Philip wasn’t exactly sure why, but he figured it had something to do with all of his extra-curricular activities.
In addition to his football and academic activities, Philip also loved music and was a gifted musician. He had been taking piano lessons since he was in second grade, and for the last three years had been learning to play the saxophone. Prior to the beginning of eighth grade, Philip’s band instructor had recommended that Philip begin to take private lessons from a local college professor. These lessons meant that Philip would have to spend an extra half hour each day practicing his saxophone and piano. In the beginning it was totally worth it, he was being challenged and was improving dramatically, but eventually the workload became over-whelming and Philip began to trade off which instrument he would practice each day, and eventually stopped practicing all together.
What are the similar activities in your life that seem to take more time than you ever anticipated?
When Philip was growing up, one of his favorite activities was camping with his dad. He loved the outdoors and was fascinated by all the different plants and animals he could find. When he was in 5th grade his dad signed him up for Boy Scouts. Ever since he joined the group, Philip loved attending the weekly meetings. There he had two hours of time where he could run around with friends, help to decide where they would go camping, and learn new survival techniques. He always looked forward to the monthly campouts as a time when he could relax.
When Philip learned that becoming an Eagle Scout (the highest rank) could help him get more college scholarships, he set his mind to achieving it. At first he loved being pushed to learn new skills to get different merit badges and earn the next rank. But as he climbed the ranks, he learned that he needed to become a patrol leader, which meant he would have the responsibility of leading a group of boys each week as they learned new skills and directing them at the campouts to ensure the things that needed to get done got done. Now he couldn’t just go to the campouts he liked, but he would have to be there for all of them. Being a Patrol Leader also meant that once a month he would have to attend a Patrol Leaders Council meeting. All of a sudden his extra responsibilities were starting to turn his fun and relaxing time of exploration into yet another thing he had to do on his ever growing list.
What do you think it felt like for Philip as all of the activities he once considered fun began to turn into responsibilities?
As we can see in Philip’s story, even the greatest of his blessings became burdens when he didn’t take time to rest. In the third commandment God tells us that we need to intentionally set aside time and space to seek God, not just look for God whenever we get a chance. As Christians, we believe that God has given us the sanctuary of our churches as a place that reminds us to intentionally focus on God. We also believe that weekly worship is a time that reminds us to specifically focus on God.
What are some places or times Philip might have visited to be reminded to focus on God?
If we don’t intentionally visit these times and places we can find ourselves overwhelmed, exhausted, and empty, much like Philip found himself. In today’s world of searching for the next way to improve ourselves in the eyes of others, it is easy to get caught up in the idea that it is always better to be busy, but that is not how God created us.
In spite of our societal perception that a busy life is a better life, we have been created with a need for work and rest. But in the hustle and bustle of our lives it is easy to forget and ignore our need for rest. In fact, this problem isn’t limited to this day and age. Jesus actually addressed this issue with his friends Martha and Mary in Luke 10:38-42.
Rest is so important to us that in the creation story God gave up an entire day of creating to simply rest. In Jewish culture (the culture Jesus was a part of), observing the Sabbath was taken very seriously. This meant that one day of the week, Jews were not allowed to do any work unless it was an emergency. This included caring for chronically ill people. Jesus was asked specifically about this by religious leaders of his day in Matthew 12:9-14.
God, who knows all, knows that without rest there can be no refreshment. When people fail to rest we become exhausted and increasingly focused on ourselves. However, when we do rest, we allow the Holy Spirit to work in us. It is in that space where we can be inspired, our questions can find answers, and we find the patience to see God at work in and through us. Sabbath is our chance to remember to rest. It is when we can stop focusing on ourselves, and begin to see the needs of others.
This week’s small group activity was to practice centering prayer. And the take-home challenge this week is to lead your parents in centering prayer. Centering Prayer is a method of prayer that focuses on listening to God. It may remind you of meditation from some other areas of life. The point of Centering prayer is to try to step back from your thoughts and to see where your thoughts are coming from…This sounds super weird but stick with me.
Think of your thoughts like a stream (stream of consciousness). Normally, you’re in the stream getting battered by thoughts like, “I’m hungry,” “Man, I have a lot of Homework,” or “I wish my friends were here.” However, during centering prayer we are trying to step up onto the bank of the stream and watch the thoughts flow by.
This is in fact super hard, so begin by having an anchor to help settle your thoughts. Think of a sacred word or phrase that invites God to be with you. If you’re feeling sick your word might be, “Health.” If you’re fighting with your friends it might be, “Peace.” If you’re struggling in school it might be, “Wisdom.”
To begin this centering prayer simply dwell on our sacred word, In Hebrew the verb for “to dwell” also means to sit. So take your sacred word and literally sit on it. As you enter into this prayer, you’re going to try not to think at all, and just let your mind go blank. This is really hard, so it’s okay if a thought occurs. In fact these thoughts are sometimes really important, so when you do realize you’re having a thought, write it down, then return to focusing on saying your word silently as you breathe.
After you’re done with your prayer, take a look at the list of thoughts you had and ask the following questions:
- What sorts of thoughts seemed to distract you during your centering prayer?
- Why do you think you were concentrating on these things so much?
- How did it feel to sit and do nothing?
- When would be a good time to practice centering prayer?