Spiritual Formation + Community

Taking Back Sunday

 The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.
So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.  –Mark 2:28

At Sojourn, we’re taking back Sunday.

We’re taking it back from a lazy, scattered approach to church. We’re taking it back from generations of abuse and neglect. We’re taking it back from the NFL.

THIS IS OUR DAY!!! We practically invented it.

Have you ever noticed the rhythm and flow of the creation narrative? On the first day, God created the heavens and the earth, and it was good. God created the sun, the moon and the stars; he created giant sequoias, humpback whales and the northern lights; and it was good. On the sixth day, he created man and then woman, and the man sang to the woman. Creation was complete; his work was done; and it was all very good. On the seventh day? God rested. He could have kept working, but he didn’t. He sat down, put his feet up and enjoyed the work of his hands. As I like to think about it, on the seventh day, God created buffalo wings and college basketball.

To be truly Godly, we can and must follow the pattern of God here. On six days, we work hard. On the seventh day, we focus on two things:

Presence with God

We slow down enough to really engage in his Presence; we become attentive to what he is speaking through his Word and through prayer; we step into our church gatherings with a holy expectation for the Holy Spirit to stir our hearts and strengthen our souls.

Presence with One Another

We set aside the demands of work to simply enjoy one another’s company; we turn off our phones and look at each other face to face; we eat good meals that others have prepared, get fresh air, and meander about–taking more time than necessary.

What is the goal of all of this? It’s to go deeper with God and one another, to live fuller, more satisfying, more centered lives in Christ together. This is the great need of our day: joyful, unhurried, devoted Christians.

The desperate need for today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people…. Perhaps somewhere in the subterranean chambers of your life, you have heard the call to deeper, fuller living. You have become weary of superficial experiences and shallow teaching. Every now and then you have caught glimpses, hints of something more than you have known. Inwardly you long to launch out into the deep.  –Richard Foster, The Celebration of Discipline

Check out our Taking Back Sunday Devotional for more on the vision and rhythms of Sabbath renewal. And then, to get as practical as possible, here are my twelve ideas for Taking Back Sunday.

Twelve Ideas

1. Work Hard on Saturday

Often, Jessie and I can’t make the most of our rest days because we haven’t made the most of our work days. If you work five days each week, set aside one more day as a work day. For us, this is Saturday, Sunday is a wonderful but exhausting day of ministry, and then Monday is our true Sabbath. (We’re taking back Monday.) So on Saturday, rake your leaves, clean up your home, change your car’s oil, pick up groceries and cook enough for the next day. Depending on your weekly work schedule, this may take an entire day, so go with it. Consider it your sixth work day, so you can take back the seventh.

2. Start on Saturday Evening

The Israelite Sabbath began on sundown Friday evening and continued through sundown Saturday evening, and there’s a lot of wisdom in this. (The early church began celebrating the Sabbath on Sunday to remember Christ’s resurrection and distinguish themselves from the Jews.) You may need to get ready for work or help your kids finish homework every Sunday, so consider making your Sabbath roughly 6pm Saturday to 6pm Sunday.

3. Enjoy a Big Meal on Saturday Evening

Consider cooking your big Saturday supper the end of your work week. Set the table, do the dishes while cooking, invite a few friends or family members over and when you sit down to the table… you’re done working. Say a prayer to thank God for the week that just ended, and for the gift of Sabbath you’re about to unwrap (and eat). I suggest red meat and potatoes, but that’s just me.

4. Light a Candle

I heard this from one of our pastors: set a candle in the middle of your house, in a high-traffic area, and light it when you’re officially beginning your day of rest. Each time you pass through the room, you see and smell the candle and remember, “Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you” (Psalm 116:7).

5. Don’t Do the Dishes

Just leave ‘em near the sink. Trust me. I went to seminary; I know what I’m talking about.

If you absolutely must, you can soak them. But on six days, do your dishes, and on the seventh, let your dishwasher rest.

When we were preaching through a long series on rest in the Summer of 2012, I came across some really interesting research. A study at the University of Arizona confirmed that humans have a natural circadian rhythm of a 25-hour day. If you put a person, or even a group of people, in a room with consistent light and no clocks for days on end, they will naturally go to sleep one hour later each day. (Biologically, this is why it’s always easier to stay up one hour later at night than to go to bed one hour earlier.) This wasn’t a new discovery; the 25-hour rhythm has been established for decades. What was new was that the study was trying to figure out how to reset the human body after participants were cramming a 25-hour daily cycle into 24 hours, when it was clearly causing fatigue. Their answer: by simply slowing down and getting a little extra sleep once every seven days, participants naturally reset their own biological clocks for the week ahead. Brilliant. A biological case for Sabbath.

In other words, the dishes can wait.

6. Be Present with One Another

Whether Saturday evening is a family meal or a time to gather with roommates or friends, truly be present with them. Consider having a basket near your front or back door, and put your phones in the basket while at home on the Sabbath. Unplug and unwind. Even if you’re having a great time, you don’t need to tweet it, pin it or gram it. Just enjoy it. (See what I did there? Clever as a mug.)

Remember that we are not autonomous individuals, but persons made for community, in the image and likeness of our God, who is the Almighty Three-in-One. In one sense, we’re not fully human unless we’re with others. Be present with one another!

