Contemplative Spiritual Disciplines: Practicing Sabbath Delight

David Robinson relaxes on the edge of Matthes Lake in the warm morning light of Yosemite National Park, Yosemite. Image by Thomas Robinson. See

On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation. ~Genesis 2:2-3

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.~Ephesians 2:8-10

Notice the four verbs, the action words describing God’s “rest” in Genesis 2:

  • Finished: God brought his work to completion. How hard is it for you to step away from work, to finish what you are doing, and step in time for just being?
  • Rested: God rests from his work of creating the universe. God rests not because God is tired. God never grows weary and God has infinite strength and power to create. God rests because a Master Artist steps back from a work of art to take delight in what has been made. How do you best rest? How do you rest with God?
  • Blessed: God speaks blessing upon the seventh day, and thus speaks blessing to anyone who is willing to enter the seventh day by practicing Sabbath delight. What blessings have come to you by practicing the gift of Sabbath?
  • Declared holy: God declares the seventh day holy, and thus declares anyone “holy” who enters this sacred time/place weekly. How is God reshaping your life, changing you to become “holy” by weekly Sabbath celebration?

Chapter 5 of Pete Scazzero’s book The Emotionally Healthy Leader invites leaders into the weekly practice of Sabbath Delight, an ancient contemplative spiritual discipline, first found in Scripture in Genesis 2:2-3, where God rests on the 7th Day, after six days of creative work, bringing forth all Creation.

Scazzero defines Sabbath this way: “Biblical Sabbath is a twenty-four hour block of time in which we stop work, enjoy rest, practice delight, and contemplate God.

  • Stop work: We cease all work, both paid and unpaid. We “embrace our limits. We let go of the illusion that we are indispensable to the running of the world.” Scazerro does not answer emails, return phone calls, does not use digital social media apps (twitter, facebook), and also steps away from doing household chores such as laundry, paying bills, shopping, cleaning.
  • Rest: “We accept God’s invitation to rest. . . . We engage in activities that restore and replenish us.” Scazerro offers examples of rest such as enjoying naps, hiking in nature, reading, eating good food, enjoying hobbies, watching great movies, swimming, visiting friends/family, enjoying the arts such as at an art gallery or museum, gardening.
  • Delight: God declared all God made as “very good!” God celebrates and delights in you, and in all creation. “As part of observing Sabbath, God invites us to join in the celebration, to enjoy and delight in his creation.” Ask yourself the question Scazzero asks: “What gives me joy and delight?”
  • Contemplate: A Sabbath is designed by God to draw our lives nearer to God weekly, an invitation by our Creator to return to God and grow in our love for God, soaking in God’s love for us. I love to go “grace-hunting” on a Sabbath, to pay attention to the ways God’s grace is at work in my life and in the world around me. Scazerro writes, “Sabbath is an invitation to see the invisible in the visible–to recognize the hidden ways God’s goodness is at work in our lives.”

In the Gospels, there are many occasions when Jesus exposed Sabbath distortions and restores the Sabbath to its proper God-graced place, as a gift for living in free obedience before the grace of God. Check out these examples:

  • Mark 2:23-28
  • Mark 3:1-6
  • Luke 14:1-6
  • John 5:1-18
  • John 9:1-41

Questions to Ask about Practicing Sabbath Delight

  • What place does the Sabbath have in my life as a follower of Jesus Christ?
  • If I have truly been saved by grace through faith, not by works, what place does my work have in my identity, and what place does God’s grace have in defining who I am?
  • Do I identify more of my worth as a human as “my being with God” or with “my doing for God”? (These are Scazerro’s words in quotations)
  • Of the two equal and opposite errors regarding the Sabbath, which do you find yourself leaning more into more often? Legalism: putting the Law in the Center, treat the Law as our God, excessive and rigid adherence to the letter of the Law? Or, Antinomianism: rejecting the Law, treat the Law as non-essential or even non-existent, live and let live, become a law unto myself?
  • How do we get Sabbath-keeping rhythms back into our lives and thus live more in step with God and his original intent?
  • How do we practice Sabbath Keeping on Sundays in such a way that are restoring (Exodus 20) and redeeming (Deuteronomy 5)?
    • Restorative: Sabbath as renewing, recreative—What have you found most helpful in this? What does it mean to “rest from our work”? What is work and what is Rest? 
    • Redemptive: Sabbath as leading us out of bondage/slavery/workaholism, setting us free to truly worship God—What have you found most helpful in this?  How do we know when we have become slaves to work, to idols? What is idolatry? What are forms of idolatry today? How have you become enslaved to work/labor/doing and been unable to rest in the grace of God?
  • How might the four Sabbath verbs found above from Genesis 2:2-3 be put into practice in our lives weekly after week?
  • How healthy is your practice of Sabbath Delight?

Scazzero’s Sabbath Assessment

Answer each statement below with your self-assessment of your practice of Sabbath with a 5=always true of you; 4=frequently true of you; 3=occasionally true; 2=rarely true; 1=never true of you. (from pp 149-150, The Emotionally Healthy Leader)

  1. I regularly practice Sabbath by setting aside weekly time for a full day to stop my work and rest.
  2. Sabbath provides a healthy boundary and limit around my paid/unpaid work.
  3. I take time weekly to practice Sabbath delight by enjoying God’s innumerable gifts.
  4. I view Sabbath as a day to practice eternity and taste the ultimate Sabbath rest in everlasting life.
  5. I practice Sabbath as a countercultural act that resists the cultural value that defines me by what I do rather than who I am.
  6. I am comfortable letting go of responsibilities on Sabbath.
  7. I find my identity primarily in God’s love rather than in my work.
  8. I often receive unexpected insights and life renewing perspectives during Sabbath.
  9. I apply my Sabbath guidelines (stop, rest, delight, contemplate) to vacations/holidays.
  10. I intentionally prepare and plan for Sabbath so that I have time and space to enjoy God’s love on that day.