Practices, Reflections

Sabbath Keeping as joy and delight, not obligation and burden. Dan Allender sets a feast!

Dan Allender’s SABBATH (Thomas Nelson, 2009) is an invitation to practices that truly brings life. He first concedes that except for a few providential moments he may not be the person to write this text. Like many, in his drive to be successful in the hectic and harried world of academia, he let Sabbath practice fall by the wayside. Those moments, encounters across the world, a family emergency, and being lost in a sabbatical led to a changed heart. The book is part of a larger work from Thomas Nelson, The Ancient Practices Series, which seeks to reintroduce and reinvigorate the traditional spiritual disciplines of the church. To that end Allender succeeds.

First, restoring Sabbath practice in a 24/7 web of connectivity seems like an endless and possibly fruitless battle. In my life I am only returning in later years to the life-giving practice of setting aside a day to rest in order to give meaning and energy to my work. Allender would commend my tentative steps and then he would introduce me to a larger Sabbath practice filled with sensuous delights, a time set-apart for God and family, a feast to be shared, and finally a day to play in God’s presence. Allender never points to the Proverbs 8:30 where Wisdom celebrates God’s unfolding creation and seems, like a young child, saying “do it again” as creation unfolds, but the wonder of Sabbath is on display throughout the book. Allender states that “Sabbath is the day that holds together the beginning of time and the end; it is the intersection of the past and the future that opens a window into eternity each week” (p. 49). The simple practice of pausing every seven days leads us to pay attention to the larger unfolding of God’s redemptive work coming to consummation in an endless Sabbath.

Then, Sabbath practice is grounded in the playful moments when division gives way to shalom, destitution surrenders to abundance, and despair yields to joy. These chapters yield a series of probing questions that will coach you as you deepen your practice. “How would you live if there were no wars, enmity, battle lines, or need to defend, explain, interpret, or influence another so see anything differently” (p. 110)? “If we were to pray today for our enemies, who do you most hope to be united with on this earth? And who do you most hope not to see in heaven” (p. 111)? “What would give you the greatest sense of the abiding goodness of the Father’s arms” (p. 112)? Allender’s chapter on despair surrendering to joy needs a moment of caution attached to it. He has obviously enjoyed a good cigar, a fine glass of wine, and wholesome beer on his journey. The onset of diabetes has limited his ability to enjoy this rituals. As a pastor I offer a caution to those whose sensitivities would see these practices as insensitive to the intent of Sabbath. I personally think Allender is right to point us to the take real delights of all of our senses.

Finally, Allender moves us embrace the biblical vision of Sabbath: a remembering of the need for Sabbath after centuries of slavery in Egypt, the deliberate pause to listen for the still small voice, and reminding ourselves of God’s justice raining down on world thirsty for restitution and redemption. Here he offers a variety of practices, thoughts about ways to allow the scriptures to breath new life into us, and reminders of the God’s provision of welcoming all to the Sabbath as a matter of justice (“remember that you were slaves in Egypt” – Deuteronomy 5:15). Somehow sitting at the Sunday buffet and enjoying a feast with others within the church while others buzz about us caring for our needs hollows out Sabbatical intent. These last chapters contain many helpful thoughts that would reduce Sabbath practice to a series of rules, something many have chafed at throughout their lives. I think spending the first two-thirds of the book helping us learn to delight and play in the presence of God, family, and community should help us answer the question: “Do we really believe that Sabbath delight is God’s heart for us? Are we willing to silence the rabble of idols and foul spirits to hear the intoxicating joy of God” (p. 193)? Buy this book, ponder its Sabbath questions, engage God’s heart on a weekly basis, take time to stop and stand between the no longer and the not yet. You will be glad to find Sabbath taking up residence in your being.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a copy of SABBATH mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”