Today, after a long weekend (beginning last Wednesday and continuing until Sunday) of service for a big event my church was putting on, preceded by several intensive days of preparation, was a zero day. If you’ve ever been backpacking for more than a couple of days, you may know what that means. A zero day is a day with NO HIKING (or, in today’s case, no anything)! It’s a beautiful thing when you’ve been walking 10+ miles per day with a heavy pack on. And if you’re anything like my crew was last summer, you’re willing to do just about anything – including 17 miles in a day – to have one blissful day where you don’t have to break camp, put 30 pounds on your back, put on those heavy boots, and lug yourself over a single mile. A full day of enjoying the nature you’ve worked so hard to get yourself into. A full day of fellowship, of recreation, of rest. We all need zero days now and then. And mine was blissful. Well…I cheated and did check several things off my to-do list. But I did it all while ensconced in an arm chair watching The Great British Baking Show (truly one of the most delightful shows of all time), and never changed out of my pj’s. So it counts as a zero day.
One of the cool and unexpected things about zero days is that God is totally in favor of them. In fact, during the time period from Moses to Jesus, He demanded them of His people. He demanded a day where they did NOTHING. Even when He was feeding them manna, on the day before the sabbath they were to collect two days’ worth so they wouldn’t have to go out and collect it on the sabbath day. It was the only day every week in which the manna wouldn’t spoil overnight. I was talking to someone this weekend and they mentioned how the sabbath would have been necessary to get the Israelites out of a slavery mindset. For 400 years, all they had known was slavery. All they had done was work. Their only ruler was Pharaoh. They didn’t know how to do anything but work. So God enforced a day off so they would know FOR SURE that He wasn’t a leader like Pharaoh. That He wasn’t their task master. That He wasn’t their slavedriver. That it wasn’t about what they could do for Him. That He was in it for love. He had to re-teach them how to frame their life outside of slavery and what a loving relationship with a Lord looked like. I think hearing that was the first time I realized how important the sabbath really was, why it was one of the big 10 commandments.
But then came Jesus…and although he reiterated the other 9 commandments as important, he seemed to be repeatedly breaking the sabbath. Why? Was it only necessary for Old Testament Israel? Had they learned their anti-slavery lesson and were they now free to move past that and work as much as they wanted? Not at all! It’s not about a specific day anymore, certainly; the Galatians were rebuked by Paul for observing “days, and months, and times, and years” because they were letting themselves get tangled back up in legalism. But at the same time, Jesus was forever setting aside time to spend with his Father.
Mark 1:35 (ESV)
And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.
Matthew 14:23 (ESV)
And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.
We are still supposed to be setting aside time for God. A “sabbath” is perhaps needed as much in this day and time (at least in America) as it ever was by Israel. It’s so easy to get busy working – even working for the church – that we forget to just spend time with God. I’ve been praying with one of my very dear friends from YWAM, and last week she asked me to pray that, even though she’s in an intensive Bible school at the moment and will be studying the Bible pretty much 12 hours a day, she will keep her relationship with God first. It sounds like an odd prayer. Like, obviously your relationship with God is first, you’re spending literally all your time studying the Bible. But I grew up studying the Bible, and never really understood the greatness of a relationship with my Heavenly Father until recently. There’s something about setting aside all other distractions and just being with God. Talking to Him. Appreciating Him. With no agendas or schedules or reading plans. Sometimes it is seeking Him out in scripture. Sometimes it’s laboring alongside Him in prayer. Sometimes it’s being way too honest with Him so He can show up and help you work through something. Something it’s thanking Him for who He is and all He’s done. Sometimes it’s listening to a song that just hits you on repeat and crying. Sometimes it’s staring at the Milky Way, dumbfounded at how big infinite is.
So maybe let’s all try taking a sabbath. A zero day. Or zero hour or zero minute. As much time as we can give, whenever possible. It’s worth the extra push Friday afternoon at work so you don’t have to go in Saturday. It’s worth missing a little sleep. It’s worth taking a study break, even if the exam is tomorrow. God was big enough to keep manna from spoiling an extra day, He can multiply time working or studying or sleeping when you decide to cut down on those so He can have more of you. Cause that’s all He wants. You.