One thing is certain. Postmodern people are busy. As Pacific nations strive to modernise, we are beginning to see negative changes along with the positive. Particularly in our towns and cities, workers in government or business offices are under pressure to perform, to account for their budget and time, and to constantly improve their efficiency and outcomes. Too many employees are pushed to accept work that they must complete after office hours—even on weekends. Every tick of the clock says “work, work, work”. Parents sometimes have very little time to spend with their children, and long months or even years will go by when city workers never see their home village, their ageing parents or other relatives. What are the results of this high-pressure lifestyle? Health problems from inadequate sleep, a diet of rushed junk food and a lack of physical exercise. Neglected marriages, children without guidance finding bad friends, alcohol or other drugs. The push for excellence in the workplace can become the cause of broken families, stress and depression, overweight, diabetes, heart disease and early death.
The Bible says . . .
In this context the Bible truth about Sabbath rest becomes more important and the practice of Sabbath-keeping is more needed. Sabbath doesn’t need us; we need the Sabbath!
Sabbath is first mentioned in the book of Genesis. The Scripture says God ended His work and rested on the seventh day (Genesis 2:1–3). In fact, it was Adam and Eve’s first complete day. It was the crowning touch on the work of creation. It was not a day when Adam and Eve were tired and needed to have rest. It was a whole new day, a time to look back and thank God for all that He had created for them.
Sabbath was a delight. It was a day of celebration. It is said that people are stressed when they don’t complete what they started. Not so for God. He completed what He started in creation and so Sabbath was a day of delight (see Isaiah 58:12,13).
The focus of Sabbath is God. Adam and Eve recognised God as their Creator and were grateful for the things He had made for them. The first Sabbath day provided this opportunity for them to praise, thank and worship God.
Jesus performed seven healing miracles on the Sabbath day. One of these miracles was when He healed the lame man by the pool of Bethesda (read John 5:1–18). This healing attracted criticism from the religious leaders. But to the person healed that Sabbath day became very special. On this day all his worries and burdens were lifted and gone. He was set free. Sabbath truly became a day of freedom for him—a day of rest.
Most of us know the Ten Commandments, including the fourth, which tells us to “Remember to keep the Sabbath day holy” (Exodus 20:8). But there are two different versions of the Ten Commandments and each gives a different reason for the Sabbath. The most well-known version in Exodus 20 connects Sabbath to creation, as I’ve done above. But the second version of the Ten Commandments, in Deuteronomy 5, provides a different reason for Sabbath to the children of Israel: “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. The Lord your God reached out his mighty hand and powerful arm and brought you out of there. So the Lord your God has commanded you to keep the Sabbath day holy” (verse 15). The Sabbath was a reminder of rescue from slavery. To be able to observe it was the privilege of a free people! As such it was a day of delight and celebration. Maybe if we viewed the Sabbath day that way, we would see it as a time of celebration, too.
Healing the heart
My friend Ray Paul is very active in his local Adventist church about 20 kilometres outside of Port Moresby. Every Sabbath he drives his family to the village church, spends the whole day in worship and returns back to the city late after sunset. What seems admirable to me is that Ray is the chief customs officer for Papua New Guinea. As such he has a busy schedule almost all year round. But what I couldn’t quite understand is that he still seems to have the vitality and energy to be involved in his local church.
Some time ago I talked with Ray as he drove me to his local church. I posed the question, “Ray, are you not tired when it comes to Sabbath?”
Ray said no. He told me that Sabbath is his best day. He said all through the week he wears the hat of director: “It’s very stressful during the week playing this role.” But on Sabbath he leaves his office work behind, he comes to worship and becomes just like anyone else in the church. For him Sabbath is truly rejuvenating. Healing. Renewing. There’s no hierarchy; everyone comes and worships God as His children.
Release your load
It is helpful for us as busy modern people to leave all the stress of work behind as we are about to enter the sacred hours of the Sabbath. Do not be like the old lady from the village who went for the first time to town. She was picked up by a wantok in a pick-up truck. She climbed up into the truck with the other passengers, but while travelling she still kept her heavy bilum bag on her back! Another passenger had to remind her that she could put down her load and let the truck carry it!
Many times we can be like this overburdened woman. We still carry our load into Sabbath hours when we should have left it behind as we enter His Sabbath. God wants us to enjoy the Sabbath rest He intends for us.
May the Sabbath day, God’s holy day, be a day of celebration. You can carry your mat, leap for joy beside the pool and praise God for your healing and freedom on this special day of true rest.
Born and raised in Solomon Islands, Leeroy Elisha is a senior lecturer in Education at Pacific Adventist University, Port Moresby, where he lives with his lecturer wife, Judy Tigulu.