Over the New Year period, my wife and I enjoyed a thirteen-night cruise around the south and north islands of New Zealand. Because of the distance between Sydney and New Zealand, there were two “sea days” at the beginning, and two at the end of the cruise. On each of the other days, the ship stopped at a town or city, and we disembarked and took a “shore excursion” to interesting places and activities. These days contrasted with the “sea days” because we were usually up early, herded onto a bus, and on arrival at our destination we often had to walk for quite a while. “Sea days” by contrast meant that we could sleep in, take our time having breakfast, and then take it easy for the rest of the day reading or relaxing by the pool.
Those days of doing very little or nothing reminded me of what God meant when He commanded the Israelites to observe the “Sabbath”. Sabbath is a way of life. (Heb. 4:3 & 9-11) It sets us free from bondage to our own efforts. Only in this way can we come to the power and joy of a radiant life in ministry, a blessing to all we touch. And yet Sabbath is almost totally absent from the existence of contemporary Christians and their ministers.
Dallas Willard in his book, “The Spiritual Disciplines”, says “three practices or spiritual disciplines are especially helpful in making Sabbath real during our life: Solitude, Silence, and Fasting. These are three of the central disciplines of abstinence long practiced by the followers of Jesus to help them find and keep a solid footing in the kingdom that cannot be moved – in the midst of a busy and productive life, or even a life of trial, conflict, and frustration”.
He goes on to say, “this will be scary for most of us. But we must not try to get God to ‘do something’ to fill up our time. That will only throw us back into work. The command is: ‘Do no work.’ Just make space. Attend to what is around you. Learn that you don’t have to do to be. Accept the grace of doing nothing. Stay with it until you stop jerking and squirming”.
“Solitude well practiced will break the power of busyness, haste, isolation, and loneliness. You will see that the world is not on your shoulders after all. You will find yourself and God will find you in new ways. Joy and peace will begin to bubble up within you and arrive from things and events around you. Praise and prayer will come to you and from within you. The soul anchor established in solitude will remain solid when you return to your ordinary life with others”.
These words by Dallas Willard will be especially difficult to accept by people who are more like “Martha” than “Mary”. However, I think in the busyness of our lives today, it is worth considering the benefits of “doing nothing”.