Wonder—Flexible But Committed Sabbath Rhythms for Students
There’s so much to learn in the creation story of Genesis. One rhythm God gives us very early is a healthy balance of work and rest by introducing the spiritual discipline of Sabbath.
So what is rest? What is Sabbath? Genesis 2:1–3 tells us, “The heavens and the earth were completed in their vast array. . . . So on the seventh day [God] rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy.”
God the Creator made everything out of nothing, with great care and intensity. And although God the Spirit doesn’t grow weary (Is 40:28), he chose to rest that day in response to his hard work. This seventh day became known as the Sabbath.
In the Ten Commandments (Ex 20), the Lord emphasizes how important Sabbath is. When the Lord calls something “holy,” he’s saying it’s set aside, unique, not to be taken for granted. So a Sabbath can be defined as an intentional choice to stop working and focus on what’s holy.
Through the Sabbath, God called his people to think about his provision and care for them—on a weekly basis. Each Sabbath night and day, he was reminding them that he’d made not just the entire world but each one of them. And after he created all life (and the pattern for life to continue in each generation), he rested and called it good.
As limited human beings, we do need rest. Even Jesus—who is the Word and was there at the beginning and through whom all things were made (Jn 1:1–3)—needed to get away from the crowds and rest and pray (Mk 6:31, 46;Mt 14:13,23).
Flexible Yet Committed
Yet in Mark 2:23–3:6, where Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath, he also made it clear that he is the Lord of the Sabbath and that Sabbath was made for us humans, not the other way around. When we listen to Jesus, we’re reminded the key in keeping the Sabbath is being both flexible and committed.
For each season of life we commit to a church home, a small group, etc., we’re acknowledging that we need others to help us rest, to help us cry out to the Holy Spirit to care for us. And we’re admitting that sometimes we’ll get sick, final papers will come due, and even that season will end, which means we have the flexibility to miss a worship service or meeting—even to say goodbye to that season—while still making God a priority.
And for those times when our long commute to campus ends (which was our regular prayer time), or we get a chatty roommate, or something else leads us to change our prayer and reading habits, we can adapt. We have flexibility to not beat ourselves up when things change. When we accept that we’re needy creatures, we actually find more strength to make time with God a priority. When we remember that God is committed to us, his people, we realize that something new will work out.
After all, we’re resting in God’s grace, not making our own way to heaven. The writer of Hebrews reminds us in chapter four that although the first generation of Israelites to leave Egypt were all denied the rest of the Promised Land because of their disobedience, it was not ultimately Joshua who later brought rest. No, it is Jesus, our great high priest who knows us, empathizes with us, and cares for us. It is the presence of the Holy Spirit of Jesus who calls us to “then approach God’s throne with grace and confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb 4:16).
Sometimes we’ll need to lean more in the direction of being committed and make certain that we are setting aside some kind of regular time for worship and bodily rest. Other times, we might need to be more gracious to ourselves and depend on the promise that flexibility is also a gift to us. Either way, we will find rest when we look to King Jesus.
What Sabbath Might Look Like for You
There are some places and seasons where a weekly Sabbath may come more easily. Depending on where and what you’re studying and your upbringing, you might have a fairly regular schedule. It might look like worshiping regularly on Sundays (though different in a pandemic) and spending time with roommates, family, and friends on the weekends. You might choose to not do homework on Sunday or not stay out so late Saturday night (so you can wake up early for Sunday worship, and ironically, rest!).
But for some of us, it’s not that simple. We might not have that habit of Sunday worship and rest (or might be in a denomination with different worship schedules). If we have to work on Sundays or are in a program where we study or travel on weekends, the idea of a Sabbath might seem completely foreign and impossible.
Our life circumstances might mean we join a study group on a Sunday afternoon, worship at a church that meets on Saturdays, and take care of family members, roommates, and friends on Sundays. Perhaps we have to wait tables on Sundays or commute back to campus on a Sunday. Maybe we have a small group that meets on Wednesdays that we’ve committed to, so we need to study on the weekends. For those of us in traditional semester or quarter full-time classes, the season of the year might determine how available we are on Sundays. Or if we’re non-traditional students, we might be in a different season of life where we can’t rest on the weekends.
And eventually, everyone leaves campus. Whether we graduate, move on, or even get a full-time job on campus, we’ll enter a new season of life. This makes it more (or less) difficult to have a regular Sabbath day. Don’t despair! In his kindness, God has already made a way for us. In Matthew 12, Jesus pushes back against the Pharisees by reminding them that even David and his men ate the holy bread reserved only for priests. God says, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Hos 6:6). He doesn’t want us to give our time, money, or words to try to earn his love. He already loves us, and he wants us to receive that love and give it to others. Sabbath—some sort of regular rest and time with God—is a gift that he’s given to his people, not an angry demand.
Chandra Crane (BS in Education, MA in Ministry) is the Multiethnic Initiatives Mixed Ministry Coordinator with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. She is the author of Mixed Blessing: Embracing the Fullness of Your Multiethnic Identity from InterVarsity Press (2020).
There is always something that can take up my time and energy. A quick stop at the store usually turns into completing the shopping for the week. I’ve found that “one item” turns into a multistore shopping exercise. That quick glance at email becomes an hour of writing messages.