Keeping the Sabbath

Posted: March 7, 2012 by efenster in Ideas

The following are notes I took while attending a two-day spiritual formation event led by Eugene Peterson.  Here’s what Peterson had to say about us keeping the Sabbath…   — Ed Fenstermacher

Keeping the Sabbath

There are more rules in the Bible about keeping the Sabbath than anything else.  Jesus was criticized for not keeping it.  Why is it so important?  Not because work is not a bad thing.  Afterall, there were six days of creation!  Keeping the Sabbath is not a cessation of work, but rather a contemplation of work.  Not keeping the Sabbath is a desecration of work.  Keeping the Sabbath permeates our lives, you lose yourself. 

Peterson defines keeping the Sabbath as shutting up and showing up.  When we don’t keep the Sabbath we’re trying to be God. Keeping the Sabbath has two activities:  playing and praying.  Playing can’t be coerced or it isn’t play; it has to be totally unessential, a non-productive act.  Sabbath allows us to see what God is doing and to enjoy it.  It’s of primary importance to the church, more important than evangelism!  Furthermore, asking your congregation for help in keeping the Sabbath is more important than in keeping it.

At the beginning of each year, Peterson would write a letter to his congregation explaining how he and his family kept the Sabbath (on Mondays) and asked the congregation to help them in keeping it.  This meant no Monday meetings, and rarely any phone calls from parishioners.  He never preached on it; he didn’t want to guilt his parishioners into keeping the Sabbath.   As the years passed, more and more of his parishioners began observing it too.  

Taking a day off without prayer is not keeping the Sabbath.  It must include prayer.  He feels his praying actually begins once he’s finished his prayers.  It’s a constant state.  Most of the time when we’re praying, we aren’t even aware of it.   

The most common comment Peterson hears from pastors is that they are busy.  We need to take charge of our own vocation and change that.  We don’t have to be busy.  “If we don’t kick the habit of ‘filling’ time, we’re lost!”  We need to keep the Sabbath and be an example to those around us.


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