For years I have suffered from an addiction: the indiscriminate and persistent watching of television. If the set was on, I was glued to it. I wasted many hours of idleness and little good ever came out of it.
Years ago, when I saw two of our young children back from school, plopped on the couch with their eyes peeled to the TV (a basic set, with no frills or extra channels—I never dared get cable!), I realized they would turn out just like me unless I did something about it. After consulting with my wife, I got rid of the TV that night. The aftermath was that our children were fine with it, they became more disciplined about doing their homework after school, and our family finally had consistent evening worships together.
When I began traveling extensively, the temptation became more subtle. In just about every hotel room there was a television set that was bigger, with a myriad of channel options. Then HD TV came along. The enemy knew that was my weakness: Why invent new temptations when old ones work? The temptation still exists after all these years, like drinking for most former alcoholics.
Today TV has lost a lot of ground to much more sophisticated technologies. Wasting time on social media has become an art form, even if a tinge of guilt surfaces in the soul for watching so many YouTube clips or reading tweets each hour of the day. We rationalize that this is how it is now with an air of inevitability.
This has been my struggle. Yours may look different. You may wonder what my challenge with TV has to do with Sabbath rest? More than you may think.
One bulwark throughout all those years of TV watching was the Sabbath. Having grown up with parents who faithfully kept the seventh day holy, even in my most desperate times of lostness, I looked forward to the Sabbath. On Friday night, and for the next 24 hours, I would not turn on the TV. The Sabbath was my antidote to darkness.
And what a joyous difference that made! I had more time to read the Bible and meditate on it. Forgiveness for misusing God’s great gift of time was still available. The steady diet of secularism, fantasy, and meaninglessness caught by watching TV subsided, and it just seemed like my soul finally rested on what really mattered: a God who loved me and was interested even in wayward me.
There is a reason God told us to keep the Sabbath holy (Ex. 20:8): The Sabbath means freedom from the tyranny of self (Deut. 5:12-15). God made the Sabbath for His creation (Mark 2:27). This planet was made for us. Our bodies were designed just so for our benefit. The Sabbath was made for our sakes. We depend on it just as we depend on our hearts beating and our lungs breathing every few seconds.
The Genesis of the Sabbath
How did God come up with this idea of the Sabbath? Well, according to Genesis, on Friday, the sixth day, He finished Creation (Gen. 1:31-2:1). God’s last creations were Adam and Eve (Gen. 1:26, 27), having already made for them everything else that week. He made them in His image, capable of being spiritual beings with the full ability to choose. Logically, the first full day of their existence was spent entirely with God, getting to know their Creator.
Think about it: Adam, Eve, and God. What a wonderful way to start! I can just imagine Adam and Eve being giddy with joy visiting, communing, and learning firsthand from Jesus—their Creator (Col. 2:13-17). As sunset Saturday approached, the Son of God had one more surprise for them: What about spending this day together next week? And it’s been like that ever since: God inviting, and us rejoicing.
That’s how it began. The Sabbath was never a Jewish invention, nor was it the invention of busy postmoderns who became enlightened about the need to take one day off during the week. The Sabbath was a divine creation for a human need (Gen. 2:1-3) that was so foundational that God edged it forever as the fourth commandment (Ex. 20:8-11).
We all have a great need to commune with God, to rest in Him, to lay aside the burdens of our daily routines. The Hebrew word in the Old Testament is shabbat. It means not only to “rest” but also to “cease.” Even if we were not tired, even if all we did was useful and good from Sunday on, we must cease our routine come Friday sunset (Lev. 23:32) for a weekly and major spiritual tune-up. Keeping the Sabbath holy is the music that lifts our souls to listen to that which we cannot otherwise hear living in this world.
When my wife and I first moved to northern Asia from North America, we felt overwhelmed at the sheer numbers of people everywhere in the subways, trains, and sidewalks of such cities as Tokyo, Seoul, and Hong Kong. It highlighted for me our desperate human need for inner peace. Eye contact is avoided. Almost everyone is fixed on their smartphones. Life happens; it is not lived. And to think that a minuscule percentage of all these millions even have a concept of the loving God of the universe made my heart sad and my spirit resolute to do something about it.
The Sabbath of the Bible is part of the solution. It’s the antidote to our hectic lives. “Be still [literally, “let go, cease”], and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10) cried the psalmist. “When You said, ‘Seek My face,’” wrote another, “my heart said to You, ‘Your face, Lord, I will seek’” (Ps. 27:8).
Why do we entertain ourselves to death when true peace is available? Why do we spend all our days focused on living on our terms when we instinctively know that it will not work? Rest for you and me is available, and ceasing to strive, treating the Sabbath as the holy time it is, will make tangible that rest (Heb. 4:4-9).
Ron E. M. Clouzet serves as ministerial secretary in the Northern Asia-Pacific Division and lives in Ilsan, South Korea.