Ceasing activity and resting on the Sabbath are actions that most of us would expect to be part of Sabbath practice… But how about EMBRACE?
There have been times when my kids have come home and I’ve been able to tell who they have been with because of how they smell – I could tell you if they’ve hugged Nanny (Gaynor), or my daughter’s godmother (Beth) – all because of the perfume that has rubbed off on them when they have hugged them.
When we embrace someone (if you remember back to when we were allowed to!), we hold them close to us and they hold us close to them. And often – if they are wearing some sort of perfume or aftershave you find that after you have embraced you smell like them…
So, what has this got to do with the Sabbath?
On the Sabbath we are given the time and space to embrace God, His values, and His people – but to do this is an intentional choice. One of the reasons we are poor when it comes to Sabbath practice is that in years gone by it became a legalistic practice, full of rules that were to be kept without much thought. Over time it became a stale, restrictive practice – that took life rather than what God intended it to be – a day that brought life, joy and rest.
And so, the response was to get rid of all those rules – and slowly the Sabbath became an outdated, negative memory in some people’s minds – and, to younger generations a fairly foreign concept – which is now re-emerging as we are realising what we are missing out on.
We need to be careful not to dive back into legalistic rule keeping. But at the same time, we will need to create practices that help us be intentional about this, that help us embrace the alternative ways of life God offers to us – otherwise we will be swallowed up by the surrounding culture.
This is where Sabbath embracing comes in – God cares for us and wants to hold us close – but he is gentlemanly and won’t force an embrace – he waits for us to allow him, and he longs for us to embrace him back. And when we spend time embracing him, as with the hugs my children experience – we begin to smell like him – we take on some of his life-giving, graceful, and loving aroma.
Marva Dawn describes this well when she says:
“The important point in all our imitation of God is its deliberate intentionality. We don’t just think God’s values are good. We embrace them wholly… To embrace is to accept with gusto, to live to the hilt, to choose with extra intentionality and tenacity. Part of the weakness of our Christian witness stems from the fact that often it is so lackadaisical, so lackluster.”
So, what kinds of things do we want to be intentional about on our Sabbaths in order to create practices that help us fully embrace God?
Firstly, and this should undergird anything we decide to put into practice – as it saves us from becoming legalistic in our disciplines, we put God at the centre of the day. When the pharisees told Jesus off for healing a man on the Sabbath they had replaced God at the centre of the Sabbath and instead put their rules and control there.
For those that I interviewed as part of my research it was clear that a day off on a Sunday was very different to a day off on another day – and one of the reasons was that many of us spend time listening to sermons, taking part in live-streamed prayer times, and worshipping God on a Sunday – we have inbuilt habits that lend themselves to a Sabbath sensibility on a Sunday – it doesn’t have to be a Sunday – but we do need habits that make that day different and special.
Could you start new habits, or develop ones you already have to help you spend time purposefully embracing God on the Sabbath – whichever day that may be for you?
By prioritising spending time with God on this day we are reminded of who He is, and therefore of who we are as His people – it brings His healing and wholeness in our lives and it strengthens our ability to live in alternative ways, despite the cost.
This brings us to the second thing we need to be intentional about: Sabbath practice isn’t an individual habit. In order to maintain our intentionality we need to be joining with others. On the Sabbath we embrace God, but also His people.
As you think about your Sabbath practice – could you think about how you can build in time which is dedicated to going deeper in your relationship with God’s people – and not in a “tick it off an agenda” sort of way – but in more of an unrushed, enjoying each other’s company sort of way – open to interruptions and surprises.
Are you choosing a day when others are also practicing the Sabbath? Do you have built in times when you gather with others to worship – (albeit through technology at the moment), but also to enjoy each other’s company?
Thirdly, the Sabbath can come across as an insular practice that distances ourselves from the rest of the world. In some ways it does distance us from destructive and unhealthy practices – but it should never remove us from being aware of the needs around us and from having compassion for others.
As we embrace God and take on His aroma – we become a people characterised for our love for the poor and the outcast in the same way that Jesus was. As we rest in the company of a God who deeply loves us, and as we receive this love, we grow in our ability to show empathy and love for others. And as we gather with others who are doing the same we strengthen each other’s ability to stand firm, remain intentional, and embrace God and His values throughout the other six days of the week.
How can we intentionally put practices into place that help us to embrace God, His values and His people on the Sabbath – so that we’re better able to bless the world around us through the way we do life?
As Marva Dawn writes:
“Sabbath keeping is often disparaged as not useful, but we certainly do serve the world better out of the wholeness, order, revived spirits, empowered emotions, healthy bodies, renewed minds, authentic relationships, and nurtured sense of ourselves that Sabbath keeping creates.”
May you embrace God, His people and the world He created this week – and may you increasingly take on His aroma of Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Gentleness, Faithfulness, & Self-Control.