Sabbath Keeping

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Finding Freedom in the Rhythms of Rest

by Lynne M. Baab
InterVarsity Press
ISBN: 0-8308-3258-0; paper; 132 pp. (2005)

Sabbath Keeping is the best selling of Lynne's books, currently in its tenth printing. It is the first Christian book on the sabbath to draw on dozens of interviews with real-life sabbath keepers. The sabbath is discussed as a way to learn to experience God’s grace, and practical suggestions are given for

  • what to cease doing on the sabbath and
  • what to do to draw near to God.

*** Publishers Weekly Starred Review:

"In a gentle, concise style, Baab recommends a weekly day of rest as a gift from God that teaches Christians about grace. Although rules and puritanical solemnity have tarnished Sabbath-keeping in the United States, Baab commends the practice as a balm for frazzled moderns:

'The frantic pace, the exhaustion that accompanies it and the resulting emptiness call us back to a rhythm that includes stopping and resting.'

"While Sabbath-keeping is commanded in the Bible, God intends it as a reminder of freedom and abundant life. Baab suggests that Christians customize their Sabbath: All are called to cease from work, but one person's work could be another person's play. (Baab also says the Sabbath may involve freedom from multitasking, technology, media, shopping, competition, talking and anxiety.) Also, she says, the day for the observance does not matter, as long as it is consistent. Baab covers the scriptural reasons for Sabbath observance, but the best sections of this work deal with the personal and the practical. Her account of living (and keeping the sabbath) in Iran, Israel and the United States instructs and fascinates. One particularly helpful chapter about creating a Sabbath celebration offers tips about making the day special. Winsome, passionate and persuasive, this will convince many Christians of the continuing relevance of the Fourth Commandment."

Now translated into Korean.

Two interviews with Lynne about the Sabbath:

Beyond a Sunday Nap
The Sabbath Doesn't Have to be Perfect

Be sure the check out the "articles" page of this website, which has numerous magazine articles Lynne has written about the Sabbath.

Lynne has written a Bible study guide, Sabbath, which works well as a companion volume to Sabbath Keeping.

Reviews

"Dear Dr. Baab, You Changed My Life": A Sabbath Testimony »

"Dear Dr. Baab, You Changed My Life": A Sabbath Testimony
By Amy Kohley
Wheaten/Glen Ellen, Illinois

Last September our small group was brainstorming about what to focus on for the coming year and after much discussing and debating we realized that we were all craving the same thing: intimacy with God and the need to slow down our hectic lives, so we are not only praying to God but listening to God. “Be still and know that I am God.”

At one point in the discussion I said,

“Well, I have four little kids I’m chasing around and my life is so crazy right now I just don’t have time to pray every day.”

Someone challenged me, saying,

“If you don’t carve out time now for God, you will never have time, because life doesn’t get easier when your kids get older.”

Her words kept playing through my head and I thought, “What am I doing? Every day I have my list of things to do - why is God last?” I was convicted like never before in my life that God was going to be first on my list every day!

Right after that, I ran into one of the elders, Scott. He was asking about our small group and recommended a book that he thought would provide some good information: Sabbath Keeping: Finding Freedom in the Rhythms of Rest by Lynne M. Baab. Scott actually dropped it in my mailbox the next day and I read it that night. I was drawn to her story, not necessarily because of the Godly benefits, but because I felt very caught up in our culture’s rat race. I make lists, I’m very goal oriented, always have to be working or doing something. Each weekend, we would map out everything that had to be done, dividing up the chores and kids and running around trying to get everything done.

I read the book, took notes, came up with a plan and told our family,

“We are going to start observing the Sabbath this Sunday!”

The book walks you through the whole process. She recommends stopping two or three things so you can open up some time for God. I gave up shopping and running errands, using the computer, housework, and driving except to church.

In the beginning, just the physical act of taking a deep breath and slowing down had to be a conscious effort for me. Just taking a nap or laying down to read or rest did not seem right and was a guilty pleasure. And spending the afternoon playing kickball with our kids and having a bonfire seemed like I was just wasting time. I continually reminded myself that God did not rest on the seventh day because He was tired, but because He wanted to enjoy and reflect His glorious creation.

As weeks went by, I was amazed how this day of rest could literally rejuvenate me for the coming week. I wake up on Mondays feeling peaceful and recharged and ready to get back to “work.” Our kids were happy and content, having spent quality time with them. And it did become a weekly rhythm: spend Sunday observing the sabbath, then living with this peace and joy for the next few days and then the excitement of preparing for the next sabbath — because the tricky part is planning ahead and preparing for your day off!

