February 13, 2024
A Beginner’s Guide to a Life-Giving Sabbath

The document discusses the concept of Sabbath and its importance in our lives. It highlights the biblical idea that rest comes before work and encourages reconsidering the role of rest in our daily routines. The author suggests choosing one enjoyable activity and eliminating one draining activity on the Sabbath to create a life-giving experience. The document concludes by encouraging readers to start practicing Sabbath, even if it's for a few hours or half a day, and emphasizes the delight and gift that Sabbath can be.


Tommy Brown

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.
–Genesis 1:3-5, NIV

The first order of business when I roll out of bed is coffee. I brew a pot, and while it’s percolating, I water the potted plants on my front porch—orchid, tomato, jalapeno, miniature cactus, and some red leafy thing that I’m too lazy to google. Coffee in hand, I sit at my desk and leaf through The Book of Common Prayer, searching for the Daily Office readings for the day. I hope the Old Testament passage isn’t too technical, Levitical, or otherwise concerned with bodily fluids or genocide. From here, I improvise—perhaps a slow jog around the neighborhood, or maybe the day’s tasks demand that I jump headlong into that sinkhole that is my email inbox. Eventually, breakfast. But before any of this—coffee. Coffee comes first because it’s essential and because without coffee, bad attitudes happen to good people. First things come first because they shape the rest of the day.

Evening and morning—the first day. I’m not sure whether or not I’d had coffee all the other mornings I’d read this passage in Genesis, but I am confident that the morning I realized that the order was first evening and then morning, I was properly caffeinated. “And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.” Evening comes first. And what’s one of the first things we do when evening rolls around? When the first stars appear in the black expanse above? We rest. We sleep. We do nothing. We stop making, meandering, playing, and praying. We cease to work, and we lay flat on our backs and get out of the way for several consecutive hours.

In the biblical imagination, the day begins with night, with evening black instead of morning bright. You and I were conditioned to think that we work, and then we rest. But not so according to Scripture—we rest, and then we work. We work from rest, not for rest. Rest takes priority. Rest sets the pace. Rest comes first.

Now, what does this have to do with Sabbath? If you’re like me, you’ve thought of Sabbath as a list of things you cannot do. Or perhaps you’ve thought of Sabbath as an obsolete Old Testament thing that doesn’t apply to us. In my book The Ache for Meaning, I delve into these topics. But here, I want to invite you to consider one thing: If the very first lines of the very first passage of the very first book in the Bible tell us that rest comes first and that evening precedes morning, and in the very first lines of the very next chapter the story teaches us that God rested for an entire day, then perhaps we need to reconsider the priority and role that rest plays in our lives. And when we do, we need look no further than to the ancient practice of Sabbath as a way to reset the rhythms and priorities of our lives.

Do you enjoy your coffee? Or tea? How do you enjoy starting your day? What’s your first morning ritual? Do you look forward to it? Do you smile when you think about it? How does it make you feel? Most likely, you delight in this practice. The prophet Isaiah, speaking about the Sabbath, says that we should call it a delight (58:13). Jesus said the Sabbath was not something humans were made to observe but was made for humans—it is a gift to us (Mark 2:27). How you think about Sabbath determines whether you will have eyes to recognize it for the gift, for the delight, it truly is.

Where to begin? In The Ache for Meaning, I suggest five steps to creating a life-giving Sabbath. For now, let me offer you two thoughts. First, choose one thing that you rarely get to do on the Sabbath and do that thing. While you may have been taught that Sabbath-keeping is all about what you must omit from your life, I’ve found that if you’ll do one thing you truly love—take a slow stroll by a lake, read a novel, paint, sit at a coffee shop—you will by default stop doing things that drain energy. This brings me to the second suggestion, which is to cut out doing one thing that drains energy. When you do one thing you enjoy but rarely get to do and cut out one thing that drains energy (doing laundry, cleaning, etc.), you’ll get your mind in the proper place to perceive Sabbath in a more wholesome, healthy, and life-giving way.

Now that you understand that your morning coffee routine is actually a mid-day coffee routine, think about which day of the week you’ll select to begin practicing Sabbath. In the ancient tradition, Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday and ends at sundown on Saturday. In contemporary Christian society, many think of Sunday as the Sabbath. Let’s not get hung up here on these particularities. Your schedule may not allow for either of these days to work as a Sabbath. And besides, perhaps you cannot yet afford a full twenty-four-hour period. Start where you are. Aim for a half day, or even a few hours, of praying and playing, of allowing yourself permission to do one thing you enjoy and omit one thing that drains you.

There’s much more to be said concerning this topic. And while I fear that I’ve said too little, I think this is enough to begin. To take your Sabbath-keeping experience