By the age of eight, I knew, as do most children in Sabbath-keeping homes, that Friday is a time for preparation. Aromas of fresh-baked foods, the clean scents of a mopped floor, laundered and pressed clothing, the polished piano, sparkling windows and hair that was done—that’s what Friday smelled like. Sabbath, at sunset, began a welcome rest, and its peace, with all of the attendant readiness, was a time to relish. We sang the familiar Sabbath hymn and welcomed the presence of the Lord into our home for this special time.
But at seven this was lost on me. I wanted to go to the movies with my friend one Friday afternoon, and after an uncharacteristic display of brattiness on my part, my mom let me. When Charlotte’s Web was over, though, I found myself standing on the side of the theater as the vermillion sunset was turning dusk, the streetlights blared and the city bustled on. How strange. Far from feeling afraid or alone, I sensed instead that I was out of my place, out in the world, where no one seemed to know or care that it was Sabbath. I was caught out there doing my own thing.
If you grew up to appreciate the Sabbath, immersed in the full 24-hour experience, I want to say that sensitivity was probably not the product of apologetics, historical events, or theological interpretation. Realistically speaking, that sensitivity to the Sabbath is born of the Word of God, secured in the heart by the Holy Spirit.
What I am calling sensitivity is a profound awareness and honor of the Almighty Creator God on His special day, and the smallness and selfishness of our own spheres. If you seek to honor God, this is precisely the experience that you want.
Interestingly, as I read the New Contemporary Version of the Bible recently, I noticed the chapter heading in Isaiah 58: “How to Honor God.” There the prophet mediates a conversation between God and His purported people.
The Sabbath of the Creator links social and economic justice with true worship of Him.
“They still come every day looking for me and want to learn my ways,” said God. “They act just like a nation that does what is right, that obeys the commands of its God. They ask me to judge them fairly. They want God to be near them. They say, ‘To honor you, we had special days when we fasted, but you didn’t see. We humbled ourselves to honor you, but you didn’t notice’” (Isaiah 58:2, 3 NCV).
Didn’t notice? Really?
The all-knowing and all-seeing Creator God retorted that on these special days workers were being oppressed, people mistreated, and folks were brawling. Yet His people wondered why their prayers were not being heard and His presence not felt.
Lose the selfish agenda, He said:
“I will tell you the kind of fast I want: Free the people you have put in prison unfairly and undo their chains. Free those to whom you are unfair, and stop their hard labor. Share your food with the hungry; bring poor, homeless people to your homes. When you see someone who has no clothes, give him yours, and don’t refuse to help your own relatives” (Isaiah 58:6,7).
Then God says in effect, let’s talk about the Sabbath—the Sabbath—not all the feasts and festivals and little holidays you supposedly set up for Me.
“You must obey God’s law about the Sabbath and not do what pleases yourselves on that holy day. You should call the Sabbath a joyful day and honor it as the Lord’s holy day.”
You want to make me happy, says God. Treat people with love and compassion and honor Me on the Sabbath by not running roughshod over it, treating it as a burden or day of recreation. It’s My day, and I want to spend it with you.
These passages are exactly why people like me may wander from the traditional practices of our parents in an effort to modernize and contemporize our worship, yet we cannot shake the overall sense of the Sabbath’s impact. The ultimate prize is what He wanted all along, deep communion and closeness. “Then you will call out, and the Lord will answer. You will cry out, and he will say, ‘Here I am” (verse 9).
I want you to sense that God is trying to reach you, too. Remember, the first Sabbath shared with God’s people was when there were just two people on earth—in the Garden of Eden after Creation. This was long before there were nations, cultures, religions, or politics. And, as Creator—God of all—the invitation traveled then as it does now: not on the lips of a chosen few to be delivered to a privileged few, but in the indication of the setting sun on the evening of every sixth day.
You have wanted a deeper experience, wanted to know how you can honor your God. Meet Him on His day, His way. You will sense His nearness and blessing on what you do.