I am very grateful for many things I was taught early on in student ministry from mentors, professors, authors, and conference speakers One of those was the importance of guarding your day off.
The Bible tells us that the idea of a Sabbath goes back to Creation. Genesis 2:3 tells us, “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.” Did God need this rest? No, I would assume He didn’t. He is God, after all. The author of Genesis tells us, though, that God did rest on that seventh day. He blessed that day, making it holy.
Fast forward a bit to the time of Moses. When he received the Ten Commandments from God in Exodus, we read that one of them said, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” (Exodus 20:8). So, not only did God make it holy, He asked the Israelites to keep it holy by remembering the Sabbath. Deuteronomy 5:12-15 also explains this command, also tying it to a need to remember when God rescued the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt.
There are clearly different interpretations of what it means to “keep the Sabbath.” Some churches feel this means to go to church every Sunday. Others say this means to do no work on Saturday. Honestly, I could fill an entire blog post just explaining how even the Biblical experts disagree on the interpretation of the Sabbath.
I do not mean to make light of those various interpretations, but I think many of them lead us to miss the point.
Yes, God does not need rest, but we do. He knew that. It was evident right from the moment He created us. That’s why, I believe, one of the reasons He made the Sabbath was to tell us to take a break. I don’t know about you, but there are times when I am going so hard for so long that I am exhausted. God knows that we are far from His level of power and endurance. We need time to recuperate. Thus, He tells us to remember the Sabbath.
God also cannot forget Himself, but we can. This leads me to the second reason I believe God created the Sabbath — to help us refocus. It’s so easy to get busy doing things that we feel are so necessary. And honestly, many of them are really important. Nonetheless, if they take our focus away from God, they are the things God wants us to avoid. It’s so hard to take a step back, though, when we are in the throws of life. Therefore, God says to remember the Sabbath by giving Him at least one day of our week.
How you treat your Sabbath might be completely up to you or your particular church’s denomination. The important things to remember, though, are to rest and to focus on God. Sometimes, I spend a good portion of the day sleeping. Other times, I read large chunks of the Bible. I also spend time praying more than I do on a typical day. I might also go for a long run, a hike, or try to just get away from the hustle and bustle of life.
So, why would I say all this to a bunch of youth workers who already know these teachings about the Sabbath? Simple. I think many of us are awful at keeping it!
We do a wonderful job of teaching teenagers throughout the week. We connect with parents. We plan events. We disciple student leaders. We lead our families. We evangelize people who don’t yet know Jesus. We throw dodgeballs. We facilitate small group discussions. And we stack and unstack chairs… lots and lots of chairs. But how often do we focus on our own relationship with God?
This simple concept that I learned early on in ministry has been one of my greatest assets. I have one day a week that I guard as much as I can. The other six days belong to my family and the church, but this one day is God’s. (Ok, yes, every day is God’s. But you get my point!)
Currently, that day is Monday. Yes, it’s not a traditional Sabbath day, but it’s what works best for me. Saturday is often a work day for me, since I work with teenagers. They have games, plays, retreats, etc. on Saturdays. Similarly, Sunday is also a work day. We have three worship gatherings in the morning, where I do a number of things. The afternoon is filled with prep work for high school youth group, which is that evening. Monday makes for a great day of rest and refocusing.
Yes, there are exceptions to the rule. Sometimes there are things we cannot avoid. However, it’s very important to limit these exceptions. If not, we can easily get sucked into doing things on our day off, and before we know it, we haven’t taken time off in several months. There will always be something else to do. The work will never be done until Jesus comes back. So, as Exodus 34:21 says, do all you can during those six days, but be sure to keep a seventh as a Sabbath.
Now, I’m sure some of you are probably thinking, “What about Jesus? He did a lot of ministry on the Sabbath.” Yes, that’s true. He did. He is Lord of the Sabbath. But are you Jesus?
Nonetheless, if you feel God is calling you to do something on your day off, by all means, do it. Follow Jesus’ example, and put God above the Sabbath, especially when it comes to helping someone experience salvation. As Jesus alluded to on several occasions, we aren’t to worship the Sabbath, after all. We are to worship God. But if you don’t feel it’s God prompting you, it can surely wait until the next day.
Some of you have very busy lives with a lot to do at the church and a lot to do at home. It might even seem next to impossible to start taking a day off once a week. Okay, I get that. How about starting with a half-day? Or how about taking a day off every-other-week in the beginning? Sometimes, it’s tough to just start right in, especially when others are expecting you to be available all the time. Do what you need to do, but the important thing is that we are intentional about making time to rest and refocus.
You need this time to do your best for your students, family, and community! God wants to continue doing great things in your life, but we aren’t going to be worth much if we’re wearing ourselves out all the time by ministry instead of making time for God. You know it. You teach it. Now, let’s start putting it into practice in our own lives.
Part of this does include proper time management, though, which is something else I’ve found a lot of youth workers struggle with on a regular basis. But I’ll save those thoughts for another blog post in the future… Until then, I’d love to know what you do on your day off, and how you make sure you guard it. Feel free to leave a comment to share your experiences. Maybe you are willing to admit this is a struggle for you, and you would like some prayer so that God will help you in this. I’d love to know that too!