Finding Your 24/6 Rhythm in a 24/7 World
By Matthew Sleeth
In Sabbath-keeping we become more ourselves, not less. — Eugene Peterson
A decade ago, I was chief of staff at a hospital and director of emergency services. Taking care of sick people is good work, and I loved my job. Like many physicians, I was often called a workaholic. The label didn’t surprise me. For many years, I worked 24-hour shifts in the emergency room. Throughout the early years of my career, work identified both what I did and who I was.
This all-consuming passion for my work persisted until my early forties, when I read the Bible for the first time. That’s when I discovered God’s answer to our always-on, 24/7 culture of work, work, work.
The answer first appears in the opening pages of Genesis. God’s rhythm since the beginning of time has been 24/6 — six days on and one day off. When I began adopting that rhythm, my entire life changed for the better — physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
What does the word Sabbath mean? It simply means “stop.” That’s all. The Hebrew people didn’t have names for the days of the week. There was one-day, two-day, three-day, four-day, fiveday, six-day, Stop Day. The fourth commandment says that we don’t work on Stop Day. We don’t make our sons work; we don’t make our daughters work; we don’t make anybody in our household work. We don’t make strangers work; we don’t make illegal aliens work; we don’t make minimum wage employees work. We don’t make anything work, including the cattle and the chicken and the sheep. We stop. We cool our jets. We just idle our engines on that day.
When my wife, Nancy, started teaching, she had a student named Clinton. His essay on the first day of class was three pages long. It didn’t have a comma; it didn’t have a period; it didn’t have a paragraph in it. It was a three-page, run-on sentence.
I don’t think God intended our lives to be like that paper — just one long, run-on sentence. The work of our life is meant to be punctuated by rest. Musicians talk about this. They say that it’s not the notes that make the song but the pauses in between the notes. This rhythm is equally true for our lives.
Grounded in Sabbath
The word holy first occurs in the second chapter of Genesis. The seventh day is blessed as holy because the Lord stopped and rested. Stopping and resting are the working definitions of holy. We are introduced to the creative aspects of God through the making of the heavens and the earth, but we learn about other qualities of God through the concepts of rest and stopping. These two concepts are not the same. Rest is done by stopping. By coming to a stop, we give rest a place to happen. We make rest possible.
But instead of resting, we move and move and don’t stop to know what we are walking on. We are ungrounded. No place means much of anything to us. When no place is our home, then the whole earth is reduced to a commodity. The most we can be is consumers.
The Sabbath commandments contained in the Old Testament set the worth of all things. The ground is allowed to rest every seventh year. The newborn calf cannot be taken immediately from its mother. The fruit tree has a right to exist in a time of war.
I do not advocate the throwing over of civil law in favor of Old Testament law, but I do believe in the inherent worth that God places in His creation. Often we see no worth in what the Lord created beyond its mere utilitarian value. We talk about forests as timber and flowers as bouquets. Yet when God placed the trees on the earth, He said that they are pleasing to the eye (Genesis 2:9). He dresses the lilies of the field more lavishly than a king (Matthew 6:28, 29). God’s soliloquy to Job is about the mystery and beauty that creation has beyond its usefulness to humanity
When we take Paul’s words to the Colossians to heart — “Everything was created through him and for him. He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together” (Colossians 1:16, 17) — we realize that the very ground we walk on and the air we breathe are the constant outpouring of God’s creativity and love.
Resting in rest
I have a memory from when my kids were younger that defines Sabbath rest for me. We lived in a house that had a big attic with a window on either side. The only thing in the attic was a hammock and a pull rope. The kids and I went in there one evening when it was too cold outdoors but was perfectly warm inside. As I lay on the hammock, my son, Clark, was on one shoulder, pulling on the rope, and my daughter Emma on the other. I read a book to them, and, at the end I put the book on the floor. In that quiet, while the swaying of our hammock slowed down, they both fell asleep.
I think that heaven is going to be a whole lot more like that moment than the typical Monday at work. When practiced regularly, Sabbath becomes a piece of heaven that can be taken with us into the other six days of the week.
What’s missing matters
Why in the last few decades has the church decided to throw out the fourth commandment? Why have we dismissed our day of rest? Which commandment are we going to throw out next?
Now Jesus isn’t a legalist. Instead, He’s about the intent behind the laws. So if the Ten Commandments say, “Don’t kill somebody,” Jesus says, “Don’t even call them a jerk.” If the Ten Commandments say, “Don’t commit adultery,” Jesus says, “Don’t even cruise the Internet looking for racy pictures.”
So what does Jesus have to say about the longest of the Ten Commandments — to keep a day of rest once a week? He clarifies that this is a day dedicated to God, so it’s OK to feed the hungry. It’s OK to take care of the sick. It’s OK to go and rescue an animal. But we’re still supposed to “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.”
The Bible is about people trying to have a relationship with God while existing in a fallen world. Yet in our twenty-first century culture, we’re not content to just live in a fallen world: We’re putting rocket boosters on our backs to accelerate our descent.
A day of rest counteracts this trajectory. It’s about restraint. And that restraint is needed now more than ever.
Be still. Know God.
For me, one of the most profound lines in the Bible comes from Psalms. God says, “Be still and know that I am God.”
As you prepare for your next Sabbath, try meditating on this scripture. Then take one word from the end of the line, each time you say it.
Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am.
Be still and know.
Stop Day is when you’re no longer just a human doing; you’re a human being. Just be.
Sabbath for us
Sabbath doesn’t just happen. You have to prepare for it. The day before the Sabbath, my wife and I always clean the house. We pay bills, answer e-mails, go grocery shopping, and prepare food so that on the Sabbath we can truly rest.
Sabbath morning we almost always take a long walk. Nancy reads the Bible. I take a nap. We rest in rest. If there’s an important deadline approaching and it seems like we just have to get it done, we stop. We trust in God’s promise that six days of work each week is enough.
If you can’t imagine twenty-four hours of rest, start with four or six hours of holy rest. Stopping is about restraint. It’s not about doing everything that we can do. It’s about finding the peace of God that passes all understanding.
The Sabbath was not meant to be saved by humanity; rather, humanity was meant to be saved by the Sabbath. I know from firsthand experience. After practicing the Sabbath for almost a decade, I have seen how it has saved me from the disease of workaholism. It has saved countless numbers of my patients from the physical, emotional, and spiritual consequences of unremitting stress. If practiced regularly, the Sabbath can save you too.
can save you too. I pray that you remember to open this gift of stopping one day a week. I pray that you find peace in this weekly oasis of time. I pray that you will be still and that, through rest, you will come to know God. And it will be good.
Matthew Sleeth, MD, a former ER physician, is the executive director of Blessed Earth and author of 24/6: Prescription for a Happier, Healthier Life (Tyndale, November 2012). He lives in Lexington, KY, with his wife, Nancy, and two children. Scripture quotations were taken from the New Living Translation This article was originally printed in the January-February 2013 edition of the Bible Advocate (to read more, click the following link: BA-2013-1_January-February-Eng.pdf (baonline.org)