Are you considering observing a weekly Sabbath? Perhaps this biblical concept is somewhat familiar to you: you’ve heard of it in the Ten Commandments but aren’t sure what it looks like to observe it today. Perhaps you’ve also heard of a friend or Christian influencer who “observes a weekly Sabbath.” You’re beginning to wonder: Are there specific dos and don’ts to Sabbath? Should I simply choose to do things that make me feel rested? And are there things I shouldn’t be doing? And how do I figure out how to rest and observe in a way that honors the Lord?
If these are the questions you are asking, I invite you to read on as we uncover the heart behind Sabbath through Scripture and practically apply it to observing the Sabbath as ones redeemed by Jesus.
My Story of Sabbath
Before we dive into Scripture, let me begin by sharing my own walk of learning what it means to observe the Sabbath.
There was a time in high school when my father noticed our family’s workaholic nature. He challenged us to set apart one day of the weekend for true Sabbath rest. The main rules were:
- Spend time with Jesus.
- No homework allowed.
I took this challenge to heart and continued it into college. Every Saturday (the day I chose) as my friends would wander off to the library to study, I’d use this gloriously free day to spend long hours with Jesus in the morning and enjoy fun, restful excursions in the afternoon. Now as I work a 9-5 job, I continue to bring my Saturdays before Scripture to learn what it looks like to Sabbath the way God designed. Below is the key Scripture that has guided this journey and I pray will excite and guide you as well. So let’s dive in: what does observing the Sabbath look like?
“If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath,Isaiah 58:13-14
from doing your pleasure on my holy day,
and call the Sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the LORD honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly;
then you shall take delight in the LORD,
and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
You may have expected us to turn to the Ten Commandments in Exodus as a guide for the practical side of how to observe Sabbath, but here in Isaiah we see one of the most beautiful and straightforward explanations of the heart posture behind Sabbath. These two verses were spoken originally as a call towards the wayward nation of Israel to return to God. However, they ring true for our weekly Sabbaths today and reveal the deeper question we should be asking.
Instead of simply asking, “How can I rest?,” ask yourself, “How can I delight in the Lord?”
Let’s unpack this truth below by focusing on three key phrases in these verses:
1. Observe the Sabbath as a day set apart.
“On my holy day…the holy day of the LORD…”
Isaiah calls the Sabbath God’s “holy day.” At the very dawn of time God made this designation: “So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation” (Genesis 2:3).
What does it mean to be a “holy day”? The root meaning of holy is “set apart or consecrated”1 It is, in fact, where we get our word “holiday” from. The idea is that this day is not like other days. It is not ordinary and should not be treated as ordinary.
As we begin to understand how to apply this practically, this designation of “holy” should stir our hearts. God has literally chosen a day of the week to not look like the others. It is meant to be different—to be a space to unwrap the gift of rest in a weekly rhythm. It’s meant to be a space to follow our Father into the rest he entered into at the dawn of time.
The practical question we get to ask then is this: how will I delineate the set-apartness of this day?
This is when it gets fun! Think of the Sabbath as a weekly holiday—because essentially, it is!
One main aspect that marks holidays is the presence of special traditions. Traditions and rhythms have a way of anchoring you to something that matters. Do you return yearly to a family reunion because you value being connected with extended family? Or do you look forward to Christmas morning because you know you will wake up to a big breakfast and special gifts? The Sabbath is designed to hold this same anticipation! So ask yourself, “What are ways I can mark the holiness of this day with God-honoring rhythms that don’t happen the other six days of the week?”
As we recognize the beauty of what it means to be a holy day, we must pay attention to whose day it is: God’s. Let’s move onto the next key aspect that should shape our Sabbaths.
2. Observe the Sabbath by turning your foot from seeking your own pleasure.
“If you turn back your foot…from doing your pleasure on my holy day…if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly…”
Essentially, this passage answers the question “What should I not be doing on the Sabbath?”
The answer? You should not be seeking your own pleasure or going your own way.
When we really think about it, this statement is very distasteful to our modern world. In a world that prioritizes self-care, it is easy to slip into the mindset of indulging in strictly self-gratifying pleasures on the Sabbath that elevate our own comfort. In contrast to this mindset, the Sabbath unashamedly sets itself apart as a distinctly God-honoring and non-self-gratifying day.
