Fanning the Flames of Sabbath Holiness (Lane)
Fanning the Flames of Sabbath Holiness
by Lonnie Lane
I was asked to bring a message on Shabbat at a conference recently. This in itself was meaningful in that such an occasion as a “Fan the Flames” (of revival) conference would want to include the Sabbath. This isn’t something Christians have focused on much for the past 1900 years, let alone at conferences. As these kinds of occasions go, there was a lot of Holy Spirit excitement, powerful praise and worship, and great exuberant messages. Most of it, while being wonderful was, …well, noisy. But the Lord had told me to light the Sabbath candles and call upon Him to release His Sabbath peace upon the conference. I knew He had told me this as I prepared for my message because He downloaded the peace to me when He told me to do it. Wonderful, still, peace of God!
As it came near to my turn to speak on Friday night, I admit I wondered if I had heard the Lord correctly because what I was about to do seemed so unlike what was going on. But I knew I’d heard Him. When in doubt, be obedient to what you believe God last told you to do. So I greeted the crowd with “Shabbat Shalom” and those who knew the custom responded back with the same words to me. I told them I was about to light the Sabbath candles. Lighting Sabbath candles, I explained, isn’t Biblical, it’s traditional, but the real origin of candle lighting is that the Sabbath starts at sundown on Friday night, Hebrew days going from sundown to sundown. The reason the candles were lit then is a simple one it got dark! How’s that for deep spiritual significance?
However, the very lighting of the candles signifies that sundown has brought the entrance of the Sabbath and with it the rest of God and His shalom, His peace. While I lit the candles the crowd grew quiet and attentive as I recited the prayer:
Baruch atah Adonai elohenu, Melech ha-olam. Asher Keedishanu beed’varo natanlanu et Yeshua Mesheekhaynu, v’tseevanu l’heeote c’mohu, or la-olam.
Blessed art Thou, O Lord, our God, King of the Universe. You have sanctified us by Your word and given us Yeshua our Messiah, and commanded us to be as He is, a light to the world.
After I had blessed the Lord and, as He had instructed me, I called upon Him to release over us His Sabbath peace, to bring us into His Sabbath rest so that everyone would have a taste of what He intended when He gave us the Sabbath. A hush came over the crowd and all grew quiet. My heart smiled as that familiar sense of Sabbath peace descended on us like a dove. I can feel it again now as I write. Can you as you read this? You can stop for a moment and enjoy it (Him) if so…. I’ll wait for you.
I then proceeded to share some of the following about the Sabbath. When God created the earth and the heavens and all that is within them, He blessed them and called them good, just as He is good. Then when all was completed, God then blessed and set apart as holy the seventh day from all the other days. “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work; you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, not your cattle, not your stranger who is within your gates” (Ex 20:8-10; reiterated in Deut 5:12-15).
That’s pretty self-explanatory. It includes everybody, even the animals. No one is to do any work that day. “The stranger” would mean any Gentiles among them. The Sabbath was (and still is) meant for anyone who wishes to follow the God of Israel and since He said to keep it forever, in all your generations, that means those of you reading this today.
Every other day in Hebrew is still named for its number, just as the Bible says: the first day, the second day, etc. The only one with a name is the day of rest, the Sabbath. (Shabbat, is pronounced shah-baht in Hebrew. Note: every syllable in Hebrew written with an “a” as in “olam” above, is pronounced as an “ah” as in “not”, rather than as in “can” for those of you who might wish to say the prayer in Hebrew properly.)
Why is it to be a day of rest? God says it’s because He rested on that day. “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it” (Ex.20:11).
He didn’t rest because He was tired, but because the time of creating was complete. All that would come to be afterwards would be made from that which He originally created. There is, as they say, nothing new under the sun, including the sun. Shabbat is a reminder that God is the sovereign Lord and Creator of all things and that in Him all things exist. It is His world. “The earth is the Lord’s and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it” (Ps. 24:1). Shabbat is a day to help us put all in our complicated lives into the perspective of that reality which accounts for some of the peace. He’s in charge! Lovingly and sovereignly in charge of everything. It helps to remember that.
Later God gave to Israel the Commandments of how to live as the people of God. First He told them, “You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol…You shall not take the name of the Lord in vain…” Then He told them to “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy” (Ex. 30:3-11). Following those edicts to treat God as He deserves to be treated with honor and reverential fear, we are next told to keep the Shabbat in holiness. The order these commandments are listed indicates God’s order of importance. Before the commandments about honoring parents, about murder, stealing, adultery, or bearing false witness, we are to observe the Shabbat unto Him.
