Last week was a long week. There was no one major thing that “got me”, it was just a bunch of smaller things in ministry, family, and day-to-day life that built up to the point where, alone at home with the baby, I sat on the floor of the dining room holding a spoonful of food that she didn’t want to eat, praying “God, I can’t do this.” I think that was Saturday night, so it’s no surprise that when I woke up the next morning feeling tired and with the thought that maybe I should just tell Jeff that I needed to stay in from church that day. I ended up tweeting this before Sunday service:
Some people were concerned (thanks for thinking of me!) But my intention of tweeting that was 1. to be honest and 2. more than that, to hopefully be an encouragement to anyone else who might wake up feeling the same way and happen to check their Twitter/Facebook.
God has been shaping my view of worship and Sabbath the past few years, and by his grace, on Sunday the very fact that I was so drained and needy- the fact that I didn’t want to go to church actually made me look forward to going.
I’ve grown up thinking and hearing different things about Sunday worship and Sabbath.
- It was routine or about seeing friends. When I was young, it was just a given and part of our week. I generally looked forward to seeing my friends at church although at times it was a bummer that I only had Saturday to sleep in.
- Sabbath was about not going to work. I heard different rules about Sabbath and not working so that you could show that you trusted God to provide financially even though you didn’t go to your job.
- Sunday service was about “putting God first”. In college, when it was my choice to go to church, Sunday service was about the discipline of choosing to go worship God instead of sleeping in when no one was there to force me to go.
- It was about “getting something out of” the sermon. Later, when God continued to grow me, it became about what I could learn from the sermon or hear from God during the message.
- Going to church on Sunday was about serving. I’ve heard people say “go to church to give not to get something.” At times it felt like I couldn’t breathe spiritually and I still went because it was part of my service to people and commitment.
Not that there is anything wrong about routine, seeing people you love, trusting God with your work, prioritizing, learning something new, or being committed in service but this was way short of the way Sabbath is portrayed in Scripture. It’s no wonder though that with these thoughts about what Sabbath is supposed to be, sometimes when I’d wake up Sunday morning it felt like burdensome duty or even an optional activity (why not listen to a sermon online from a famous pastor?)
In the last two years, God has been growing me in how I see Sabbath and what it means to meet with God’s people for worship. Here are a few thoughts:
1. Sabbath is a mini-rest for pilgrims heading toward our final heavenly rest.
Sabbath in Scripture is not just about not working to reflect how God didn’t work on the seventh day. It is meant to be a reminder and glimpse of what will happen when we finish our work here on earth and enter into the rest of God. The Sabbath is a gift from God meant to point to the final (eschatological) rest in the presence of God that we will have when we finish our course here on earth. (Hebrews 4:4-9)
Right now, as Christians we have the promises and presence of God but still live in the “not-yet.” In our lives and in the world we still experience brokenness, turmoil, and sin. Throughout the week as we are scattered in various places, we experience those things to different degrees. When we meet together, we remember that it’s not always going to be like this. We taste in our worship and fellowship together the joy, peace, comfort, healing, love that will be fully known when Jesus comes again. When we listen to the truth of Scripture with people who love God, it is rest for our souls after being bombarded constantly by different world views, sorting through lies about God and life, fighting our own flesh, etc.
2. Sabbath with God’s people reorients my heart toward Home. We were made to worship God and enjoy him forever. When I worship with God’s people, I get a glimpse of what eternity will be like. I am refreshed and hopeful as my sights are set again on my purpose and destination. When we experience a bit of God’s presence, the sweetness of worshipping him, the life-giving truth in his word, the grace in the gospel- it gives us a taste of our final Home, stirs our longing for the day when we will be with him forever, and we are encouraged to press on. Things that I have been consumed with during the week take their proper place in my thoughts and perspective when we worship our unchanging, eternal, holy God.
3. We come into worship desperate, needy, and bankrupt. Church service not about “coming to give and not to get.” We come into Sunday having failed as children, sisters, parents, and Christians. Our hope is in the promise of grace held out to us at the cross. We need Jesus. If I feel weary, not good enough, on the brink of giving up, God welcomes me.
Pastor John Piper has a great message about worship and responds to the skewed theology of pastors who say that the problem with their people is that they “get and not to give.” Our need and thirst for God honors and delights him when we turn to him. Pastor Piper said in his message:
I say to my people “You don’t have anything to bring to this service! You come in here dead! You come in here discouraged!…bankrupt!…empty! And maybe if you’re empty enough, God might get some glory from you by your craving his fullness. If you come here craving, longing, desiring, knowing this one thing ‘Everything in the world failed to satisfy my soul. I’m going to church this morning because I just might drink from the fountain of living water and have my soul satisfied.'” That’s the kind of people I want to come and that’s the kind of service that will explode with life. It’s thirsty people, it’s hungry people, it’s needy people who come to worship. (The Heart of Worship– John Piper)
These points are by no means a complete theology of Sabbath, but were part of what motivated my tweet Sunday morning. If I feel weary, not good enough, on the brink of giving up, I need to Sabbath and God welcomes me.
I never understood the stern warnings against neglecting to meet with the people of God until I started to see that worship with God’s people is so much more than about choosing to be disciplined, being committed, trusting God about finances, or even growing spiritually. It’s an issue of choosing life and absolutely essential for my soul. So while I may not wake up this coming Sunday wide-eyed, perky, and excited, I look forward to joining with other weary and worn travelers before a God who knows our needs and is gracious to command our rest as we journey home.