Keeping the Lord's Day for Profit
One of the great mistakes Christians make with regards to the Christian Sabbath is viewing it as a prison or hindrance. In fact, God has given it to us to bless us. In Isaiah 58:14, God promises three things in connection with the faithful observance of His day: increased delight in Him, spiritual victory, and great delight in what we have in Christ Jesus.
The Puritans viewed the Lord’s Day as the market day for the soul – a day for special dealings with God. God allows us to set aside our regular responsibilities in order to devote ourselves to the pleasures of His day. Therefore, the purpose of the fourth commandment is to free us for the purposes of the day. We are to refrain from our work, recreations, and unnecessary conversation about those things so as to devote ourselves to God’s pleasures. The Westminster Confession summarizes the practices:
This Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest, all the day, from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employment and recreations, but also are taken up, the whole time, in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in duties of necessity and mercy.The Westminster Confession 21.8
The chief work of the day and its bookends are the morning and evening public worship service. God gives us a whole day so that we may prepare, worship, and reflect. Public worship is God’s chief means of grace and the time of greatest communion with Him.
What do we do, however, with the remainder of the day? We have about sixteen hours of time on Sundays. On an average, we will spend about six hours in getting ready for public worship, traveling to and from, and attending worship and Sunday School. After meals, including preparation and clean-up, we still have six or seven hours. How do we use this time?
We should begin the day like each day in private Bible reading, meditation, and prayer. After each service, either in the car driving home or during the meal, review the sermon. After the noon meal, take advantage of the more relaxed schedule to have extended family worship. During the remainder of the afternoon and evening after the service, take advantage of catching up on Bible reading and prayer as well as reading good Christian books. If you teach a Bible or Sunday School class, take some time to work on your lesson. Occasionally visit a shut-in or in the nursing home. If you are an elder and you have difficulty making an elder’s visit during the week, perhaps you can make it on Sunday afternoon. It is also a good time to have others over for fellowship or ministry.
We also are to make the day a delight for our children. Too often, we have not made the day a pleasure for them. We begin by teaching them about the purpose and blessings of the day. Too often we do them a disservice by forbidding them to do things they do the other six days but providing little or nothing in place of these activities. When they are young, in addition to teaching them the Bible and catechism, we should read to them; it is also good for older children to read to the younger (it is always profitable for the entire family to read together).
We also must give them opportunities to burn off some energy; going for walks and talking about Christian experience and God’s work in our lives, taking them to visit in nursing homes, or letting them reflect on a Bible story are all opportunities to do so.
One problem I see today is parents who have good convictions about keeping the Lord’s Day but do not really structure the day for their children. Although they do not play in the neighborhood or participate in organized sports on the Sabbath, they allow them to go outside to play. In the final analysis, the day apart from public worship is not that different from the other six. We need to be more diligent in helping them to keep the day.
A final thought is that the Lord’s Day is not to become a burden. Many of us will need a nap. We are not to spend the day in idleness, but napping can be an act of necessity and mercy.
May God bless you as you seek to keep His day holy.