The Fourth Commandment as a path to deeper fellowship with God
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Summer is peaking in the West, and my backyard is bustling with the commerce of Creation.
On the first Sunday in August, I sit in a poolside steamer chair, just watching. The dragonflies are back, and a bright orange-and-gold one called a flame skimmer orbits over the swimming pool, guarding his territory. Where white lilies bloom along the stone coping, a black-chinned hummingbird hovers and flits, shopping the blossoms for nectar. On the patio a lizard counts off pushups, while a Cooper’s hawk perching on a pergola sizes him up for lunch. Even my dog Riggs is chipping in: Every last thing out here needs sniffing and, well … somebody’s gotta do it.
I sat there for a precious hour, part of a pursuit of mine that has lately become much more serious: Sabbath-keeping.
Not that I didn’t observe the Sabbath before. I knew Moses descended from Mt. Sinai bearing two stone tablets inscribed by the very finger of God. The Fourth Commandment on the first tablet: “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” My limited understanding of keeping it holy meant that in addition to attending church, I should do no work. So I didn’t … mostly … and instead concentrated on riding my motorcycle and watching the NFL (although not at the same time).
To be honest, I considered it convenient that my avocations generally coincided with what God had designated a mandatory day off. I came by that Scripturally, I felt: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath,” Jesus told the Pharisees when they rebuked Him because His hungry disciples were gleaning grain (Mark 2:27). Christ’s pronouncement skewered not only the Pharisees’ legalistic interpretation of God’s command, but also the extra burdens they’d attached to it: By the Pharisees’ lights, an observant Jew couldn’t light a fire on the Sabbath, engage in activities outside the Temple, carry any article not connected with religious worship, or walk more than 1,000 steps. (For insurance, fastidious Pharisees walked only 999.)
Clearly, per Jesus Himself, legalism was out. So, I reasoned that as long as I didn’t work, I was keeping the modern Sabbath. But alas, it seems I was missing the point. As we scurry from task to task, date to date, from soccer to volleyball to dance to youth group, between work and family and ministry and smartphone, there is little time left during the week for real, meaningful, personal worship. And so, in fleeing legalism, I had tipped over into laxity—and in the process, surrendered the spirit of the Sabbath.
For the Israelites, keeping the Sabbath signified they were God’s covenant people. God set aside the Sabbath as a time for them to remember His works of creation and rest as He did—to rest with Him and in Him, and to direct their thoughts and actions toward Him.
Oh, what a delight I’ve found that to be. On Saturday afternoons and evenings, I look forward to folding that last piece of laundry, to putting away that last item from Trader Joe’s. Not because I think laundry and grocery shopping violate the Fourth Commandment, but because I look forward to 24 hours of sweet and deepening fellowship with God, uninterrupted by the concerns of the flesh and the world.
Then, on Sundays, I make room for food, family, and fellowship as I keep up a running conversation with the Master. I read about Him and think about Him and offer Him thanks. And I also try to find time to sit still and marvel at His creation.
Did you know that since dragonflies can rotate all four wings independently, they can fly backward? Or that hummingbirds can fly upside down? Or that Cooper’s hawks sometimes lie on their backs like beach bums and sun themselves? Or that God made my dog—and yours—with noses so sensitive they pick up scents 12 miles away? Marvelous!
Since I’m a newer Sabbatarian than probably almost all of you, I’d love to hear the special ways you keep the Sabbath. Please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.