Sabbath – “Black Gold” for the Heart
A favorite story of mine collected over the years goes like this:
Two men worked each day cutting down trees in a heavy forest. Each day they would work the same number of hours. The first man worked non-stop with only a short break for lunch. The second man would stop fifteen minutes of each hour he worked and take a short break for lunch. Each day when they would finish their chopping, the second man would always have cut down many more trees than the first man. Of course the first man was upset and demanded to know how the second could cut down so many more trees when he worked so much less time each day.
The second man told him, “Don’t you know? I stop each hour to sharpen my axe.”
For most of my adult life, I’ve looked at the concept of Sabbath as an old-fashioned, legalistic, Old Testament thing that really didn’t apply to me in the twentieth century. Sabbath wasn’t something I needed. When I had time off, I wanted to do something; I wanted to go somewhere.
But somewhere in the past couple of years, perhaps as I’ve teetered and finally gone over the edge of burnout; perhaps as I’ve simply grown older (and wiser?); or perhaps through God’s grace he’s led me to authors who have persuasively explained Sabbath in such a way that it became something I wanted!
I believe it was Ruth Haley Barton who wrote, “Our unwillingness to practice Sabbath is really an unwillingness to live within the limits of our humanity, to honor our finiteness. We cling to some sense that we are indispensable and that the world cannot go on without us even for a day. Or we feel that certain activities are more significant than the delights that God is wanting to share with us.”
Charles Spurgeon, the nineteenth-century London pastor once wrote that we ought to care for ourselves by “resting and taking a day off and opening ourselves to the healing powers that God has put in the world of nature.” His practice was to take Sabbath on Wednesdays because Sundays were so busy. Our family rests on Fridays (as much as we can…sometimes it can be difficult). It is a time to sleep in (which for me can be til as late as 8 am); a time to worship and reflect on God’s Word; play games; read books; take naps; enjoy one another…We try to do things that allow us to genuinely rest and unwind. We try to unplug from e-mail and the Internet; from other electronics and just enjoy life…
Wayne Mueller suggests, “In Sabbath time we take our hand off the plow, and allow God and the earth to care for what is needed…If we do not allow for a rhythm of rest in our overly busy lives, illness becomes our Sabbath—our pneumonia, our cancer, our heart attack, our accidents create Sabbath for us.” It’s a frightening thought…if we don’t build times of rest into our lives, we run the risk of having illness or tragedy forcing us to take Sabbath.
Since beginning to attempt to keep a Sabbath, I have come to appreciate how necessary it is. I look forward to unplugging and reconnecting in a more meaningful way with my family and with God. I wish I could say that we always keep it and it always goes as planned…it doesn’t. But, it is life-giving and soul-saving and truly a gift from God.
In Moody magazine (September 1994), John H. Timmerman wrote:
In the back corner of my yard, partitioned by a rose bed and a 40-year-old lilac bush, rests a pile, 8 feet long, 4 feet wide, and 4 feet high–my compost pile. Old-fashioned chicken wire stapled to well-anchored stakes holds it in place. Into it I toss every bit of yard scrap and heavy dose of kitchen scrap…a bit of lime now and then, a good dose of dog droppings, and an occasional handful of fertilizer.
The compost pile burns hot, never smells, and each October yields about 70 bushels of fine black dirt, dark as midnight, moist and flaky, that I spread in the garden…Gardeners call it “black gold”…It nurtures 80 roses and a half-dozen beds of (flowers)…
Then he asks, “Could it be that what nourishes my plants nourishes me?” He compares his compost soil, which grows rich and fertile as it sits for months, to his life and the need of his soul for rest. Daily life hands us all kinds of things – good and bad – scraps, lime, and even “dog droppings.” But as we take Sabbath rest, these things are transformed. Godly rest can turn the difficulties of life into a rich resource for spiritual fruitfulness.
Sabbath rest – “black gold” for the heart!