Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sabbath in the Pastor's Schedule

The following is a summary of the devotional I presented at the Fort McMurray Christian Ministerial Association on February 7, 2012.

God saw all that he had made–and it was very good! There was evening, and there was morning, the sixth day.
The heavens and the earth were completed with everything that was in them. By the seventh day God finished the work that he had been doing, and he ceased on the seventh day all the work that he had been doing. God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because on it he ceased all the work that he had been doing in creation. (Genesis 1:31-2:3, NET)

We begin at the beginning. Here in Genesis we find the first mention of Sabbath. (The Hebrew word for "ceased," is the verbal form of Sabbath.)

Human beings without their creator are "very good," but they are not complete. They are finished, but they are not perfect. The essential meaning of Sabbath is that six without seven is incomplete. (The number seven in the Bible symbolizes perfection.) Human beings were created on the sixth day, but in order to move on to perfection, they need the seventh-day.

Pastors without God are not complete, and having God takes time. The call of God is foremost a call to himself. Jesus did not call his disciples to fish for men. He said “Follow me” and as a result "I will make you fishers of men" (Matthew 4:19). Our first priority is to be with Jesus.

Jesus was simply reinforcing a massage of Sabbath, because Sabbath is the first place in scripture where we encounter God as a person who desires a relationship with us. Everything else God has done up to this point in creation, could have been done by an impersonal deity. But the Sabbath indicates the desire of God to be in relationship with his creation, and his creation with him.

This emphasizes the importance of human being above that of human doing. Ministers face the constant temptation to base our spiritual value on how much or how well we serve. But when Adam and Eve their first full day of life was not spent tending the garden, it was spent in rest.

As ministers, our first duty is to rest in God, and let our ministry flow from that. Sabbath is where we acknowledge total dependence on God, because for 24-hours we do not try to make our own way in the world. On this day God sustains us and prepares us to depend on him in the coming week.

The way we keep Sabbath, as I see it in scripture, is a paradoxical combination of feasting and fasting—at once an ascetic and a celebratory practice. I will share how Adventists keep Sabbath in the hope that you will take something that is helpful to you.

On Sabbath we abstain
  • From regular work.
  • From commerce.
  • From secular media/entertainment/sports.
And on Sabbath we engage
  • With God.
  • With family.
  • With church family.
  • With God's creation.
  • With service to humanity.
Minister’s dilemma lies in the tension between the first point on the first list and the last point on the last list—our regular work is service to humanity. So how can we pastors rest on Sabbath and at the same time serve our people who gather on this day to receive a blessing?

To answer this question I refer you to an excellent article ("From Workday to Rest Day: One pastor’s journey to Sabbath renewal") that was published in Ministry magazine about this time last year. I will summarize the conclusion.
  • Don’t put off until Sabbath what can be done before Sabbath.
  • Don’t put off time with God until Sabbath
  • Consider your family's Sabbath experience
  • Be prepared to let some tasks go undone (or be done by others)
  • Be prepared to say No.

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