The Foundations of Godliness
We live in a mad, as well as a bad, world. The pace of life is simply frenetic, and shows few if any signs of slowing down. One danger facing the Christian in this mad, bad world is that we become swept along in the rush and never really take, and make, the time to be still before God. Consequently, the rhythm of our lives lacks any poise, far less peace. We are never off the treadmill long enough to savour the surpassing joy and blessedness of being a Christian. And yet, are we not told that ‘those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength’? (Isa. 40:31); or do we imagine that we can leave off waiting on the Lord and still maintain a vibrant, godly, Christian life? How spiritually deranged Christians can become!
In his great goodness, the Lord has anticipated our need for rest and recreation. In the fourth commandment, our kindly Lord has so structured the weekly rhythm of his creatures that we have a day in which to draw breath, re-order our wearied minds, renew our tired bodies, and engage in soul-refreshing worship. The Sabbath day is not only a day set apart for the Lord, it is a day set apart for the good of his creatures: ‘the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath’ (Mark 2:27). Today, however, many Christians give the impression they are wiser than God. Too often the blessing of the Sabbath day is neglected, and lost, because we use it to catch up on work or studies, most often left undone by poor planning in the previous days of the week. Not only do we dishonour the Lord when we misuse his day, we rob ourselves of the renewing blessings of a life that has waited on the Lord with his people (see Isa. 58:13-14).
The Sabbath day is woven into the moral framework of God’s creation (the fourth commandment simply codifies an existing creation ordinance). Our Maker, who is also our Husband, knows our needs; he never forgets that we are dust. If Adam in his innocence needed a Sabbath day, how much more do we need God’s day of rest to renew our wearied bodies and tired minds.
The Sabbath is God’s weekly, and so very gracious, provision for his people. But you are not to imagine that you have to wait a whole week before you ‘wait upon the Lord’. The example of our Lord Jesus is instructive. Luke tells us that ‘Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.’ Quiet times were basic to the rhythm of the Saviour’s life. He needed time alone with his Father. He needed to wait upon the Lord to renew his strength. His humanity was no charade, he felt the strain of constant service. Are we holier than our Saviour? If he needed to spend time often alone with his Father, do we not need to do the same? A daily quiet time is not a luxury, it is a necessity!
It is sadly fashionable in some Reformed circles to pour scorn on the quiet time, as if it were a pietistic cop-out from the rigours of serving Christ. I must confess that I am all for more piety. The more pious a man or woman is, the more they will, like their Saviour, feel the need to set time aside to draw near to God. In his presence our minds are re-ordered, our souls are refreshed, even our bodies are strengthened.
We live in a mad, bad world. Equip yourself to face it and not be overwhelmed by it, by honouring the Sabbath day, and by imitating the example of the Saviour, who ‘often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.’ He needed to, and he did. We need to and we must.
Ian Hamilton is Pastor of the Cambridge Presbyterian Church, now worshipping God on Sunday mornings in All Saints’ Church, Jesus Lane, Cambridge and in the Lutheran Church, Huntingdon Road, on Sunday evenings.
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