By keeping the Sabbath these past few months, God has taught me what is important. I am so content and grateful for everything God has blessed me with because it IS so much!! Those feelings of “I wish we could replace our old lawn furniture or get a real dining room table or a nicer car” are really gone. Having that day off from worldly pursuits forces you to prioritize what is really important. I don’t have all Sunday to run errands, so when there is time I am only picking the most important things that need to be done. I don’t even make lists anymore. God is first and then if there is something else that has to be done I do it.

For me, one of the most important things God has shown me is His grace. I understood the concept of grace, but it is only through God’s gift of the sabbath that I feel in my heart and soul that God loves me apart from anything I do. All that I am and all that I have comes from God alone.

Finally, the Sabbath has taught me how to be close to God, feeling His presence. The best example I can think of, when you are on a relaxing vacation, sitting on the beach or watching the sunset or the stars, away from the daily grind and stress and anxieties and you are so at peace and filled with joy and aware of God’s majesty all around you. So when I start to get caught up in life’s craziness, running on the never ending tread mill, I literally take a deep breath and just stop for a moment and look up at the sky and the clouds or the trees or my children (if they are not fighting) and immediately I can see God’s awesome work all around me and I am filled with the peace of His presense.

A couple of weeks ago we read Ecclesiastes in the Daily Walk Bible and to me it was so perfect in describing what you learn through the Sabbath: “Everything is meaningless!” Your work, your money, your belongings, your doing, your being ... everything is meaningless. But the source of true living, the solution to life’s meaninglessness is our coming life “above the sun”: “Fear God and Keep His Commandments!”

I am sure some of you are thinking “How could I ever take a day off?” But I strongly encourage you to accept this gift from God. Get off the treadmill! Release your anxieties or fears about stopping life for one day because God will bless you. He’ll bless your time and bless your life more then you could ever imagine, because you will find that without God, “everything else is meaningless...”

A Day of Rest from the Shoulds and Oughts by Jeanette Krantz »

A Day of Rest from the Shoulds and Oughts

by Jeanette Krantz

This book by Seattle author, Lynne Baab, is an invitation to examine the gift of sabbath God offers his people. Lynne and her husband “stumbled into sabbath keeping” years ago while living in the Middle East, first in Iran for six months and then in Israel for a year and a half. Lynne is a wife, mother, pastor and author. She has entered the “rhythm” of sabbath keeping for 25 years and writes not only from personal experience but also includes information gleaned from interviews with over one hundred people exploring their views and personal habits of rest.
 
As a pastor’s wife with grown children I work as a nurse part time, serve on church committees, am involved with people in small groups and participate in ministry with my husband. I am pretty well set in routines, which, up until I read Sabbath Keeping, never led me to consider taking a full day each week to stop all work and rest. And for heaven’s sake what constitutes “rest”? If we don’t have a church activity or someone to visit we have no problem relaxing on Sunday afternoon. So that is kind of a half-sabbath, right?

Much of the time the ordinary business of life and ministry is enjoyable and my personality lends itself well to what I do. I like to read and there are always books and articles I believe I must read, or others think I must read, but when I picked up Baab’s Sabbath Keeping and began reading chapter one, “A Gift For Our Time,” I sensed God
issuing me a personal invitation to consider his gift of sabbath as a regular experience of rest and refreshment.

I wonder what the percentage might be of pastors and church staff regularly taking a day off, a day of rest from the should's, ought's and ‘I’ve got to’s of their personal and professional lives? Rhythm is a word which suggests a pattern and God gives us a pattern in Exodus 20:8-11, “remember the sabbath day,” “keep it holy,” work hard for six days, rest on the seventh, rest from all work, just as he did after his work of creation. Is the rhythm of sabbath-keeping possible and desirable for pastors, leaders, and those we serve in the 21st century?  If Sunday is the official sabbath how can those who work on Sunday afford to enter and enjoy a sabbath rest? Jesus says,

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Mt 11:28-29).

This is the invitation Baab has responded to and addresses in Sabbath Keeping.

In our culture and world our worth as individuals is measured by how hard we work and by our productivity. A young mother of a preschooler made a comment to Lynne after she heard her speak about sabbath keeping,

“I didn’t know I was allowed to rest,”

There is also confusion about the sabbath, what it is and how to keep it. By definition Baab speaks of the sabbath as

“a weekly day of rest and worship. A day to cease working and relax in God’s care for us. A day to stop the things that occupy our workdays and participate in activities that nurture peace, worship, relationships, celebration and thankfulness. The purpose of the sabbath is to clear away the distractions of our lives so we can rest in God and experience God’s grace in a new way.”

