Keeping The Sabbath Holy & Wholly

Instead of giving something up for Lent this year, why not embrace the gift of Sabbath?

by Christine Lee and Joanna Thomas

Frank Sinatra famously called New York the “city that never sleeps”.  There’s great blessing in this– we have the privilege of living in one of the most vibrant, diverse, dynamic cities in the world.  But there’s also a dark side too: we are often driven to exhaustion, overwhelmed by seemingly endless demands, fearful of falling behind or missing out. This year, for Lent, we need Sabbath.

What is the Sabbath?

The word Sabbath comes from the Hebrew word shavat which means to “cease, stop, pause, rest.” But the Sabbath is not simply a day off to run errands or veg out. It is not another name for Sunday. As it has been practiced historically, the Sabbath is a 24-hour period in the week where we stop our work, we rest, we delight and we contemplate the love of God.

Why Sabbath this Lent?

The Sabbath reminds us of who God is.   The Sabbath points back to the perfect shalom of God’s original work of creation and the reality that God himself rested from his work. Marva Dawn in her book Keeping The Sabbath Wholly writes, “God rests at creation not because he is tired but because rest is a sign of completion and abundance. The universe is so well-ordered, his creation is so good, God’s gifts to humanity are so generous that God is able to rest.” As we Sabbath, we remember that God, and not us, makes and sustains the world.  God continues each day to give gifts that delight, fulfill, refresh and restore His creation. And God Himself rests.


The Sabbath reminds us of whose we are. In the Sabbath, we exercise the freedom God has given us to worship, to trust and to rest in Him.  Rest is something that free people can do— slaves cannot rest. As we commit to Sabbath, we test the drivenness that fuels our activity. Who are really trusting in? Are we truly free, or are we in bondage to another agenda?  As Dorothy Bass puts it, “To keep the Sabbath is to exercise freedom and recall the One from whom that freedom came, the One from whom it still comes.”

Sabbath reminds us of where we are going.  Sabbath points forward to the time when God’s work of re-creation — the new heavens and the new earth — will be complete in Christ. No matter what our current struggles or difficult circumstances, we know how the story ends.  God wins! Jesus reigns! All wrongs will be made right, all tears wiped away. Perfect shalom will be restored. As we practice Sabbath, we enact our hope and trust in God’s ultimate victory.

Scripture draws a straight line between justice and Sabbath. Israel’s Sabbath was for masters and servants, foreigners and even the animals that work. No political or economic category mattered — God’s rest was available to all.  As we rest on the Sabbath, we seek to reclaim that image of God’s shalom for all, and look for ways to rest so that others may rest.

In these times of unrest in our world, God is calling his people to walk to the beat of a different drum. Practicing Sabbath allows us to become a people who draw from the deep, still waters of rest and trust in the Creator God, the Redeemer God.

Scriptures to Consider

  • Genesis 1:1-2:3
  • Exodus 20:8-11; Deuteronomy 5:12-15
  • Isaiah 56:1-8
  • Isaiah 58:1-14
  • Matthew 12:1-8
  • Hebrews 4:1-11

Books to Read


Carolyn Carney and Joanna Thomas have put together this helpful guide on suggested Sabbath practices to get you started. 

In his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Pete Scazzero helps us think about keeping Sabbath by stopping, resting, delighting and contemplating. Below you’ll find some suggested practices for each of these four categories, followed by some special considerations for singles and for families. Be creative and consider your own situation, personality, and your needs for this season of life. However, do consider engaging each category.

For All:


  • Stop worrying and instead cast your cares to the Lord. List or write on separate slips of paper the items or people or situations that weigh heavily on you.  One by one, with intention, turn over each of these to Jesus.
  • Do not send or read emails related to work. Refrain from school work or studying.
  • Go screen-less for 24 hours.
  • Be free to not shop.  This can stir a sense of gratitude for what you already have and gives you freedom from wanting or even coveting what you may not need. Plus, it also gives others a chance to Sabbath.


  • Take a nap.
  • If you tend toward being competitive, try a more leisurely pace. Drive more slowly.
  • Read for pleasure, especially something that encourages, lightens your spirit or inspires you.
  • Rest from media: news, advertisements, etc.
  • Free yourself from multi-tasking and allow the pleasure of giving your attention to one thing or one person.


  • Enjoy a leisurely, agenda-less conversation with a friend or loved one.
  • Enjoy special foods, plates and dishes, or décor, but refrain from invoking the spirit of Martha Stewart.  Try eating more slowly to savor food.
  • Explore a new hobby.  Make art. Learn a new dance move.
  • Take a walk or hike in nature, fly a kite, play on the beach, kayak.  


  • Mark the beginning and ending of Sabbath by lighting a candle and saying a prayer and/or having a reading.  Suggested reading: Wendell Berry’s Sabbath poems, selections from any book on Sabbath, or a psalm.
  • Take extra time to leisurely be with God in prayer.  Consider setting aside a chunk of time to listen to God, bringing a specific question to him.
  • At the end of the Sabbath period name the gifts that came to you in the time.

For Singles

  • In advance make a plan for how you will spend Sabbath. Consider what will be healthy and life-giving. Be aware if you need time alone with God or with others.
    • Join with other singles to intentionally celebrate Sabbath together. Interact with each other rather than screens: talking, storytelling, walking, bike riding, playing games. Intentionally direct meal conversations toward God.  What did God reveal to you this week about himself?  Where did you spot God this week?
  • If being with a family is important to you consider asking to join a family for their Sabbath meal.
  • Be intentional about marking the beginning and ending of Sabbath.

For Families

When we keep Sabbath, we do not take a break from loving those under our care. Remember, Jesus did GOOD on the Sabbath. Think about how you will model rest, delight and dependence on God for your children.


  • Keep food simple.
  • Plan quality time that involves interacting with each other rather than screens: talking, storytelling, puzzling, playing board games.


  • When kids are a little older, practice a “slow” morning: everyone gets their own breakfast, read or Quiet Time or journal at leisurely pace. Choose a time to come together.


  • Invite friends over to share a meal with you.  (The Gabourys have Pizza Night on Fridays that involves the whole family in preparation and an open invitation to friends to come join.)
  • Where it’s feasible and life-giving, be aware of singles in your community who might enjoy time with your family and vice versa.
  • A possible beginning or ending of Sabbath: Bless each other. Have a family member hold another family member’s face in their hands, look them in the eyes and say a brief blessing over them. Continue around so that each member both gives and receives a blessing.


  • Intentionally direct meal conversations toward God.  What did God reveal to you this week about himself?  Where did you spot God this week?
  • When children are young, take an extra few minutes when you lay them down for a nap, and as you watch them fall asleep bring to mind the gifts God has given you

Won’t you Sabbath with us this Lent? 


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