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Reserving a Day to Hear God
There is a way of carving out a place and time in our busy lives where we can attune our spirits to the living God and hear His voice.

“The seventh day is like a palace in time with a kingdom for all. It is not a date, but an atmosphere,” Abraham Joshua Heschel (The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man, page 21).

The world we live in, day-to-day, is no friend to the listening heart. It clamours for our attention, energy, dollars – and sense. It does not wait to hear what we have to say. It leaves no room for desire – or dreams – to take shape. Each day we’re simply filled to overflowing with more “stuff.” Why? Because the world knows that when the desire of the heart is writ large in our imagination, temporal claims will lose their hold. And, we will be free.

Each week, setting aside one day to rest – do nothing.

So, the question becomes: how do we carve out a place in space and time, where we can attune our spirits to the living God and learn to hear – in both the silence and sounds that we call our lives? How do we enter into a place designed for our discernment? My response is found in the pattern of a weekly day of rest, loosely called the Sabbath.

The idea is appealing. Each week, setting aside one day to rest – do nothing. The reality, I find, is more difficult. But, attuning my ear to the Spirit of God, within and without, has been worth it. For one day, each week, I shut the door on the clatter of the world’s bargains, demands and heavy-handed ways. I intentionally arrange one day a week as my own personal Sabbath. I do so to guard my heart, if not my soul.

Over time, I have come to crave the simplicity of this one day set aside to learn to listen, and respond, to God. “Holiness demands a response,” writes Lawrence Kushner in The Book of Words. “Sometimes the obligation is nothing more than a promise to remain silent in its Presence or to return to this place again. Other times we are driven to make more sustained changes,” (page 91).

To respond to the holy, room must be made for the holy. The Sabbath is just such a reservation. It is like a discreet black placard with gold lettering (“reserved”) placed on the best table in an old-world restaurant known for its food and service; keeping a date with God on the Sabbath in an atmosphere that anticipates intimacy – of course we will listen better.

I first began making room for the Sabbath after my pastor’s wife preached a sermon on Isaiah 58:13-14. “If you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honourable…then you will find your joy in the Lord…” Feeling something stir within me, I marked the date in the margin of my Bible – July 22, 1990.

After that I started to ask my pastor a lot of questions about the Bible, and its meaning. Invariably, he would turn the question back on me, “What’s God saying?” I wanted to shout back, “I don’t know. I’m a new Christian. You’re the pastor. You tell me.” Something in me told me to bite my lip – and study and pray. My pastor taught me many things, but learning to hear from God for myself tops the list.

Then my Chemistry professor taught me a very practical lesson in setting my priorities. He brought a large glass jar to class. I was one of 250 undergraduate students in a large lecture hall, seated halfway back. I remember watching the jar fill up with small pebbles, and then water until there was no room left. The professor asked what would happen if he now placed a big rock in the jar. Answer: it would overflow. Lesson: put your “big rocks” in the finite jar of time first, because the little things will take over – if you let them.

The clincher came after I watched Chariots of Fire. Released in 1981, I first saw it years later on video. The character Eric Liddell is set to compete in the 1924 Olympics, but refuses to run on Sunday, the Lord’s Day. His race is changed to “another race, another day.” Liddell had learned to listen not to the world, but to his conscience. As a result, he let God call the shots and won more than a foot race.

The Sabbath. First. Don’t compromise. These are the lessons I learned over the years about keeping Sabbath. They have served me well.

I began by going easy on myself.  Hebrews 4:9-11 says, “There remains… a Sabbath rest for the people of God… Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest.” As a Christian, I look forward to “another day.” In the meantime, I embrace the prophetic symbolism of practicing my own Sabbath in the here and now. When I worked at a local newspaper I had Tuesdays and Wednesdays off. So, I set aside every Tuesday as my own personal Sabbath. When I changed jobs, I changed the day – to every Friday. Now, as a stay-at-home mom, I still set aside Friday as a day to do nothing.

“Sabbath-keeping is more art than science. It is more poetry than arithmetic,”

What does it mean to do nothing when I have a husband who works Monday to Friday and two children under the age of five? What does it mean to observe a Sabbath day of rest in a culture that prizes round-the-clock accessibility? What does it mean when people need to reach you? It’s the only day the doctor can see you? The phone still rings? Traffic blares? Walmart never closes?