Though her style of writing is to suggest many options when considering our own choices of when and how to observe the sabbath, the author is definite in that it is a time to stop whatever we would label work or whatever appears on our to-do list.

Throughout the book we get fascinating glimpses into the lives of real people who enter into sabbath keeping, and we are offered the freedom to consider for our own lives what this art and discipline might look like. We receive the benefit of Lynne’s scholarship and pastoral heart as she looks at scripture and draws life applications we can relate to. In one of the last chapters, “Going it alone and other practical issues,” the author considers:

  • the sabbath for families,
  • spending the day alone or with others,
  • avoiding legalism and perfection,
  • showing mercy, and
  • sabbath moments verses sabbath days.

She says,

“…facing practical challenges and experimenting with solutions for a workable sabbath will indeed bring good things into our lives. Finding rest in Christ gives great gifts no matter what form the rest takes.”

I believe that, like the Good Shepherd, pastors and church leaders desire to lead their sheep to green pastures and still waters, places where the joy of salvation may be renewed and intimacy with the Father enjoyed. Entering those places themselves through sabbath keeping will not only model the discipline but more importantly bring a spiritual and physical fitness to their own lives protecting against cultural influences which shout from every direction that faithfulness and worth are linked solely to our work and productivity. This book enabled me to explore and begin the practice of sabbath keeping and will be a frequent reference as I look at the questions for reflection, discussion and journaling at the end of each chapter.

Lynne includes a list of references to other writers and books on the subject of sabbath keeping and has authored A Renewed Spirituality: Finding Fresh Paths at Midlife and Beating Burnout in Congregations. She is currently working on a new book and pursuing doctoral studies at the University of Washington.

A Gentle Antidote to Legalistic Lists by Susan O'Loughlin Ward »

A Gentle Antidote to Legalistic Lists

by Susan O'Loughlin Ward

 

“Days pass,
Years vanish,
And we walk sightless among miracles.”

So says a Jewish Sabbath prayer quoted by Lynne Baab in her book, Sabbath Keeping: Finding Freedom in the Rhythms of Rest (InterVarsity Press, 2005). This prayer describes our experience in the frenetic, materialistic, productivity-driven milieu which is the twenty-first century West. We miss the incredible treasures God has for us because we lack eyes to see and ears to hear.

As I read this book, the words of Jesus in Eugene Peterson’s The Message (NavPress, 2002) came to mind:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest…Learn the unforced rhythms of grace…Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11).

This is the gracious spirit in which this wonderful book is written. In a gentle antidote to legalistic lists of what we may or may not do on the Sabbath, Baab invites us to experience the gift of the Sabbath in all its freedom and creativity. She offers helpful questions about how each of us might approach establishing Sabbath traditions, described as encompassing both praying and playing. Do our activities promote rest, bring delight, and give us a sense of holiness? What might be drudgery for one person may be the very thing that meets these criteria for another.

Baab writes persuasively that we have completely lost the biblical rhythms of time. Sunset means nothing in a culture with twenty-four hour lighting, instant messaging, voice mail and e-mail which keep us tethered to our jobs regardless of the time of day or day of the week. Sabbath-keeping is a gift to us, a chance to recover the gentle rhythms that God intended.

It is also an opportunity for us to sever the tie between productivity and self-worth. Baab says, “We want to have one day a week when we act out the reality that ultimately our worth comes from being loved by God, not from what we do.” She points out that Adam and Eve were created on the sixth day, so they spent their first day on earth resting in God’s presence. Only then did they turn to tending the garden. It is a refreshing difference in perspective from our culture’s emphasis on “earning” the right to a day off by first working hard.

Lynne Baab spent years living in the Middle East (first in Iran, then in Israel), and began her journey of Sabbath-keeping in the context of two cultures in which it is naturally woven into the fabric of daily life. She invites us join her in humbly learning from these cultures.

One of the things I most appreciate about this book is the way Lynne describes the changes in her habits of Sabbath-keeping in different seasons of her life. Her Sabbath day shifted as her and her husband’s work schedules changed over the years. The practices she follows also have changed as family life moved from one with young children to teens to empty-nesters, and as her professional life shifted along the way. She talks in very practical terms about discerning what constitutes rest in different seasons and for different personality types. She also does a wonderful job balancing the solitude and rest of the Sabbath with play and community-building. All these examples give the reader freedom to explore what would create Sabbath rest for them rather than following a rote set of practices that might stifle the very openness to God that the Sabbath was given to foster.