The Sabbath is so significant that it is a “sign” of Israel’s covenant relationship with God. “I also gave them My Sabbaths to be a sign between them and Me, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them” (Ezek. 20:12). This is stated numerous times: The Shabbat is a sign between God and His people that they belong to Him, just as He belongs to them, and that He has set them apart and sanctified them as His own people. He says they will “know that I am the Lord” and further, “who sanctifies them.” I am not alone in saying that we can “know” Him as “Lord” through observing the Shabbat in a special way that we may not otherwise. Others have observed this as well. A sign isn’t the reality; it points to a reality ahead if you go in that direction. The Sabbath was to Israel a sign of all He intended to fully give them: dwelling in shalom, which means wholeness, security, peace, and provision in loving relationship with Him. For us as believers, the Sabbath is additionally a “sign” of eternal rest and joy in His holy presence which we can begin to experience here and now.
When you take one day out of seven and live it out as a holy day unto Him, however you choose to do that, you begin to experience your life in God in a deeper way. There is something about honoring the Lord by observing this one day and treating it differently than any other day so as to somehow honor Him in it that gives you a deep inner assurance that you are His and He has set you apart unto Himself. Honoring the Sabbath as God has commanded, by grace, by faith (not law), sharing it with Yeshua and doing it together as if He were with you (He is!), will go a long way in your relationship with God that will become precious to you.
Now maybe you won’t get there right away. It may take a while. You may want to ease your way into it. Be assured that if you are thinking there’s something legalistic I’m putting on you, you’re misunderstanding what I’m saying. It’s not a “have-to” and it doesn’t earn you any more salvation. You’re saved by faith that the Blood of Yeshua paid for your sins and there’s nothing we can add to that. This is an added blessing, a sweet way to experience what Yeshua has already done for us, a way of being in fellowship with Him as He brings us further into His Father’s Shabbat rest.
I was living in Israel for a few months when I first learned what God meant by Sabbath rest. By sundown on Friday until Sundown on Saturday, no public transportation (which Israelis use often) is running, the stores are closed, and the country basically shut down for Shabbat. Quiet. By sundown, the house was cleaned, the bills were paid, the laundry was done, the kids are bathed, the chores were completed and the food for the day prepared so that nothing in the way of work is done on Shabbat.
People spent the day with their family, or friends come over for a meal (most walk if they live nearby or come early Friday and stay over). There were no “services” to attend on Shabbat. It’s a day of rest and enjoying each other, sitting around while eating good food. At least that’s what we did. As we were in a community of Messianic believers, friends could walk to one another’s homes for lovely times of fellowship. It was devoid of any nagging sense of: I should… I ought to… I’d better… I really need to…. I was just at rest, one I might add I’d never experienced back in the States my entire life. I wish I could convey to you how absent it was of any stress. We were free to be care-less about anything other than each other and, as believers, about God. So in Israel I learned what God meant by Sabbath rest.
Oh, but you say, “Scripture says, ‘There remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God’ (Hebrews 4:9) so that means we don’t have to keep the Sabbath as a day; we have that peace all the time. Oh really? Do you walk in the peace that I just described all the time? Let’s remember that the person who wrote those words in Hebrews (some scholars think it might be Paul, others even think it could be Priscilla. I’m going with Priscilla) was Jewish and kept the Sabbath. That wasn’t a statement that said, “Forget keeping Shabbat as a day set apart.” The statement was one of knowing what God intended when He gave us the Sabbath — a kind of rest at a level even Israel couldn’t know without Yeshua because He brings the rest with Him when we come to Him for it. And by the way, Sunday at church is NOT a day of rest. If you’re a pastor, worship leader, Sunday school teacher, usher, or church worker of any kind, you know that. Even those who attend aren’t resting. It’s even a little hectic sometimes just to get there. Once you experience a Shabbat you’ll see how Sunday is NOT a day of R-E-S-T. It may be a blessing but it is way too busy to qualify for a day of rest.
When you take off a day from getting, going, and doing, or from earning a living, God will provide for you just as He provided extra manna on the 6th day for Israel in the wilderness. I’m not sure how, but I can tell you, if you honor Him by observing the day as holy, He will see that you are not lacking. I’ve found I sometimes get more done the other six days than if I don’t take the day off. God honors those who honor Him and He will see to it that nothing is lost to you because you are not working on the Sabbath. We who do not live in Israel sometimes have to work on Saturdays, I realize. The Sabbath was ordained to be Saturday, but if you can’t observe it on Saturday, do so whenever you can. You will also find that your body will begin to relax on that day and you will be more refreshed for the rest of the week. We were physically and emotionally created for a six-day work week and one day of rest. Try it, you’ll see.
