EHS: God Wants to Spend Time With You
5/29/2018 2:31:42 AM
May 27, 2018
Rev. David Williams
Scripture: Exodus 31:12-17
I want you to imagine a relationship you’re in. Maybe it’s your marriage (if you’re married) or a close friend, roommate or family member. Imagine this person that love. Now imagine that every time you are with them, all they do is talk and talk and talk. I mean really talk! They never stop! You can’t get a word in edgewise. You can’t even agree with what they’re saying because they won’t stop talking!
Imagine, now, on top of all that talking, that whenever they are in your presence they can’t sit still. They have to always be doing some activity when they’re around you. Maybe they’re doing nice things. Maybe they’re cleaning up the dishes, or fixing something you asked them to fix. They might be doing really good stuff for you, but they’re still always moving, always active, always talking, never still.
If you were in a relationship like that, how would it make you feel? What do you think the other person might be missing out on in your relationship?
Now, let me ask you a question. In your prayer life, do you let God get a word in edgewise? Or do you talk, and talk and talk? Even if you’re saying good things, praising God or thanking God, are you always the one talking?
Similarly, when you set time aside to spend time with God, are you always doing something? Are you always serving, or reading devotionals, or even reading the Bible? All these things are good, but do you ever just stop and enjoy being with God? Do you ever just take time to enjoy God’s presence?
Changing gears, a bit, let me ask you how busy are you? On a scale of 1 to 10, how busy are your weeks? Do you consistently find you have too much to do and too little time? Are you on the go all the time? When do you rest? If you don’t rest, when will you spend time with God?
Sometimes, it’s important just to spend time with someone. Just to be in their presence, enjoying their company is a good thing! Megan and I really enjoy just hanging out sometimes. In the mornings, when I get up with her, I try to spend a few minutes just sitting on the couch with her, drinking my coffee, enjoying being with her. We aren’t doing anything together. We’re not playing together, or involved in an activity. I’m not entertaining her. We’re just enjoying being with one another.
Similarly, with Amy, there are times where we just enjoy being together. We don’t have to be doing anything, we are just together. These are important times for me. I actually feel pressure, sometimes, to always be “doing” something with Amy or Megan. I worry they’ll get bored or that I’m responsible to entertain them, or wow them or do something big to show them they’re special to me. But, while it’s important to do special things with your family, it’s also important to sometimes just enjoy being together. The togetherness is what’s special, their presence is what you’re enjoying, not the activity.
It’s the same with our relationship with God. Yes, it is important to worship Him, to serve Him, to spend time in the Bible, to spend time reading devotional material, or ministering to others in His name. Yes, these are all important things! But it is also important, sometimes, to just enjoy being in God’s presence, to just stop, be still and know that He is God.
Let me ask you, when you’re busy, when you’re always running around, is that abundant life? Jesus came that we might have life, and have it abundantly (John 10:10b). When we are over-worked, over-scheduled and over-busy, is that the abundant life that Jesus promised? I don’t think so! Are you too busy to have abundant life? Because that’s not what God intended for his people! In fact, that runs contrary to the example God wants his people to set for the world.
The amazing thing is that God wants to spend time with you! Yes, you! God doesn’t want you to just serve him, worship him, learn about him and obey him. God wants to actually spend time with you, in a relationship that isn’t always based on doing stuff together. In the book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, there is a chapter about the joy of using the Daily Office and also weekly Sabbaths. At the core of these two activities
is the principle that God actually wants to spend time with you, not while you do stuff, but just you enjoying his presence and vice versa.
There’s a lot in the Old Testament about Sabbath and the rest that it brings. Let’s consider one of those texts from Exodus. By way of context, God has set down directions for building the Tabernacle. He has gifted and called particular tradesmen to do the work of making the Tabernacle and all its content. Now, however, God reminds them of the importance of Sabbath.
What It Says
The first thing to note is that this reminder of the command about observing the Sabbath was for those who were working on the Tabernacle. The Lord was countering a potential mistake- that working for God on the Sabbath didn’t count as “work” or that working for the Lord was more important than resting in the Lord. God commands us to obey him. He gives us work to do. He chooses to include us in the work of his kingdom. But more important than any of that work he gives us is our relationship with him. That relationship includes resting in him.
