April 8, 2014

"Call the sabbath a delight"

Part of a series of articles, entitled 20 years a Christian, recalling some of the important lessons I have learned in nearly two decades as a believer in Jesus.

I am so thankful to have grown up immersed in the life of a local church. Well (and happily!) do I remember my childhood days in the house of God – the various Sunday School rooms, the dark wooden pews, the children’s choir practices, the Christmas wreath dotted with light bulbs which each represented a certain amount of money given to our missions offering, and so on.

I also remember some striking people and incidences from those formative years. One of them was of a young man in our congregation – I believe he may have been preparing for ministry – standing up one Sunday to make public confession of sin. I suppose all such public confessions are memorable (and God used a later one, in a different church, to finally bring me to Christ) … but this particular confession is memorable to me because of exactly what was being confessed, and how I remember it to have been received.

As I recall, this man stood behind the pulpit at one of our meetings and publicly confessed the sin of eating out at restaurants on Sundays. He was emotional, and obviously convicted. After all, part of the requirement of the fourth commandment is not only that we ourselves refrain from unnecessary work on the Lord’s Day, but also that we do not ask others to work for us, either. And this man was distraught at having done so. But what was also interesting, as I say, was how I seem to remember his confession being received. I was a child then, so maybe my memory is not clear; and maybe I do not fully remember the whole picture … but it seems to me that I remember the reaction to the young man’s confession being somewhat indifferent. Almost like: ‘He’s all broken up about that?’

Such, I suppose, is the lack of concern for the fourth commandment in the modern American church. Shutting things down on Sunday? And giving that day wholly to rest and worship? Didn’t that go out of fashion several decades ago? It did … but not, I am afraid, because of any new biblical illumination. Rather, I venture that the shrinking of Sunday has simply followed the culture’s desire to acquire. Life must go on, even on the Lord’s Day, because there are profits to be gained, and projects to be completed, and progress to be made, and great television programming that cannot be missed!

Sunday, as far as the majority American culture is concerned, is just another Saturday. And so most people – even evangelical Christians – give the sabbath scarcely a second thought. And such was my own mindset (not counting that memorable confession in my childhood church). Before I was converted, I could not wait for church to end so I could get home and watch the ballgames. And even after I was converted (and actually liked going to church!) it never occurred to me that the command is to “remember the sabbath day”, not just the sabbath morning. I never pondered that the whole day is to be set aside from our usual work and entertainment (see Isaiah 58.13-14 for entertainment). And so, for most of my life, I missed out on the blessing and delight of a whole day spent in worship, and rest, and Christian fellowship, and edifying reading, and the like. I never knew the refreshing that such a day can bring; nor had I once considered the gospel portrait that is painted when we deliberately rest from our own striving and trust that God will take care of us.

In fact, in my early days in Cincinnati, Sundays were, bar none, my least favorite day of the week. Because after Sunday morning (which is always exhausting for a preacher), I went home, ate lunch, tried to catch a little of the NFL, and then spent the bulk of the afternoon working on my message for the evening service. No rest! Very little time for fellowship! No time for contemplation, or edifying reading, or prayer. Just another day of frantic labor, with a little bit of an entertainment escape tucked in the middle. And I was exhausted at the end of it all … and frankly disliked the Lord’s Day because of it.

But then, largely through the influence of Alistair Begg, I stumbled across one of the oldest commandments in the book … and realized that I’d been ignoring it – to my own detriment, and to the Lord’s grief – nearly all my days. God really has set aside one day in seven for us to rest, and worship, and feast on spiritual food. The Puritans called it ‘the market day for the soul.’ And I’d been starving myself all along for neglect of it.

And so, changes were in order – no more laboring in my office on Sunday afternoon; television off on the Lord’s Day; entertainment plans and household chores put off to others days – all changes that made Sunday, by far, my favorite day of the week! Sometimes I struggle to fully follow through on these commitments, I admit. But Sunday has become a drastically different day for me and mine. And I absolutely love it! I love having a whole afternoon with nothing on the docket, so that I might often spend it visiting with church family, with no rush and no agenda. I love the opportunity to read Christian biography, or to listen to other preachers on a Sunday evening. I love the freedom to read to my children, uninterrupted. I love not having to think about work, or laundry, or finances, or the broken down car for an entire 24 hours! And, quite frankly, I love a Sunday nap! In the words of Isaiah, I have learned to “call the sabbath a delight.” And it has been one of the most valuable lessons of my nearly twenty years as a Christian.


Anonymous said...

I was debating in my mind whether we should take our boy to his soccer game next Sunday. Thank you, the debate is over! I pray that you are well!
Your friend,

Kurt Strassner said...

Thanks, Dean. Glad to hear from you, and hope you all are well!