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Silence and Sabbath: 2 Spiritual Practices We’ve Missed?

Written by Bob Martin on

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Two weeks ago, I looked at my wife and asked her what she thought we were learning as a couple. She said, “That we shouldn’t just try to follow the teachings of Jesus, but also follow the lifestyle of Jesus.”

She said this because God has led us on a journey this year of discovering some of the spiritual practices of Jesus.

What Was Jesus Like?

When asked to describe Jesus in one word, the philosopher and spiritual life author Dallas Willard said: “Relaxed.”

When we see Jesus, we don’t see someone in a rush. And yet most of us who say we follow him are constantly hurried: if not in our pace, or our speech, in our mind and heart.

What kept Jesus centered on the unhurried and deeply intentional pace of life he achieved while walking on the earth? I’m convinced it was because he knew the Father, knew the Father’s will, and constantly knew that was what he needed to do: nothing more, nothing less.

So, how did he come to know the Father so well? How did he know the Father’s will? Surely it was simply because he too was God. Well… no. I actually don’t think so. I think that was part of the equation. But when we look at the life of Jesus, we actually see him display his humanness in a way that we too can replicate.

Two Practices of Jesus: Silence & Sabbath

This is where we get the idea of spiritual disciplines—or the practices of Jesus—that his people have practiced over these two thousand years to become more like him.

And today, I want to talk about two of them: two of the specific areas where God is working to change my and my wife’s lifestyles to look more like Jesus’ lifestyle, and areas that you might be missing from your life—or those in your group might be missing from ours: silence and sabbath.

I owe a lot of my thinking on these subjects to pastor and author John Mark Comer from Portland, who’s written a very helpful book called The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry along with a number of helpful podcast episodes he’s done on the topic, as well as some other authors—like Pete Scazzero’s The Emotionally Healthy Leader.

1. Silence

Let’s start with silence.

It’s hard to know exactly what Jesus did in his time alone with the Father—but he certainly spent a lot of it. Here’s a verse on something that appears to be Jesus’ pretty regular practice:

And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. (Mark 1:35)

Solitude and silence almost always go together. We enter into space alone and we quiet ourselves before the Lord in that place.

We actually practice the posture that Psalm 62 tells us to:

For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from him comes my salvation.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.

5 For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
for my hope is from him.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my salvation and my glory;
my mighty rock, my refuge is God.

Seminary Professor Donald Whitney writes in his book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life:

“The discipline of silence is the voluntary and temporary abstention from speaking so that certain spiritual goals might be sought” (Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, 224).

What’s your goal with silence?

  • A prepared heart
  • An open mind
  • A malleable will
  • Awareness of sins to confess
  • Growing an inclination to serve

Bringing My Real Self before the Real God

A can’t remember who said this (perhaps John Ortberg), but I am believing more and more that the main goal of our spiritual lives is to “bring our real self before the real God.”

And silence is a big way that God is helping me do that!

  • For many of us, we recognize that we need to see God for the “real God” that he is. We want to be biblically saturated so that we can understand him in his many attributes and give him worthy worship.
  • But we struggle with knowing who our “real self” is—and being honest with where we’re at and who we are before God.

Silence helps with that.

I Found Something on a Table at a Nearby Church

Just a few weeks ago during my paternity leave for my new daughter, I got to visit Soma Church in Broad Ripple. I noticed something outside their sanctuary doors: a beautiful printed pamphlet for their “rule of life” that they encourage their church members to participate in.

  • By the way: When we talk about a “rule of life”—don’t think “rules for life.” Think like a “ruler” or a guide—better yet a “trellis”: rhythms that Christians have used throughout history to order their ongoing spiritual practices.

I’ve used the Book of Common Prayer in the past—but I really appreciated a page in this pamphlet.

4 Practices in your Devotion Time

It broke down our daily rhythm with God into four sequential activities:

And I’ve begun to order my quiet time in this way.

Particularly, the encouragement to start this quiet time with 2 minutes of silence before anything else.  This has recently been the most important part of my quiet time: because it allows me to be more deeply honest before the Lord:

  • “How does my body feel?
  • Are there anxieties in my mind?
  • Am I tired?
  • Do I want to be here… learning about God and praying to him?
  • What do I feel burdened to pray for?
  • God is near.
  • He’s ready to receive me and lead me.

Two minutes allows me to sit, breathe, and simply present myself before God.

Then I can begin to actually offer him my self-assessment: “What am I anxious about? What have been my recent joys? And what can I confess?”

There are certainly times for more extended silence. And I could tell you a couple of stories about how God has used that in my life too. But let’s actually practice some silence right now:

EXERCISE: 1 Minute of Silence

Try to be silent for 1 minute. Just present your real self before our real God. He knows you, he loves you, he is here. Just bring yourself: by taking a couple deep breaths and settling in.

How was Your 1 Minute of Silence?