Today, Christians, in particular Protestant Christians, emphasize our personal relationship with Jesus. We also emphasize that salvation is by grace, not our works. Works are to be a response to God, in particular for the relationship he has built with us. Works are not to be an attempt to get God to be in a relationship with us. It is not what you do that gets God to forgive your sins and enter into a relationship with you. Rather, what you do is a response to that relationship. We can see a shadow of that, a hint towards that here in the Old Testament’s attitude towards work, even work for God, in light of Sabbath.
The second thing to take note of is that the Sabbath was a sign of God’s covenant with Israel. Twice in these few verses the Sabbath is referred to as a “sign” and a third time it’s specifically related to the everlasting covenant between Israel and God. This means that the intent of the Sabbath was to be a weekly reminder of Israel’s special relationship with God and a testimony to the surrounding nations of that relationship.
The strict penalties for violating the Sabbath are because it is a sign of the covenant. It also explains why, by Jesus’ day, the Pharisees were so obsessed with the Sabbath and what counted as “work.”
We are told that the foundation for the idea of Sabbath is God’s creation of the world. This passage refers back to Genesis 2 in which we are told that after 6 days of working at creation, God’s work was done and he rested. Literally, in v. 17, “rested” means “caught his breath” or “was refreshed.” [Victor P. Hamilton, Exodus, p. 523] For Israel to observe Sabbath was to be an imitation of God, following his example of setting aside the seventh day in order to be refreshed, to catch their breath.
So we see that the Sabbath was a combination of being refreshed and reminded of the covenant relationship Israel had with God. This made Sabbath a day of celebration! It was all about Israel’s privileged relationship with God and resting, catching their breath from the week before, and being refreshed by the Lord.
This is what we want to grasp today. Sabbath is a day to celebrate one’s relationship with God and to be refreshed. Why? Because God wants to spend time with you! That’s profound. God isn’t so busy running the universe that he’s too busy for the likes of you. Quite the contrary! God loves you so much that he doesn’t want to allow the “running of the universe” to overshadow his relationship with you. He wants to spend time with you, if you will only stop long enough for him to do that!
Now, as Christians, our foundation for our relationship with God is different than that of Israel. Our covenant with God is in Christ, not the 10 Commandments. But the love God has for us, the love in his relationship for us, is just as strong. So there is still a value in the Sabbath principles for us, even if not in the rules surrounding Sabbath. It is wise and pleasant for us to take time, regularly, to delight in our relationship with God and be refreshed.
What It Means
So what does all this mean? First, I want to address a particular error we are prone to fall into. Sabbath was a command for Israel, not Christians, not the church. It is not a command Christians have to follow. There are valuable principles in Sabbath that we can learn from, that we can extract, but we must not fall into the trap of thinking the Sabbath is a command for Christians.
How do we know this? Well, we’ve been talking about it already. Sabbath was a sign of the covenant between God and Israel. Just as circumcision was a sign of the covenant between God and Abraham and his
descendants, Sabbath was a sign of the covenant between God and Israel. And we know, as Christians, we don’t have to take part in circumcision. We have a new covenant, one in Jesus’ blood, based on grace not law.
Some suggest that because the 10 Commandments include Sabbath that we are still under the command to observe it. But that is a mistake. All of the other 10 commandments are reaffirmed, or re-issued in the New Testament. In fact, some are strengthened in the NT! Jesus says that to even insult another person is to commit murder. He says to even look at a person with lust in our hearts is to commit adultery! But in all of the NT, the Sabbath is never re-issued as a command.
In fact, Paul goes so far as to dismiss the Sabbath. In Col 2:16-17 Paul says, in summary, that we are not to judge another believer on whether or not they observe religious festivals or the Sabbath. In fact, these things are shadows of what really came in Christ. So we no longer need to follow them, at least as Gentile Christians.
Much of the NT is a discussion about what it means to be a Christian and how Jewish one must be to follow Christ. There is the passage in Acts which deals with this, the “council at Jerusalem” in which Sabbath is not commanded for Gentile Christians. Paul speaks repeatedly about circumcision no longer being required for God’s people. This was an even bigger issue than Sabbath observance.