I know—even as believers, the idea of turning away from seeking our own pleasure can immediately put a sour taste in our mouths. It can bring up images of Sabbaths filled with solemn, ceremonial tasks, or doing exactly what our sinful, human selves don’t want to do. So let’s pause. When you think of “not seeking your own pleasure,” what tasks immediately come to mind? Where does this statement touch a nerve?
I ask these questions because here’s the key:
The Sabbath reveals your idols. Pay close attention to what you seek and don’t seek during this day.
The things you struggle to leave behind or not do on the Sabbath reveals what you idolize. Do you have a hard time not working? Then work could be your underlying idol. Do you want to spend all day doing things that make you feel good? Then comfort could be your idol. Pause to ask yourself, “How do I tend to seek my own pleasure?”
When we lean away from doing our own thing on the Sabbath, it begs the question, what are we leaning towards? We must lean into a greater truth—a truth that defies this upside-down world of self-gratification and sets our minds on the right-side up kingdom of what truly matters. And this is revealed in this last key element.
3. Observe the Sabbath by taking delight in the Lord.
“…call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable…if you honor it…then you shall take delight in the LORD…”
Here, at last, we find what we may do on the Sabbath:
It is in delighting in the Lord that we discover the true pleasure of the Sabbath.
This statement stands in direct confrontation with our human tendency to create rules and structure of what we’re allowed to and not allowed to do. In the Old Testament, there were physical rules and boundaries to rein in the heart to view the Sabbath correctly, but now in Jesus, we are free from the Law and empowered by his Spirit.So the Sabbath becomes a question of the heart: what are the motives behind what we choose to do or not do on this day of rest?
May you not be so consumed by the questions of what to do and not do but rather be disarmed by the simplicity of this call to delight in the Lord!
Because ultimately, the simple question is this: What activities put my heart in a posture of worship? What leads me to delight in God?
Perhaps this looks like simply choosing to reframe a personal pastime in light of Christ as an opportunity of worship, or choosing to not do something you love as an exercise in following the Holy Spirit’s lead for the day. Either way, pay closer attention to heart motives rather than outward expression, and lean into the truth that delighting in God actually brings greater pleasure than indulging in ourselves.
Do you trust that delighting in the Lord brings the truest rest?
As we turn from our delight to his, we are free—free to do or not do all good things that lead our heart to rest in him. If our heart posture is in the right place of honoring God by ceasing from our own efforts, we get to enjoy the Sabbath in whatever way is restful towards that end.
Embrace the Tangible Sabbath as Spiritual Rest
As we wrap up our exploration of this passage, a final word: Sabbath is tangible. So often we view our walk with Christ as a strictly spiritual walk, but God is the God of the spiritual and physical. The things we do in the physical world guide our hearts toward a spiritual posture. So allow the physical aspects of your Sabbath day—the space you are in, the things you do with your hands, the schedule you set for your time—to direct the posture of your heart towards the Lord. Ultimately, delight in the rest that is the finished work of Christ on the cross, your salvation. In your physical rest, indulge in the beauty of your spiritual rest and allow these truths to become tangible.
Overall, I pray this passage in Isaiah guides you towards this end and leads you to many fruitful, truly restful Sabbaths as you delight in the Lord!
- Read Exodus 20:8-11 in two or three different translations. How does this passage reveal what the Lord delights in?
- Read Mark 2:23-3:6 in two or three different translations. How does this passage reveal what Jesus delights in?
- The Sabbath reveals your sin. What do you have the hardest time letting go of when it comes to observing the Sabbath? What is a truth from Scripture that counteracts this sin or struggle?
- For your upcoming Sabbath, make two lists: one of things you delight in and one of things that lead you to delight in the Lord. Pray over these two lists and ask the Lord which items from each list would lead you to true rest and delight in the Lord.
1 Strong’s Concordance, s.v. “qadash (a.),” accessed May 25, 2022. https://biblehub.com/hebrew/6942.htm.
Photo credit: Emilee Carpenter
AnnaClaire is a designer at Hosanna Revival, foodie, and lover of all things culture and creativity. As a dreamer and idealist who is learning to embrace small, imperfect beginnings, she seeks to craft real projects for real people in the here and now. When she’s not working on these real, everyday projects, she can be found tackling a new recipe, meeting a stranger, or picnicking at the local park. She would love to meet you on Instagram at @annaclairehelene to talk food, deep questions, and everything in between.