What If You Had a Sabbath Day?

By Ian Wooldridge – April 2, 2020

A couple years ago, I woke up in Jerusalem.

I left my hotel room, went down to the lobby, and then went out for a walk on the streets.

Something felt strange, though.

Everything just felt different. It’s like the air itself was clearer. I couldn’t explain why, or put any words to it — something just felt lighter.

Like everything and everyone just took a really deep breath.

Then someone who I was traveling with said, “It’s Sabbath day for them!”


I remember thinking, “I dig this.”

No one was working,
shops were closed,
noise was at a minimum,
and many of the Jewish people weren’t out on the streets coming and going and doing like they had been the six days before:

now they were just being.

It was as if the universe hit pause, and I was able to see first-hand how the Jewish people practiced the art of the Sabbath Day. I had been introduced to Sabbath before my time in Israel, but there was just something so compelling about being in Jerusalem on the Sabbath that I left with a new vision for how I could take up this invitation, woven into the oldest story ever told.

The story goes like this:

In the beginning, God worked.
Then, He rested.

Genesis 2 says it this way:

Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”1

When God chose to rest, it’s not like He needed sleep because of how tired He was; or that He needed to take a break because He was just so worn out from universe-making.

It’s less an I need a mattress ASAP kind of rest and more a
stopping to celebrate,
to delight in,
to “sit-back-and-relax” and enjoy the good work I’ve done
kind of rest.

The kind of rest we read about in Genesis 2 is of an entirely different kind than society or culture may define it:

Genesis 2 paints the picture of Sabbath rest.

The word rested in that Genesis 2 passage is the Hebrew word shabbat, where we get the word Sabbath. The word simply means to cease, to stop, and to rest. It can also mean to celebrate or to delight in.

When God chose to rest, we’re given a picture of how work and rest go hand in hand with each other. We don’t work to the point of exhaustion just to make it to the weekend where we can lay on the couch and watch Netflix all day and then do it all again. That’s not exactly the kind rest that the Sabbath rest of Genesis 2 is getting at.

The Sabbath rest picture of Genesis 2 is a stopping to celebrate kind of rest:
God rested and celebrated the work that He had finished.

So, before we look at this week’s practice, I want to make a disclaimer:

I am not prescribing that Sabbath is a once-per-week, 24-hour day that you must observe. I’m not after legalism, for that’s not what life with Jesus is about. In Jesus, the spirit of Sabbath is something that we walk with all week long — it’s a moment-by-moment, interactive, abiding friendship. But, I will say this: we can get so caught up in our doing that we never actually are being with Jesus. We have all the intention in the world for carving out time to follow Jesus — we just never really get around to it.

So, I’m going to propose a question to you — an idea that may sound crazy.

Take it or leave it, all invitation.

Buckle up, here we go:

What if you had a Sabbath Day?

I know. You’re like…. what?

In this blog, I simply want to propose the wisdom that my wife and I — and so many others — have found in taking an actual once-per-week, 24-hour Sabbath Day. Again, that’s not prescriptive; but just follow me here for a bit.

Having a regular Sabbath Day may not be a “law” that we have to follow; but it stands as wisdom in a world where bigger, faster, more! is the water we swim in — where hurry and overload is accepted as “normal.” So, I just simply want to propose an idea to you — an invitation; that’s all.

In Exodus 16, Moses records, “They must realize that the Sabbath is the LORD’s gift to you.” 2

Whether it’s practiced in a full, 24-hour day or not, the concept of Sabbath is a gift: a way of doing life that prioritizes being with God over doing for Him — for our doing will always flow best from our being. 3

So, before we dive in, a heart-to-heart real quick: I’ve tasted and seen how abundantly good a once-per-week, 24-hour Sabbath Day has been to not propose the idea; I’ve tasted and seen how having a Sabbath Day has driven me further into love for and delight in God — in a way that frames how I approach the other six days of the week — to not propose the idea. Again, it’s all invitation. But, this practice has changed my life. It could change yours, too.

The Practice: A Sabbath Day

Over the course of the next several weeks, as events are being cancelled and as we’re told to stay home, most of us will be finding ourselves with some unforeseen down time and margin.

Embrace this.

So much of what otherwise was filling our schedules has been at least temporarily removed or put on halt. What an opportunity to evaluate if our current (before COVID-19) schedule gave us life, or took from it. So, what better time to run our schedules by this litmus test, and ask:

Does my schedule reflect my deepest passions and desires?
Do I keep my calendar or does it keep me?
Am I living reactively to my schedule or am I proactively co-creating my life with God?

Now, this is where the practice of a Sabbath Day could be a breakthrough for us. So, really quickly, what could that look like? Again, the Hebrew word shabbat that we get the English rested from in Genesis 2 means to stop, to cease, to rest, and also can be translated as to celebrate or to delight in.

So, right here, we’re given the two primary foundations for which to build this special, set-apart day upon:

Rest and worship.