Personally, I love to take naps on Shabbat. My body seems to know it’s Shabbat and it wants to curl up on the couch and just sleep. God did say rest. I think He meant it. We need to rest. Americans especially need to rest. In a time when the world screams loudly to us as to what things are to be valued in our lives that have nothing to do with God, taking time for Shabbat may be the very thing that helps us to realize that we have taken on those values, even those of us who call Yeshua Lord. We are such a driven society today we don’t even know the meaning of the word rest. We may possibly be the busiest people the world has ever known. A “day off” is one in which we do “other” work around the house: we do the laundry, clean out the garage, mow the lawn, or we shop but do we rest? Our technology adds to our business. Laptops and cell phones make us accessible all the time to anyone but God. When we rest we don’t rest. We watch or listen or somehow our emotional space is impacted by someone else’s input. We are rarely really quiet. I mean quiet enough so that we can listen for God’s voice, to hear what He would say to us. Or even to hear our own inner thoughts to then take them to Him.
Just to give you a picture of what a Shabbat could look like, I sometimes get together with friends and we might have a time of Bible study and worship or just share our lives in God. Our house church met on Shabbat when I was part of one. Some days I just do nothing; it’s wonderful. I just “hang out” with God or the people in my house doing the same thing. But I have also helped people move on Shabbat because that’s what God had us doing that day. I’ve gone out for lunch with friends, or taken a walk on the beach. (Yes, folks. I live near the beach.) I enjoy knitting and often knit while I chat with God about things and people I don’t have time to during the week. It’s when I get to ask Him what He meant in Scripture when He said…… I listen and usually have another question. That’s what I mean about chatting with God. It’s my favorite thing in the whole world to do. I play what I’m doing on Shabbat by ear. I’m not legalistic about it at all. I kind of live it out as Isaiah said to: “If…you…call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable, and shall honor it…Then you will take delight in the Lord….” (Isaiah 58:13-14). There is a unique sabbath “delight in the Lord” available to us.
When Israel was in trouble with God, it was for violating the first few commandments: They lost their reverence for God and they turned to idols. And they violated the Shabbat. They actually were exiled because of this and they were banished to Babylon for 70 years to make up for the time they didn’t observe the Sabbath. It’s that significant to God.
At one time, America observed the Sabbath on Sunday. It was law. We called them the Blue Laws and nothing violated them. All the stores were closed and you didn’t go out to eat some where. You went to church but then you rested at home. But along with a plethora of other violations of Torah, America is now identified as a “post-Christian” nation. (Lord, have mercy!) I am now suggesting that keeping the Shabbat is an act of intercession for our country. It is a statement to God that we wish to honor Him and His Word; it’s a petition to Him to turn our country back to Him, to let Him know that our hearts are committed to follow Him His way. It will undoubtedly get God’s attention to tell Him that we long to know Him more and we are crying out for Him to save our nation and to bring us revival, a nation-saving revival.
Israel suffered greatly as a nation when they turned away from the Sabbath. That’s why the Pharisees were so hyper-vigilant about keeping the Sabbath. Their understanding of Shabbat was admittedly legalistic, but their original motive even when Israel was still in Babylon, was to get God to restore them to the Land and now that they were back in the Land, they didn’t want to lose it again because of what they believed, in their interpretation of Shabbat, to be a violation of it.
Here’s the promise when we observe God’s commandments, not the least of which is Shabbat: “You shall walk in all the ways which the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live and that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days in the land.…” (Deut 5:33).
I and a number of my friends, both Jewish and Gentile believers, have found that obeying God’s command to observe the Sabbath and keep it holy (Ex 20:8) has been a life-changer and has sensitized us to holiness. There is a cry today that is fanning the flames to ignite a move of God among us in our land. By God’s great grace, this is going to bring us into what has been lacking in the church and therefore in the nation in this generation of which we are stewards — holiness!
May we, as individuals and as a nation, “like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:15, 16). Then we shall know “the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11) in His holy presence.
Reprints of this article is permitted but must include: Reprinted by permission of Messianic Vision, www.sidroth.org, 2008.
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright ©1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.