The Requirement of Blessing
Imagine if you went to work tomorrow and discovered that your boss has given you a promotion and a huge raise – your income is going to triple. Talk about a blessing!
Here’s the thing. The blessing of the promotion and increased income is nice, but will require discipline on your part. In order for that new money to reach it’s full potential you will have to tell it where to go using a budget! And, if you are like most people, that will require a change. If you don’t change, you’ll likely wish you never got the promotion and raise because you’ll end up with nothing more than additional responsibilities at work and stories of squandered money.
Every blessing requires reform or the blessing will become a curse.
Think about it. When good things happen, we have to manage that blessing well or that very thing will drag us down. Blessing must be followed by discipline.
The blessing for God’s people in Nehemiah was this brand new wall that was built with lots of work.
Work. To some that word defines your life. To others, you do what you can to avoid it. Either way, most people spend 8-10 hours a day doing it. Sometimes work is misunderstood as a necessary that is the result of the Fall. This is not the case!
Adam is called to tend and care for the garden before he and Eve fall into sin.
Work is not a result of the Fall, frustrated and toiled work is a result of the Fall.
This means that on a foundational level, work is good thing.
Work is ordering creation to produce something.
Work is providing a service or producing a product that helps meet a need.
Work is using our skills and efforts to benefit others.
In fact, the Bible begins in a Garden and ends in a City. So even if you take sin out of the story there is still movement, ordering of creation, manufacturing, building, work with material. Work is a good thing!
The problem is that work can become an idol.
-Work can lead us to believe we are self-sufficient and don’t need God (“Look what we did! We built this wall.”)
-We can wrap up our sense of worth in our work (“I’m valuable because I built this wall.”)
-We can define our identity according to our work (“I’m a wall-builder.”)
In all these cases, the gift of valuable work has become an idol.
After the blessing of a job well done on the wall, Nehemiah knows he must put work in proper balance, thus he ensures the community is observing and honoring the Sabbath.
The Purpose of Sabbath
Nehemiah sees that some are bringing material into the city on the Sabbath and there is buying and selling going on and so he puts a stop to it. To understand how this appliess to our life we have two options.
Option One: Come up with a bunch of rules that prevent you from buying or selling stuff on Sunday and raise Chick-Fil-A up as the model Christian organization.
Option Two: Understand the purpose of Sabbath.
Jesus helps us understand the real heart of Sabbath when he says in Mark 2:27, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Jesus says this after working on the Sabbath and being called out by the Pharisees. The point is that Sabbath is a gift to man, it is not something for man to control with rules.
But, the rules that Nehemiah was enforcing in the Old Testament do serve a purpose. They point us to the purpose of Sabbath that Jesus reveals in the New Testament. The purpose of Sabbath is to keep work in proper balance in our lives. Sabbath is not defined by church attendance. (You have not lived out the fullness of Sabbath by going to church on Sunday. It’s a good start, but sabbath practice does not begin and end with church attendance.) Sabbath is not defined by rule-keeping.
Sabbath is about filling up with joy and delight from God.
Stepping away from work, delighting in Christ and other relationships and activities reminds us that we are not defined by what we do, we are not valuable based on what we produce and we are dependent upon God and relationship with others.
Sabbath is not primarily an emptying exercise, it’s a filling one! We empty ourselves of work and fill ourselves with delight.
In order to practice sabbath in our lives we must realize that every “yes” is also a “no.”
If you say “yes” to one thing you are saying “no” to another thing. If you say “no” to that thing, you are saying “yes” to that other thing. In financial terms this is called “opportunity cost.” Given the choice between multiple things, if I choose to buy one thing I can’t experience the benefit of the other thing because I didn’t buy it (money, after all, is a limited resource for many of us).
The same is true with how we spend our time. In 2016, discern if it is time to say “No” to some things so that you can say “Yes” to sabbath. There is a good chance there are some bad things that you just need to start saying no to. It might also be the case that it is time to stop doing that good thing so that you can start doing that best thing. Just make sure you don’t have so many “yeses” that you say “no” to sabbath.
For further exploration of work and sabbath, click on the resources below from Emmaus Road Church, a church in Fort Collins, CO.