So, on our Sabbath Day, we run everything we do through this filter: is this restful and worshipful? If the answer is yes, we do a lot of that. If the answer is no, there’s other times for that. And this will look differently for everyone. Whatever is restful and worshipful for you — if it draws you deeper into rest, and deeper into enjoyment of God,

do a lot of that on your Sabbath Day. 4

Now, while a Sabbath Day may look different from one person to the next, there are some things that a Sabbath Day is not. As alluded to earlier, society has its own working definition of “rest” that stands in contrast with what makes a Sabbath Day so awesome:

First, a Sabbath Day is not the same thing as a day off. For example, when my wife and I have our Sabbath Day, it’s not just a pause from the work we get paid for; it’s a pause from other work, too — a day when groceries, errands, the budget, etc… are already all taken care of. It’s a day when we don’t even do that kind of work — and I love going to get groceries!

Second, as alluded to earlier, society gives us a working definition of “rest” that looks a lot like escapism. The kind of rest we practice on our Sabbath Day isn’t meant to be a time where we escape from life in God’s good world by turning to a culturally acceptable vice of choice; it’s when we celebrate and delight in our life with God. So, the invitation of a Sabbath Day is to fill your soul with things that nurture joy and delight in God and His world.

Also, there’s another reality to Sabbath that’s just too good to miss.

When Moses is giving the Sabbath command in the Deuteronomy account, he says: “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.”5

I love my rhythm of Sabbathing every week because it’s a day when I remember that we’re not in Egypt in anymore.

We’re not what we produce
or achieve
or get done.
Sabbath Day is when I remind myself again that I work from love, not for it.
It’s when I remember that the first, truest thing about me is that I’m loved and delighted in by a good Father. 6

And let me tell you: I need to be reminded of that regularly.

As we close, here’s the cool thing about having a Sabbath Day:

It’s like a cup that overflows into the other six days of the week.

As Walter Brueggemann writes, “People who keep Sabbath live all seven days differently.”7

Stay with me here, because this is pretty awesome.

In the Genesis 2 passage — when it says that God blessed the Sabbath day — that word blessed is the Hebrew word barak. In Genesis 1, this special word is used a couple times: when God blesses the animal kingdom and humanity, and tells them to “be fruitful and increase in number.”8 And then, we get to Genesis 2 where the word barak is used again.9

That’s right: it’s used for a daySabbath day.10

A Sabbath Day has a life-creating essence to it. It spills life into the other six days and we find that the rest of the week is filled with more

unhurried delight
and the ability to be radically present to the moment.
We find that Sabbath Day life pours over
into our marriages,
our relationships,
and yes, our work.

By taking up this six days on, one day off rhythm, we discover too that our days begin to take on sacred, life-giving rhythms of their own:

We learn when the best time is for us to rise in the morning,
or when to turn email off for the day
or put the phone down for the day
or when to take a break
or when to let work stay at work because work will always be there
and when to wind down for a deep, restoring sleep.
Now, as we end, remember: Sabbath is more than a day. Sabbath is a reality we live in if we follow Jesus — we carry the Sabbath spirit all day, all week long as we follow Him.
Jesus says in Matthew 11 that His “yoke is easy” and His “burden is light” and that in Him we “find rest” for our souls.11

But, if you’re like the rest of us, we often get so lost in our doing that our lives aren’t actually ever being with Him at all. We tend to just buzz around, only skimming the surface of the depth of life we actually have in Him. Having a Sabbath Day has been the biggest game-changer for helping me descend into those depths. I’ve tasted and seen the fruit that I can’t not propose the idea.

Again, it’s all invitation — you don’t have to do any of this. No worries!

Either way, may you realize that His easy yoke and light burden isn’t just an apt metaphor or pretty language— may you taste and see it as the very moment-by-moment, concrete level reality of your life.

A regular Sabbath Day helps me know life like this.
It could be a game-changer for you, too.


  1. Genesis 2:1-3, NIV.
  2. Exodus 16:29a, NLT, emphasis mine.
  3. See Luke 10:38-42. Thomas Merton once commented on this passage, saying that our work for God will always be best as an outpouring from our first being with In essence, we are to carry the fruit from our contemplation (our being with God) out into the world as our doing for God. I agree! After all, it’s Merton. Legend.
  4. This filter to run your Sabbath Day activities through wasfirst brought to my attention by John Mark Comer in his book Garden City: Work, Rest, and the Art of Being Human (Grand Rapids, Zondervan: 2015). It’s been super helpful ever since.
  5. Deuteronomy 5:15, NIV, emphasis mine.
  6. See 1 John 4:19; also see Matthew 3:16. I love this Matthew passage because the Father declares love, delight, and affirmation over the Son before He begins His ministry or “achieves” anything.
  7. Walter Brueggemann, Sabbath as Resistance (Westminster John Knox Press: 2014).
  8. Genesis 1:23, 28, NIV.
  9. Genesis 2:3.
  10. This reality of the blessed nature of the Sabbath Day was first brought to my attention, again, by John Mark Comer in his book Garden City. You really just need to go read that book!
  11. See Matthew 11:28-30.

One Response to “What If You Had a Sabbath Day?”

  1. Kim James says:

    Thanks for sharing!❤
    Chris and I started in January implementing Sabbath into or lives/week. It’s been a total game changer in our faith and our walk with Christ. And He is still showing us and teaching us how to do this. One tangibe way we have started honoring the Sabbath for us was to shut down social media, and other tasks that were causing us to not “Be”. Your blog hit close home with a lot of similarities for us. Thankful God spoke this in our lives and revealed how we were mereley skipping through the Sabbath commandment and showed us how to implement and honor this in our lives.
    Ian, your faith and obedience always inspires me. You have another momma out here that is beyond proud of you

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