In the early church, there was a mixture of Jews and Gentiles. The Jewish Christians still observed the Sabbath, but the Gentile Christians did not. That was on Saturday. But both groups gathered together Sunday morning, before they went to work, to worship God and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. As the Jewish population in the church dwindled, the Sabbath observance dwindled with it, but the Sunday celebration remained. So Sunday is not the Sabbath! It is the Lord’s Day, it is the day of celebration, but not the Sabbath in terms of the OT commands for Sabbath.
Now, all of that is to say that the Sabbath is not a command for Christians. We have to get that out of the way because Christians, over the centuries, have fallen into legalism around the Sabbath many times. We must always remember it is not a command. That said, there is still value in observing the principles of Sabbath for Christians.
Why is that? Remember the core reasons for Sabbath! Celebration of our covenant relationship with God and refreshment! When we remember or celebrate our covenant relationship with God, we remember Christ’s death and resurrection. We remember God’s redemption of us through the atonement and our adoption as sons of God into his family. When we remember these things, it should lead us to respond in worship! We should delight in God, our relationship with him and find refreshing in him.
Frankly, we need regular reminders of God’s relationship with us. We need rest. We are busy people. We are consumed with work, tasks, running all over and the like. We need a reminder of God, what God has done for us, and we need rest and refreshing in the Lord.
Our great temptation, stretching back to the Garden of Eden, is to be like God. We want to take God’s place, which means being in charge, but also being responsible for everything in the world and in our lives. When we observe a Sabbath day, however, when we choose to stop working for a day and actually rest, we remind ourselves and the world that God’s the one on the throne, not us. We remind ourselves and the world that God is the one who provides for us, who keeps everything going, who looks after the world for us. God is in control, not us!
Let me ask you, who provides for you and your family? Is it you, or is it God? If you think it’s you, you’ve got another thing coming. If you think or know it’s God, then why can’t you stop for a day and let him keep providing? Taking a Sabbath is an act of trust. It’s an act of trust that God will look after things for a day while you enjoy your relationship with him and don’t work. When we take a Sabbath day of rest, we dare the world. We challenge the world, saying, “You just try to knock me down. I’ve got God at my back. He’s in charge, he’s looking after me.” Sometimes that dare needs to be addressed to our own heart too!
So when we observe a Sabbath, we need to focus on two things: our relationship with God and being refreshed.
So how do we apply it? What do we do about it? We must first focus on the right things: relationship and refreshing, not “What is or isn’t allowed on Sabbath?” That’s to make it into legalism. It’s supposed to be a day of delight. “Sabbath is not to be an exercise in restriction but in devotion.” [J A Motyer, Exodus, p. 289] As
Christians, Sabbath is not to be about what to avoid, but what to do. We are to spend time with God, delight in God, let ourselves be the creatures and let him be the Creator who cares for us.
God wants to spend time with you! Let him! And be refreshed resting in his love for you. Use Sabbath to rest, recharge and reorient your priorities and mindset. Reorient your life on the foundation of God’s provision for you.
Do you feel like you can’t afford to let go of work, tasks or jobs for a day? Feel like everything will fall apart if you stop for a day each week? Feel like you’ll fall behind? Maybe miss out on opportunities to get ahead? If so, then you need to exercise your trust in God. It needs to grow by watching him take care of all these things in your life for one day a week. Actually, he’s taking care of them every day, it’s just that one day a week we step back to be refreshed and he does it without our input.
There’s a great value in stepping back for one day a week to be reconnected with God and refreshed. God wants to spend time with you. He loves you. But he needs you to actually stop long enough to hear him, enjoy him and let him refresh you. We need that day to be reminded that God is God and we are not, that he is in charge and we are not, that he is in control and we are not. God is looking after us. We need to be willing to pause long enough to actually take part in the abundant life he is providing.
This actually fits well with the recent sessions in this series. When we are in the dark valley, or experiencing grief and loss, having a day a week to rest in God and delight in our relationship with him is invaluable! It helps get us through the darkness. But it’s a habit that’s hard to start in tough times. If we build the habit in good times, it will be there when we especially need it in difficult times!