What does it mean to tune out the world to tune in God? In his excellent book, The Rest of God, Mark Buchanan writes, “Sabbath-keeping is more art than science. It is more poetry than arithmetic,” (page 111).

Taking license, I translate “do nothing” as “do nothing.” I take a black Sharpie marker and write “OFF” on the chosen day. It is my “big rock,” so it comes first. The chosen day is not Sunday because going to church, teaching Sunday School and having lunch afterwards is not much of a day off. The chosen day is not from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday because I am not Jewish. The chosen day is not observed in the context of community because I do not belong to a community of believers who feel it is possible, or necessary, to observe a day of rest. For the most part, it is not preached, taught or observed.

Listening to God is often presented as something we do naturally, as spirit-filled believers, all the time. It is the assumption underlying the scriptural junction to “pray without ceasing.” Of course we’re listening to God, we’re His people. But, just as I have experienced the opposition and bewilderment of family and friends for not being available to them one day a week, I believe there is worldly opposition to setting aside time for listening, responding to, and simply enjoying the restful presence of God. To hear God requires intentionally turning down the volume of life lived normally.

So, on the chosen day, I unplug the phone and let the machine take messages (which I check the following day). I do not drive the car, spend or talk about money, read or listen to the news, work on the computer, make plans or write a “to do” list of any kind.

If  “busyness kills the heart,” as Buchanan suggests in The Rest of God (page 48), then “unplugging” is more than an attempt to observe a command – it is an attempt to revive a sensitivity to the Spirit of God within me.

To tune in to God, I light a candle for the Friday meal. I read the Bible. I play with my children. I take my time and enjoy their laughter. Hugs last longer. Sometimes I run a bubble bath, or just stare out the window and watch birds pick the last berries of the season. In a word, I relax. It is a guilt-free, God-focused day that benefits body, mind and soul.

Sometimes I journal, walk, and reflect on the week. That said, this is not a day to solve problems. I focus on trusting God for both the details of my life – and the big picture. Buchanan says, “Unless we trust God’s sovereignty, we won’t dare risk Sabbath,” (page 62).

In the beginning, it was a battle. In my experience, it took two years before the day’s routine took on a life of its own. Eventually, the Sabbath and I fell into a holy rhythm; we became one. The Sabbath really did become my delight. The Sabbath was the day when, if God had something to say, this was the time and the place when I would be listening. Of course, that habit spilled over to the rest of the week and it became a way of life; listening for that nudge, conviction, word, idea or truth. I believe, however, that without that holy and humble beginning of just reserving some time as sacrosanct, I never would have learned to love the voice as I do now.

Thanks to the biblical prescription to set aside a day to rest in Him, each week ends with the sweet sound of a door closing on the world’s demands. On the other side of the door is the knowledge that it all belongs to God – time, space, people, outcomes, everything is His. Sabbath tells me – I am His.

Recommended resources

  1. The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man by Abraham Joshua Heschel – published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (29th ed) in New York, 1999.
  2. The Book of Words (Sefer shel Devarim): Talking Spiritual Life, Living Spiritual Talk by Lawrence Kushner – published by Jewish Lights Publishing in Woodstock, Vermont, 1993.
  3. The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath by Mark Buchanan – published by W Publishing Group in Nashville, Tennessee, 2006.
  4. Sabbath Keeping: Finding Freedom in the Rhythms of Rest by Lynne M. Baab – published by InterVarsity Press in Downers Grove, Illinois, 2005.
  5. The Journey of Desire: Searching for the Life We’ve Only Dreamed Of by John Eldredge – published by Thomas Nelson Publishers in Nashville, Tennessee, 2000.

Dayna E. Mazzuca has worked in the communications for 18 years, as a reporter, journalist, broadcaster, editor and consultant. She is a freelance writer and workshop facilitator based in Edmonton, Alberta. She is a board member of Alberta Pro Life and Inscribe Christian Writers’ Fellowship, and she partners with her husband to run Gilead House Communications. She also is Children’s Ministry Director with St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Edmonton.

Originally published in Centered: Thoughts on Evangelical Spiritual Formation, March 2008, Volume 1, Issue 1. ISBN 1916-4319 pp 39-41.

 

 
 
 
 

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