PoW: The Heart of Shabbat (or the importance of rest and sacrifice in worship)


“But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.”[1] Often, this verse does not reflect the nature of worship today. There is a need for silence and rest and a need for loud exaltation. 1 Kings tells a story where Elijah hears the voice of God. In this story there is an earthquake, a firestorm and a gentle wind or whisper. In this passage, the text explicitly states that God was not found in the firestorm or the earthquake. However, when Elijah hears the gentle whisper he covers his face and goes out to meet God. Preceding this story Elijah is greatly discouraged, even after a huge victory, and spends days alone and in silence before the Lord.

This story illustrates how resting and silence is important to hearing the voice of God, even in worship. Sadly, in today’s culture we don’t often get time to rest, or take the time to rest. The concept of rest was so important to Christ that the scriptures record this for us, “As often as possible Jesus withdrew to out-of-the-way places for prayer.”[2] God commanded the nation of Israel to take a day of rest, in which no work was done; this day was known as Shabbat (or Sabbath). Lauren F. Winner talks about Shabbat this way:

“Whom is the contemporary Sabbath designed to honor? Whom does it benefit? Why, the bubble-bath taker herself, of course! The Bible suggests something different.  In observing the Sabbath, one is both giving a gift to God and imitating Him. Exodus and Deuteronomy make this clear when they say, ‘Six days shall you labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.’ To the Lord your God.”[3]

The commandment on Sabbath directs us to Sabbath for two reasons. First, resting in the Lord shows a remembrance of what God has done. Second, it is a day that one dedicates, or sacrifices to the Lord. We should all hopefully be aware that we need rest in order to function correctly. However, most of us don’t see rest as an act of worship. If we are resting in the Lord, if we are taking a Sabbath day, ‘To the Lord your God,’ then we have offered said day up to God as something from us to Him. It is in itself an act of worship, which also restores our heart and focus back to God. Resting in the Lord helps to keep the heart condition right; it helps it to stay focused on God. “ . . . and since at least the year 321, when Constantine declared Sunday as Sabbath for all his empire, Christians have understood the Sabbath as a day for rest, communal worship and celebration.”[4] This ties in Sunday (or The Sabbath) into worship as a tradition of the Church. However, how many of worship leaders or pastors take a day for rest? How many are willing to sacrifice a day to the Lord in such a way?

Today, sacrifice is not a word we like to use often, however, if we are honest, worship is a sacrifice—it should be a sacrifice. The ancient Hebrews used to offer up animal sacrifices as part of their worship to God. Today we sing songs as a primary means of worship; however, this means that our sacrifices also look different. Music often is used to solicit an emotional response, because music speaks to and moves the soul. The simple application here is that worship, through music, begins with a sacrifice of emotion and authenticity. On a deeper level, our sacrifice is giving up a part of who we are so that God can make us more into who we should be, who he designed us to be.[5] If we are not sacrificing in worship, be it in song or by offering our day to God in Sabbath or a myriad of other forms of sacrifice, our worship is superficial and painless.

[1] Habakkuk 2:20

[2] Luke 5:16

[3] Lauren F. Winner, Mudhouse Sabbath: An Invitation to a Life of Spiritual Discipline (pocket Classics) (n.p.: Paraclete Publishing, 2008), 11.

[4] Ibid p.12

[5] Rich Kirkpatrick, “The Myth of a “painless” Offering of Worship,” rkweblog.com, http://rkweblog.com/2010/02/the-myth-of-a-painless-offering-of-worship.html (accessed February 22, 2011).


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