There we go.

I hope that was helpful. I think this hints at what we can experience when Paul tells us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17).

And my guess is that God did something slightly different in each one of us during that one minute:

  • For some, it was just battling to push out distractions
  • For some, it was a reminder of where we’re displeasing God somehow in our lives
  • For some, there was a gentle reminder of a truth or of God’s felt presence near you

Again—This isn’t Buddhist meditation with the sole goal of emptying the mind and the desires. It is soul quietness to lead us into relationship and transformation. For example, you don’t rush into conversation on date night, and we don’t need to rush into reading and prayer every morning.

What’s Your Takeaway?: Silence

What is one takeaway for you as in regard to practicing silence?

  • Do you want to try out two min of silence before your devotions this week?
  • Do you want to invite your group to try this out too?
  • Do you want to go spend some more extended time in silence this month somewhere?

Invite your group to insert silence into their lives. Then discuss how that is helpful (or not) and why.

2. Sabbath

When I say “sabbath,” what do you think of?

  • Sunday?
  • No sports?
  • Jewish food?

Instead—I think biblical Sabbath should bring to mind these four themes:

  1. STOP
  2. REST
  3. DELIGHT
  4. WORSHIP

Does that feel different?

And—by the way—we oftentimes experience them in that order:

We’ve got to stop so that we can rest, in order to gain energy to delight and worship.

1. STOP

Let’s start with “stop.”

Listen to this story from New York City pastor and author Pete Scazzero in The Emotionally Healthy Leader:

Scazzero called up a friend of his named Bob who was a psychologist with 35 years of experience counseling troubled leaders. He said, “Bob, … I don’t understand… Pastors and leaders agree with me every time I speak to them about slowing down for God, about Sabbath, about our need to sit at the feed of Jesus. … But very few of them actually do anything about it.”

Bob laughed, “Oh, Pete,” he said, “They can’t stop. Christian leaders aren’t any different than the international lawyers [and] CEOs … I see in my office every day.” Then Bob dropped the bombshell [SLIDE]: “They can’t stop. If they stop, they’ll die. They’re terrified. They’re frightened to death of what they’ll see inside themselves if they slow down. … Do you have any idea how foreign this is for any leader—Christian or not? Something so much deeper is driving them; they just have no idea what it is.” (The Emotionally Healthy Leader, 143-144)

Some of us feel exactly this way: “I can’t stop. I’m frightened to death of what I’ll see inside myself if I slow down.”

Sabbath Helps Us Stop

Sabbath is one way we force ourselves to stop. To stop and reckon with ourselves. To stop and reckon with our relationships. To stop and reckon with God.

We embrace our limits.

Even though Sabbath is simply a 24-hour block of time to stop work, enjoy rest, practice delight, and worship God–it is also about as cross-cultural to our own hyperdrive culture and own hurried lifestyles as is thinkable!

We don’t work hard for six months, then crash into an expensive vacation. No, we work for six days, then we stop for one.

Then we do that again, week-after-week. It’s the rhythm of creation.

In fact: That’s my argument for sabbath.

The Looming Question: Is the Sabbath still binding?”

I realize there is a looming question here about “Is the Sabbath still binding?”

And I think there are good arguments on both sides. But I actually think the question is largely moot.

Because even if Sabbath isn’t binding: we should still want to practice it!

Not just because Jesus practiced Sabbath (Luke 4:16); not just because it’s still part of the 10 Commandments (the longest, in fact: Exod 20:8-11); but because it is built into the grain of the universe at Creation.

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. (Gen 2:1-3)

What Does Stopping Look Like?

So, what does “stopping” look like?

For me and my wife, it means:

  • She puts away her phone for the day
  • I don’t do church work, email, or side ministry work
  • We don’t run errands
  • We don’t do house projects

This isn’t easy for two pretty driven perfectionist parents. But it’s changing us.

If God stopped to look around at what he’d made, then we should too. We need it.

As one theologian put it, “People who keep the Sabbath live all seven days differently” (Walter Brueggeman, Sabbath as Resistance, 107).

EXERCISE: Discuss How to “Stop” on Sabbath

What day feels like the best day for you to Sabbath? Why? Or does this feel impossible to do right now? Why?

When would you want to have your Sabbath?

2. REST

In the Ten Commandments, God tells his people,

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter… For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8–11)

Sabbath isn’t my “day off” where I stockpile all my errands abd house projects to tackle (and I’m really good at doing that). No—I rest.

What Is Rest?

Rest is simply not doing paid or unpaid work and doing activities that restore and replenish us.

Sabbath rest isn’t the same as “entertainment,” which can often leave us sluggish and more lethargic.

Instead, different things can feel restful for us, and reinvigorate us:

  • A nap
  • Reading poetry
  • A picnic outside
  • A storybook with the kids on the couch
  • Being with “easy” family or friends

There’s plenty of room to explore here, and you should! We still are! And so are people who’ve been practicing this for over ten years.