7. Get At Least Eight Hours of Sleep

I’ve already hinted at this with #5, but coming back to it. Everything I’ve ever read about health emphasizes the importance of sleep, and few things are as essential for your spiritual and emotional development as proper sleep. (My pre-ministry background is biomedical research and I continue to enjoy this type of stuff.) If you have young children, I’m sorry. I truly am. You are sleep-deprived and less than human. So am I. What then shall we do? Sleep as much as you can, especially on the Sabbath, and remind yourself every moment of every day that one day they’ll be grown and gone. Older folk tell me we will miss these days like crazy. It’s too hard to tell at this point, but they’re probably right.

8. Wake Up With the King

As you wake up, brew your coffee and mosey about the house, pray continually, “Father, this day is for you, may you slow down my heart and minister to my soul.” Take a few moments (I know, even before going to church!) to read through a Psalm or short passage from the Gospels, and pray that the Holy Spirit would awaken you to be more aware of his Presence throughout the day. One of my favorite prayers is “Father, increase my capacity for your Presence.” Just like our mind is a muscle that has to be developed and strengthened to read and understand books and ideas more astutely, so the soul appears to grow with our rhythms of Bible reading and prayer–and wither with prolonged seasons of spiritual inactivity.

9. Come Early to Our Gatherings

I’m looking at you, 9am service! Or should I say, 9:03am service? Ohh snaaap!

10. Sing, sing, sing

Do you realize what we’re doing when we gather!?! We are TAKING BACK SUNDAY!!! Since the Son of God got up and walked out of his tomb, Sunday mornings have been a time to celebrate. “What are you doing here?” asked the angels. “Don’t you know tombs are for dead people?” He. Is. Not. Dead. Go tell your friends!

For almost 2000 years, Christ’s people have gathered on Sunday morning to remember his Word, sing out his praises and enjoy true fellowship together, and these gatherings go on in hundreds of nations, thousands of people groups and millions of little churches. It is not about Sojourn. It’s not about you. It’s about God bringing to completion everything he has ever promised—a new people, full of his Holy Spirit, united to Christ in his life, death and resurrection, and adopted into a new eternal family, living in the power of the Kingdom now and waiting for the King’s return! Don’t just stand there with your coffee and your hand in your hoodie pocket, young son!

11. Be Present to God

All day long, look for evidences of God’s great love for you. Look for evidences of grace among the church family. Look for clues to his work among your non-believing friends. God rests, but he doesn’t take days off and he doesn’t sleep. He is always at work, and yet always resting from his work. How!? I don’t know because I’m not God! Even after church services, enjoy the presence of others and recognize the presence of God among you. “Where two or more are gathered…” doesn’t just apply to church conflict and/or small prayer gatherings.

God is real, and he is among us. Apart from him, we are busy, inconsistent, unhappy, emotionally gassy, impatient and hyper-critical. But with God? To quote John Owen, the love of God is a love of rest, contentment and delight. Be present to God. Don’t miss the wholeness and flourishing he longs to bring you—even in the midst of sickness, sorrow and suffering.

12. Love Your Neighbors

Jesus was the most powerful, most stable, most life-giving Human Being to ever walk this earth. He loved people deeply and invited them into a deeper life with his Father. He went out of his way to help, to talk and to heal. Being joined to Christ and having life in him now, we are empowered by his Spirit to do the same! We can truly love our non-believing neighbors, co-workers, friends and family members.

Could you imagine life apart from Christ? I cringe at the thought! Yet I am so slow to talk with my next door neighbor, who I really like, about things deeper than grass seed and SEC football. I am so impatient with one of my non-Christian friends’ progress in considering the things we believe.

But we Christians have a few secret super powers. The first is the Holy Spirit: he alone convicts, changes and restores hearts for Christ; in other words, it’s not up to me to be clever enough to win these guys to my viewpoint, it’s up to me to announce the Good News of life with God through Jesus, and let the Spirit do what the Spirit does! Second, we have prayer: Spurgeon once said, “in due time, the weeping intercessor will become the rejoicing winner of souls,” and I’m so quick to forget the power of prayer. Finally, we have Sundays! Especially in a city where there is a strong sense of religiosity and moralism, we can surely use Sundays to bring some lost sheep home to the Good Shepherd! Invite a friend or neighbor to church, and be persistent (but not pushy). Jessie and I are rejected more times than we are accepted in this, but I don’t think we’ve ever had a really uncomfortable response to inviting someone we know and love to Sojourn. Often, after two or three kind invitations, people realize that we truly believe that this community is worth visiting, and they at least come out of curiosity.

At Sojourn, we’re going big on the last Sunday of every month—baptisms, simple Gospel messages, easy-to-sing songs, and quick vision sessions with our pastors for visitors (Sojourn in 10). It’s a great weekend to bring an unchurched friend, and my encouragement to you is to prayerfully consider who God has placed closest to you who would be blessed and changed by a true experience of God and rest! What could be more counter-cultural and subversive than a God who comes down to meet us as we are, and who changes and empowers us into a new and holy family who loves him and one another more than our phones, TV’s and front yards?!

Sunday is a gracious gift and a divine opportunity. We’re taking it back, y’all! 

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