Now, what day of the week should we choose? As we mentioned before, Sunday was not the Sabbath in the early church. It was a normal day of work and Christians gathered before work to celebrate together. That said, today Sundays need not be our Sabbath, but they can be. They are particularly good for Sabbath because of the built in component of worship and focusing on our relationship with God. That is at the core of Sabbath and the core of corporate worship as a church. We often experience God’s presence and his love through his people. Gathering as the church to worship God together for what he has done for us is a great thing to include in Sabbath.
But what else should we do on Sabbath? We are to delight in God and what he has done. For some of us, then, that might mean taking a walk through nature. For others, it means taking a bike ride, or taking a nap. If you’ve been blessed with kids, play a game with them. Enjoy the children God has blessed you with and model for them delight on the Sabbath. If you have grand kids, take them out for ice cream! Give their parents an hour to rest and reconnect without the kids. Whatever you do on Sabbath, make the emphasis delight and refreshment. And as you do it, thank God for it. Use it as a vehicle to reconnect with God.
The story is told of two lumberjacks who had a competition to see who could cut the most lumber in a day. The one lumberjack was a big, hulking man. The other was lean and wiry. The two men went into the woods early in the morning to begin their day of competition. The big, burly woodsman chopped hard for an hour, then noticed a change. After an hour, the sound of chopping from the lean, wiry woodsman had stopped! The man was taking a break for 10 minutes. After the second hour, the big lumberjack noticed that again, the little guy stopped for 10 minutes. Every hour, the little guy stopped for 10 minutes. The large lumberjack was sure the little guy was tiring out. He was confident that by pushing through each hour he would win easily.
At the end of the day, as the sun was going down, the competition ended. The big lumberjack stepped back and looked at the pile of wood he had cut. It was impressive! Then, he turned to see what the little guy had cut. The small, wiry lumberjack’s pile was twice the size of his! How could this be? He looked at the little guy with awe. The small, wiry woodsman smiled and said, “Every hour, I not only took a break for 10 minutes, I also sharpened my axe!”
Sabbath gives us a chance to sharpen our axe each week. We rest, but we also sharpen our spiritual axe by reconnecting with God.
But Sabbath is not the only way to rest and sharpen our spiritual axe. We can do that every day in fact with the practice of the Daily Office. The Daily Office (also part of the chapter in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality dealing with Sabbath) is a practice of spending time in silence before God. For 2 minutes, before and after your devotional time, sit in silence before God, delighting in his love for you. We’ve been doing this each week during the EHS course on Thursday nights. It’s hard to begin, but it can be a powerful experience. It is a
“mini-sabbath” in your day. It means stopping, recharging and delighting in God’s love for you, being refreshed in your relationship with God.
Now, ideally, the Daily Office is 2 minutes of silence followed by a time of devotional reading, then 2 more minutes of silence. This would total 8 to 10 minutes. But I know for many of us daily devotions are a struggle. Taking 10 minutes can be hard. Let me say, the power of 2 minutes of silence delighting in God’s presence is, in itself, impressive. So if you are not at the point of having 10 minutes of devotional time, just try the 2 minutes of silence, twice a day, to delight in God, to be still and know that he is God.
At first, your mind will wander all over the place. But with a bit of practice and discipline, you will find these two minutes really change your outlook on your day and the day’s events. It will remind you of eternal things. It will remind you that your value is not found in what you do, in what you earn or in what others think of you. (Think back to our earlier message about knowing yourself to know God!) It will refresh your memory that your value is in God’s love for you and nothing else. It will remind you that God is in charge and in control, not you. It will remind you that you can trust God to look after things, that things beyond you are not your responsibility. It will calm your fears, relieve your anxieties and reset your priorities. It’s a wonderful use of 2 minutes to “sharpen your axe” spiritually speaking.
The amazing thing is that God wants to spend time with you! Place a hand over your heart and repeat after me: I am completely forgiven in Christ. God loves me deeply. God wants to spend time with me. I will be still and know that he is God. Amen.
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