There is a hamster wheel aspect of life, where we find ourselves running faster and faster and yet, accomplishing less and less. It would seem that many of us today have drank the cultural cool-aid that says more and bigger and better is what we should always be expecting. While many Christians voices would have us worried about the erosion of our society’s morals, sometimes fearing a massive demonic conspiracy, as I examine my own tendency to work until I drop, I believe most of this phenomenon is more of an inside job. Things are going wrongly in the world, not because “good people do nothing” but because they have decided to try to do a million things at once. It used to be, that as we greeted one another asking “How have you been?” the standard response once was “good,” now it seems to be “busy!” It’s almost like we pride ourselves on phrenetic energy and exhaustion, and the more we push and push against the grindstone, the less we accomplish. And what we do accomplish is measured more by tasks and deadlines than it is by meaning, purpose, or passion. And when it comes to things of eternal significance especially, many of us who are painfully honest, know we are doing some good with God, but also, begin to wonder how much more He could do with our first fruits rather than our leftovers.
And the hamster wheel never stops, bringing its slough of hoops and hurdles, pressures and deadlines. Like the author of Ecclesiastes, we may find ourselves awash in the meaninglessness of the poison we have prescribed ourselves, which many still believe is a medicine that will eventually bring us happiness. In the face of these ultra-modern problems, how is a Christ follower to live? Does God have a timely word that speaks to our condition? I believe He does, and that the solution is quite radical. It bids us “come and die” to the inner control freak pulled around by the strings of fear. God’s answer is “stop.” We are to take the yoke of Jesus upon ourselves, where we soak in his presence and experience our burdens becoming light. How do we make room in our lives for Jesus? How do we get off the hamster wheel, and rest in him?
I think the answer is sabbath, a literal weekly day of rest. I know what some of you are probably thinking, Jesus challenged the Pharisees on how they practiced the sabbath, he confronted their legalism, and their hard heartedness. And surely that is true, but there was nothing wrong with keeping the sabbath. He challenged the how, not the what. I believe he would maybe be just as confrontational had he come in our day—not of our legalism of keeping the sabbath, but the poor motives and fears we often use to talk ourselves OUT of keeping a regular sabbath. God commanded in the Old Testament a weekly day of rest, along with many feasts and fasts, cycles of celebration and remembrance. And there is something about God’s people needing to be commanded to stop, something convicting about the old way of trusting God for seven days’ providence while living within the limits of six days of work. The ordinary of old now seems quite radical! God’s plan of old, was to never let us on the hamster wheel.
To me, there is a certain romance in pursuing regular sabbath with God almost as a form of revolution. I struggle with working myself to death just like anyone else, maybe worse than some. But in wiser moments, I value the truth found sometimes in sitting on the porch with God, reading my bible, or slipping into silent prayer in the sanctuary. There will always be more to do than will ever be done, and apart from Him you and I wither. There is an ancient wisdom crying out from the Old Testament, and in that Friend’s view of stewardship and simplicity, where we may be called here or there to say a costly no, to say a holy yes. As Thomas Kelly put it, “saying no can be just as faithful as saying yes.”
We probably all know the famous story of Jesus calming the storm, where he was sleeping in the bow of the boat and the panicking disciples woke him, and Jesus rebuked the storm (Mark 4:35-41). When it comes to sabbath, I believe we are sometimes just as ruled by our fears, and just as blinded to the presence of Jesus, as they were in that boat. But he rebuked not only the storm that day, he also rebuked his disciples for their lack of faith. Obviously, the story illuminates that Jesus was the messiah, answering the question “who is this man who rebukes the wind and waves?” But perhaps one lesson we could infer is that a faithful disciple may have done something different, perhaps even just crawling into the bow with Jesus and joining him in that nap, trusting that God’s plan will not be thwarted because we stop for a moment and rest in him. Probably most of our worst fears never happen, as I get a little older I am starting to think that perhaps what we should fear a little more is that hamster wheel.