Tim Alford enjoys the benefits of a proper Sabbath. But it wasn’t always so…


If all this sounds somewhat self-indulgent to you it’s because your view of God has become twisted. Somewhere under the surface you believe that the Lord’s primary desire for you is to produce; to do stuff for him. You would probably never say it quite like that, but the evidence is not in your words, it’s in the low-grade guilt you feel, humming under the surface whenever you eventually do stop.

If my words sound harsh, it’s because I’m speaking form experience. Indeed, I’m speaking to my younger self. I was achievement-driven, production-oriented and, sadly, often celebrated for it. But beneath the surface I was restless. I was addicted to work, not because I worked all the time, but because when I wasn’t working I felt like I should be working. I was able experience the pleasure of God in my work, but never in my rest. My view of God had become drastically distorted. I did not have a soul that was at peace.

It will not come as a surprise to you to hear, then, that at that time I was not practicing sabbath. Sure, I was taking a day off each week (well, most weeks), but as we shall now see, this was not remotely the same thing as Sabbath.

Sabbath is a day God rooted in the order of creation from the beginning (Gen. 2:2-3); that he set apart for his people to be rooted in their covenant identity (Exodus 20:8-11); and that “remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God” under the New Covenant (Heb 4:9). 

As Brandon Cook neatly surmises it, “Sabbath is a period of time dedicated to withdrawing from the normal activities of life and work in order to come back to a spiritual centre, which is the place where we connect with God.”


“in Sabbath we practice relinquishing control, to wean ourselves from the need to run the world, ceaselessly produce, and endlessly achieve”

Sabbath is for Ceasing

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. - Exodus 20:8-11

Sabbath is about ceasing the usual activities of day to day life. We stop working, consuming, wanting, buying, and striving. Sabbath is a day when our work is done, even when it isn’t.

And Sabbath is a day when we say, “enough.” Enough achievement, enough stuff, enough production. Perhaps most significantly of all, it’s when we recognise that we are enough.

Cook expresses this so beautifully: “Sabbath is about more than resting our bodies; it’s about identifying all the ways we try to prove ourselves by accomplishing things, and about recognising how hollow this path is. It’s about identifying the lies of our culture – that ultimate meaning can be found in looking good or being rich or performing well. How perfect that God commands us to keep the day when we’re not supposed to produce during which we must refrain from our normal means of proving ourselves.”

On the sabbath, we refrain from our normal means of proving ourselves. Beautiful.




Sabbath is for Resting

So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered Gods rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. - Hebrews 4:9-11 ESV


Scripture is clear and consistent; God has a rest for his people. Believing that is one thing, receiving it is entirely another. So many of us feel completely out of control, unable to stop. And when we do stop, we are overwhelmed with feelings of guilt. We may be resting on the outside, but we are restless on the inside.

The kind of rest that the Father desires for us goes right to that place. It’s a rest that goes deep within. It is, in Jesus’ language, a “rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:29). 

Like all spiritual practices then, this kind of rest requires practice. A slow weaning from the drug of work; a reforming in our hearts that we are loved not because of what we do, but because of who we are; a retraining in our minds that God is equally present and delighted in our resting as he is in our working.


Sabbath is for Trusting

You are to labour six days but you must rest on the seventh day; you must even rest during plowing and harvesting times. - Exodus 34:21 CSB


The problem with this ‘ceasing’ and ‘resting’ is that, for reasons we often can’t quite put our finger on, it’s easier said than done. It’s much easier to work than play; to go than stop; to do than be. Why so? Ultimately because we do not trust that God is good and that he is in control.

We’re practiced at having control, at making ourselves indispensable, at being busy. But in Sabbath we practice relinquishing control, to wean ourselves from the need to run the world, ceaselessly produce, and endlessly achieve. In Sabbath we train ourselves to believe that God is working for our good, even when we are not.

As such a lack of trust prevents us from entering into the rest that God desires for us. So will we trust God enough to rest in every season… even the really busy seasons?


Sabbath is for Healing

“… should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” - Jesus, Luke 16:17


Next time you read through the gospels, take note of how many of Jesus’ healing miracles took place on the sabbath. It really is remarkable when you start to notice it. And the Pharisees hated it, even seeking to find ways to have him killed as a result! But Jesus just kept going, bringing life and freedom on the sabbath day.

What a profound truth when we understand; the sabbath is for healing, for restoration, for renewal!


Sabbath is for Joy

If you watch your step on the Sabbath and dont use my holy day for personal advantage, If you treat the Sabbath as a day of joy, Gods holy day as a celebration, If you honour it by refusing business as usual,making money, running here and there— Then youll be free to enjoy God! Oh, Ill make you ride high and soar above it all. Ill make you feast on the inheritance of your ancestor Jacob.” Yes! God says so! - Isaiah 58:13-14 MSG


Sabbath is a day to celebrate the things that bring you joy; a space where you intentionally engage delight in order to connect with the heart of God.

When we read that on the seventh day of creation, God “rested” from his work, the Hebrew being used there is menuha. No, not something produced by a cow. On the contrary, in Hebrew, menuha carries with it ideas of harmony, peace and delight. Meaning that, at the pinnacle of his work in creation, instead of separating himself from the world, God revelled in it; He delighted. Celebrated. Enjoyed.

On the sabbath, God invites us to menuha; to do our favourite things as an act of worship, receiving delight from a Father who loves to give good gifts to his children (Luke 11:13).


Sabbath is for Worship

You have six days in which to do your work, but remember that the seventh day, the Sabbath, is a day of rest. On that day do not work, but gather for worship. The Sabbath belongs to the LORD, no matter where you live. - Leviticus 23:3 GNBUK

In all this, we remember that sabbath is not a narcissistic act of me-centred self care, but a day to slow down for long enough to gaze upon God in his beauty and be inspired again to worship.  Indeed, only it’s only when we slow down in sabbath rest that we are able to pause for long enough to see God as he is. And ‘seeing God as he is’ is the wellspring from which worship flows.  As St. Augustine has it, “We shall rest and we shall see. We shall see and we shall love. We shall love and we shall praise.”

It is for this reason that Dallas Willard argues that Sabbath and worship are two inseparable parts of the same whole: “Sabbath fulfilled in human life is really celebration of God so Sabbath is inseparable from worship, and, indeed, genuine worship is sabbath.” 

I hope that what is becoming clear in all this is that sabbath is not the same thing as a day off. For this reason, in order to really practice sabbath, you must only work on your paid employment for five days a week, in order to create time to attend to the unpaid work of life; the washing, the bills, the cleaning and so on. Sabbath is when we rest from both paid and unpaid work in order to re-centre ourselves in the love of God who has not created for production but for intimacy.

I finish with the poetic words of Rob Bell, who writes…

“Sabbath is taking a day a week to remind myself that I did not make the world and that it will continue to exist without my efforts.

Sabbath is a day when my work is done, even if it isnt.

Sabbath is a day when my job is to enjoy. Period.

Sabbath is a day when I am fully available to myself and those I love the most.

Sabbath is a day when I remember that when God made the world, he saw that it was good.

Sabbath is a day when I produce nothing.

Sabbath is a day when I remind myself that I am not a machine.

Sabbath is a day when at the end I say, I didnt do anything today,” and I dont add, And I feel so guilty.”

Sabbath is a day when my phone is turned off, I dont check my email, and you cant get ahold of me.”


Sound good? It is good! And even better, it is God’s desire for you to enter into his sabbath rest. So how about it? Let’s practice sabbath….