Lynne cites other authors who have written about the topic, but her primary sources for this book were her own experiences and those of many others whom she interviewed. That approach lends the book a practical authenticity that makes it both accessible and very appealing. She covers the theological underpinnings of Sabbath-keeping well without getting bogged down. This is a book for us “every-day” Christians (all of us who try to live out our faith and hear God in a frenetic world). The guidance offered is practical. This is not one of those books that lays out three easy steps to change one’s life and become a better Christian. It is far more subtle. It invites us to enter into the mystery of God’s precious gift of the Sabbath, not analyzing, but experiencing God’s grace as we create space for Him.

Each chapter concludes with a prayer and several questions for reflection, discussion and/or journal writing. It would be a wonderful book to read alone, with a spouse or children, or in a discussion group. Its message is one we all need to ponder more deeply.

Dine on This Sumptuous Feast by Monica McDowell »

Dine on This Sumptuous Feast

by Monica McDowell

You are invited to a rich feast, a celebration of abundance, and an opportunity for rest and renewal—every week!  This is where Lynne Baab’s book on keeping the sabbath begins.  Baab, who has practiced sabbath keeping for twenty-five years, writes that this spiritual practice “more than anything else, has enabled me to experience (God’s) grace” (p. 17).  Drawing from deep wells of personal experience and insights from a diversity of sabbath enthusiasts, the author has compiled a fresh and refreshing look at this ancient biblical ritual.

Because contemporary lifestyles are inundated with multitasking, “24/7,” television on demand, and pretty much everything else on demand as well, you may very rightly be wondering how it is possible in this day and age to even consider taking a sabbath, let alone taking a sabbath every week.  Baab’s inspirational reflections on this timely topic are grace-filled and avoid the common trap of legalism that creates more burdens than it lifts.  With gentle and practical suggestions for harried young mothers, single adults, couples, the self-employed, students, clergy, and a great variety of others, she convincingly renders sabbath keeping as within the reach of everyone.  Moreover, she views God’s intentions in establishing sabbath as redemptive medicine for our culture’s stressed-out, addictive patterns.

Grounding her study in scripture, the author covers many informative and helpful subjects:  a summary of sabbath keeping throughout Christian history, how to structure a sabbath celebration, overcoming obstacles, and issues related to sabbath keeping and community. Each chapter closes with questions for reflection, discussion and journaling, and suggestions for prayer.  Although this book is written with a Christian audience in mind, Baab references multiple practices from Jewish sources past and present, including an appendix citing Jewish sabbath prayers.

I would highly recommend spiritual directors read this book for themselves and then consider using it with a directee or with a directee group.  There is much to glean throughout the book for use in personal ritual and in spiritual direction practice.  For example, quoting a Jewish sabbath prayer, “Days pass, years vanish, and we walk sightless among miracles” (p. 75), the author poses a wonderful question in light of this prayer that could easily be used in spiritual direction:  ”What will help me (or help you) see God’s miracles more easily?” (p. 84).  

Although I have kept sabbaths more or less for some time, after reading this enlightening book, I realized my view of sabbath keeping was more “fast” than “feast.”  I look forward to the many ways Baab’s wisdom and guidance will enrich my own sabbath practice.  

Set aside some time apart (perhaps a few sabbaths?!) to dine on the sumptuous feast Baab has prepared for us in this book.  Sabbath Keeping is a spiritual companion to converse and relax with that encourages us in the hope of transforming our life’s rhythms so they are balanced and liberating.  Reading this book is a sabbath experience in and of itself.

Reflections on Rest From the Neonatal Care Unit by Sarah Sanderson »

Reflections on Rest From the Neonatal Care Unit by Sarah Sanderson

My daughter Abigail was born eight weeks early and spent the first three weeks of her life in the neonatal intensive care unit.  During those weeks, while sitting among plastic-walled incubators listening to the loud alarms of babies’ heart monitors, I quieted my own heart by reading Sabbath Keeping, a new book by my former pastor Lynne Baab

The idea of weekly rest may not seem relevant to the NICU, where the rhythms of baby care correspond to an hourly schedule rather than a weekly one; but in those three weeks, as I suddenly found myself radically resting from all that had once been my life, I discovered an unexpected opportunity to reflect on what my life ought to look like in its next phase.  An eminently wise and peace-filled book, Sabbath Keeping became both a calming voice during those weeks of crisis, and a call to a new way of living in the new epoch of my life called motherhood.

