I never understood the hamster wheel.
If I were a hamster, I’d spend all day running around those plastic tube mazes. I was always fascinated by them. When I was a kid, I wanted to own a hamster just so I could build one of those hamster mansions with all those tubes and stuff and watch it run around. My friend Karleen had a couple of hamsters, but they didn’t do much except run on the hamster wheel. Now the hamster ball, I totally get it. You might be in a big plastic ball, but at least you’re going somewhere, but the wheel? I’d be bored to death. It just goes around and around and around. Where’s the sense of accomplishment? Sometimes life seems like a hamster wheel. We just keep going round and round, but then what?
God wants more for us than just the “rat race” of life.
God wants us to experience the full richness of his creation. And that’s why he created the Sabbath. It’s a time to pause and reflect and gives us the opportunity to draw closer to God. Whether that is by prayer and meditation, whether that’s in worship, or whether that’s with family and friends, we can feel the love of God reflected in those times. But do we stop long enough to really enjoy it? If not, we need to. God doesn’t offer the Sabbath as an option, God COMMANDS us to observe it. Even if you’ve never read the Bible, I’m sure you’ve heard of this section of it. It’s perhaps the most famous, often quoted, often referenced part of the Bible. That and John 3:16. This is the Ten Commandments. And within the Ten Commandments we find God calling us to observe the Sabbath. Let us read together from Exodus 20:8-11.
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it Holy.
We don’t take the idea of Sabbath seriously in our culture.
We work 7 days a week. We are constantly connected to everything and everyone 24/7. We are figuratively running the hamster wheel of life and we never seem to get off to see what’s around us. We are checking our email, our apps, and our messages during dinner, at play, even on vacation. Setting aside a time to explore what God has to offer is something seemingly more and more rare. Back when we lived in Georgia, you couldn’t buy liquor on Sundays. To me that was a shock, not that I ever bought any, but Sunday was liquor-free. When you walked into the store, the alcohol aisle would be blocked off and you couldn’t even get to it. I thought that was pretty neat. I was told there was a time when you couldn’t even go to the store. Literally every place was closed on Sunday in observance of the Sabbath. Somehow, over time, the idea of Sabbath, like the idea of being closed, slowly disappeared. But there it is in black and white (or whatever color it is on your app), “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” God included it as part of the Ten Commandments; he thought it was that important. Even higher up than “no murder,” “no adultery,” and “no stealing.” It’s hard for us to keep that in perspective, but it was listed before “no murder,” “no adultery,” and “no stealing.” References to the Sabbath occur all throughout the Bible – both Old and New Testament – and some of those passages are even more severe. Exodus 3 says that those who don’t observe the Sabbath should be put to death! Rest or die! Yet, we don’t value the Sabbath.
God built Sabbath into our system.
We are meant to observe it and when we don’t, our lives are the worse for wear. We are meant to rest, to give ourselves time to recuperate. Whether that’s physically, mentally, or emotionally, we need time to become healthy. Take sleep for example. People think they can “power through” and just “catch up” on the weekends, but studies have shown that isn’t how it works for your body or your brain. It’s what experts call “sleep debt.” If you’re not getting the sleep your body needs, you keep accumulating that debt unless you find a way to restore the balance and if you don’t it has bad effects for your body – foggy brain, worsened vision, impaired driving, and trouble remembering just to name a few. Long term it can include obesity, insulin resistance, and even heart disease. There are penalties for not getting the rest we need.
In our heads, I think we know that. It’s getting us to DO something about it that’s tough.
Somehow, I think we’re almost afraid to take the rest we need. We’ve equated productivity with time spent doing something without realizing the benefits of rest and without recognizing the danger of constant motion WITHOUT rest. And even when we do realize we need a time for rejuvenation, we are pressured into skipping it either by ourselves or by others. As one writer put it, we are often applauded for our extra efforts “and rarely rebuked for working too long or hard.” We often look at rest as a luxury instead of as a necessity and in that we are mistaken. God built the world with rest in mind. He wanted us to slow down and take it all in. To take time to process it all instead of simply going mindlessly from one thing to the next. To reflect on what has happened before so we can be better prepared for tomorrow. That includes spending time devoted to Christ. One of the most inspirational books I read was by Andy Stanley called “Choosing to Cheat.” In it, Andy wrote we’re always cheating someone of our time. There is always more work to be done, more things we could do with our families, or more time we could spend in prayer. There’s always MORE for us to do so we are always cheating somebody. We have to stop worrying about that and instead worry about what is the right thing for us to do.
It’s not always easy.
And at times it can really be tough to make those decisions, but I think in the long run when we choose to honor God’s commandment, God will look out for us. Now whether or not you support the politics of his son who currently runs the company, Truett Cathy applied this philosophy of Sabbath to his life and more importantly to his company – Chick-fil-a. When Truett first started Chick-fil-A (then the Dwarf Grill), he decided to stay closed on Sunday to give his employees and himself the opportunity to rest and worship God even though Sunday has traditionally been the busiest day of the week for restaurants. People thought he was crazy to give up on such a lucrative money-making day for his business, but he stuck by his decision; he was that firm in his beliefs. He felt being closed on Sunday said “two important things to people: One, that there must be something special about the way Chick-fil-A people view their spiritual life; and, two, that there must be something special about how Chick-fil-A feels about its people.” Sticking to his beliefs helped his company grow into one of the top 3 restaurant chains in the United States behind only Starbucks and McDonald’s. It probably seemed counter-intuitive to a lot of business people, but Truett felt his faith would steer him in the right direction. When we dare to do the counter-cultural, when we dare to do what’s right instead of what’s profitable, our life is often better for it. While it worked out monetarily for Truett Cathy, there are more ways to measure profitability than with money.
God is asking you to obey.
Our failure to observe the Sabbath is at least partially our failure to trust in God. We’ve placed other things over God even though we know God has our best interests at heart. Even if you regularly come to church, are you fully present when you’re here? Do you use this time to connect to your faith? Give yourself this time to recharge, not only physically but spiritually and open yourself up to where God is leading you. I’ll be taking a form of Sabbath over the next month. Pastoral ministry is a joy, but also very demanding and I know many pastors who have suffered from burnout, depression, anxiety, and stress because they never took the opportunity to give their bodies and their minds time to heal. Our church offers and encourages pastors to take a month away once every four years to explore new ideas for ministry and to grow in both our spiritual and educational walk. Too many pastors fail to take this time away, seeing it as a weakness instead of the strength it is meant to be, but it gives us the opportunity to not only renew and refresh our mind, body, and spirit, but helps us to learn and grow so we can be better and more effective when we return. I hope during this time away you will keep me and my family in prayer as I will for you. I also hope you will find Sabbath rest for your own body, mind, and soul. Take time each week to explore your faith, trust in God, and see how it affects your life. I’m guessing you might find there is more to life than the hamster wheel and instead a world of wonder awaits.