But just a quick note: rest is probably going to require some planning! For example, if we don’t do laundry on sabbath—we’ve gotta do it on another day!

EXERCISE: Discuss How to “Rest” on Sabbath

What are some of the things that would help you rest on Sabbath?

3. DELIGHT

We know what God “did” when he finished creating—he stopped, and he rested.

But what did he “see” when he finished creating? Do you remember?

“And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.“ (Genesis 1:31)

He delighted in what he created! It is “very good”!

In Pete Scazzero’s The Emotionally Healthy Leader, he titles his chapter on Sabbath “Practice Sabbath Delight.” And in it he says:

“As part of the Sabbath, God invites us to join in the celebration, to enjoy and delight in his creation and all the gifts he offers us in it. These innumerable gifts come to us in many forms, including people, places, and things.

As part of preparing to practice the Sabbath, one of the most important questions to consider is, ‘What gives me joy and delight?’ This will differ for each of us, but part of the Sabbath invitation is to enjoy and delight in creation and her gifts. Geri and I both delight in the beauty and grandeur of nature—the ocean, lakes, beaches, mountains, and star-filled skies. Geri is a ‘foodie,’ so tasting, smelling, and savoring the gift of food is a high priority for us. I delight in libraries and bookstores. Geri loves cooking a fresh meal. Through any and every means possible, on Sabbath we seek to feast on the miracle of life with our senses.” (p.147-8)

EXERCISE: Discuss How to “Delight” on Sabbath

What gives you joy and delight?

(If applicable: ) What gives joy and delight to your spouse?

Your kids?

What would you like to enjoy on Sabbath?

4. WORSHIP

What makes the Sabbath different, according to the Ten Commandments is that “the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Exod. 20:11).

This doesn’t mean you have to do a 24-hour Bible study that day! But I think it should mean that you are entering into God’s presence—that you’re not just remembering his gifts, but remembering the Giver.

On Sabbath: we can worship through:

  • CONTEMPLATION: Like meditating on a verse we’ve been memorizing. Or talking about it with our spouse or friend on a walk.
  • THANKSGIVING: Answering “What’s God been doing this week?” And thanking him.
  • SURRENDER: Pinpointing the places in my heart or life to give more fully over to God’s control.

Let God slowly teach you! Pete Scazzero shares two examples of “crucially important truths” that God has taught him through Sabbaths:

1. God is not in a rush: “He often moves more slowly than the timetable I have for my goals. In fact, I often discover he has different goals!”

2. God’s primary work for me as a leader is to trust in Jesus: “On Sabbath, I trust only in Jesus and receive his love. I am reminded that Jesus… runs the world better than I do. He really is in charge. I am not in control of things” (p.164).

Scazzero offers one final reflection that I have to share in regard to worship:

“Most of us are good at speaking. We are not equally good at listening. When we practice Sabbath, we become better listeners, finding that God is speaking to us, and we have been too busy to hear” (p.165).

EXERCISE: Discuss How to “Worship” on Sabbath

What’s one way you could show God worship (through contemplation, thanksgiving, or surrender) on your Sabbath?

Conclusion: What Will You Try with Silence and Sabbath?

We’ve uncovered how we can think about silence and sabbath and how we can start these spiritual practices. What’s one step that you want to try as a result of your discovery of silence and sabbath?

Write it down so that you can try it this month with yourself or with your group!

FURTHER RESOURCES:

HandoutDaily Rhythm chart + Sabbath Do/Don’t Do List

John Mark Comer – Comer explores silence, Sabbath, and related practices in detail, with winsome and well-researched insight.

Peter ScazzerroThe Emotionally Healthy Leader book: Rooting healthy leadership in spiritual practices, Scazzero challenges our current priorities in leadership and pushes us to lead from the inside-out. Highly recommended read for Christian leaders.

Binmin – The Binmin Podcast ep.44 “Silence & Solitude”(Spotify, YouTube): A 13-minute introduction to the intertwined disciplines of silence and solitude from the podcast hosted by Bob Martin and his father and brother.

Donald WhitneySpiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life book (link): An admirable overview of spiritual disciplines.

Henri NouwenThe Way of the Heart book (link): While Nouwen is a Catholic theologian, he has some very helpful and moving reflections on how the desert fathers and mothers saw and practiced silence, solitude and prayer.

Soma Church – Fall rule of life handbook resource (link) : Simple introduction to a rule of life that includes silence and Sabbath from a  local sister church.

Bob Martin

Bob first joined staff at College Park as a Pastoral Resident in 2011 and has served in several important roles since that time. In 2024, Bob became the Pastor of Membership & Connection. Bob is passionate about seeing men and women enter into community with others to find hope together. He enjoys spending time with his wife, family, and friends.

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