No one can explain why I went into labor prematurely, as I had no obvious risk factors like infection or cocaine use, but as good an explanation as any is probably the fact that I was working too hard.  As an eighth grade English teacher, I spent six hours on my feet trying to inspire five classes full of thirteen and fourteen year olds, only to go home on evenings and weekends to keep up with the books they were reading, plan the upcoming lessons, and grade the essays they each produced weekly.  Sunday afternoons and evenings often eroded into last minute catch-up sessions, followed by six or seven hours of oft-interrupted sleep and then my alarm clock asking me to start all over again.  It’s no wonder, really, that my body decided it could no longer sustain my pregnancy through all that!

Enter the concept of rest.  Though it was scary and stressful to have a baby in the hospital, Abigail’s birth also forced me to slow down dramatically.  Suddenly, my baby was in the NICU and I had nothing to do but sit by her side.  No more papers to grade, lessons to plan, classes to teach…just a tiny bundle of baby to stare at and a calm book to focus my thoughts around. 

Baab’s full title is Sabbath Keeping: Finding Freedom in the Rhythms of Rest, and as I sat reading in the NICU I soon realized that rhythms of rest were precisely what had been lacking in my life.  For me, the consequences were nearly tragic: a baby born too soon because her mommy couldn’t slow down.  Abigail is now doing just fine, but I wonder what other consequences we suffer as a society of workaholics.  Relationships brushed aside, paths not taken, beauty unnoticed as we rush about the business of our lives.  Pop psychology and self-help books abound with tips on multitasking or taking time for ourselves, but we forget that God has anticipated our needs by ordaining the ancient practice of weekly rest.   In her book, Lynne Baab gently reminds us what a gracious, needed gift the sabbath is for our time.

I think I am not alone in my erstwhile confusion about sabbath.  I listen to Jesus rebuke the Pharisees for their legalistic sabbaths, and I think that I will be following him more closely if I do not observe the sabbath in any distinct way at all.   Baab answers my confusion by deftly walking through the Scripture passages which reveal that God’s ordained rhythm is still meant for me; not only that, it is overwhelmingly beneficial for me.   After all,

“the sabbath was made for humanity, and not humanity for the sabbath,”

and Lynne shows how obeying God enables us to use the sabbath fully to our advantage.  Keeping one day set apart each week is the best way to live peacefully in our hectic world, since it is the way prescribed for us by God Himself.  I don’t really know why I went into labor prematurely, but you can bet that the next time I am pregnant, I will pay much more attention to nurturing the rhythms of rest in my life. 

My favorite aspect of Sabbath Keeping is the inclusion of many practical ideas for how to keep sabbath today, culled from Baab’s interviews with seasoned Christians from all walks of life.  Baab organizes these ideas into things we can try to be free from on the sabbath—perhaps chores or television or shopping—and things we can finally be free to do—pray or sing or draw or sit.  Her emphasis is not on creating yet another “to do” list for Sundays, but on offering up many ideas that Christians can joyfully experiment with as we seek to dedicate one day to the rejuvenation of our bodies and souls. 

For myself, I am in the process of recreating all the rhythms of my life as I adjust to my new status as a stay-at-home mom, and it has been helpful to realize that even though none of my current work resembles my old work, I still need to find creative ways to rest.  My baby still needs to be fed and changed and bathed on sabbath days, but I can choose to set aside bill paying and grocery shopping for one day a week, and perhaps I can choose to take a long, prayerful walk on that day instead.  Baab encourages us to pick a new discipline or two and try it out for a few months of sabbath days, and I look forward to cultivating the concept of sabbath with my entire family as we grow together. 

As an English teacher I tried to show my students that the “voice” of their writing work was just as important as what they had to say, and Lynne Baab is an excellent example of an author whose style matches her message.  Reading Sabbath Keeping is a restful pastime in and of itself.  Baab’s words are measured and clear, and as she opens with the story of her own journey with the sabbath, you know she is someone you want to take time to listen to.  Hers is a book that would be as compelling in a train station or your living room as it was beside the bassinet of a four-pound, premature baby.   Whether you are at a crossroads or simply navigating the day-by-day decisions of everyday life, Lynne’s voice will gently guide you into a greater understanding of how to honor God with your rest.