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The habit of sabbath: Saying no to growth, growth, growth

Holy Habits founder Andrew Roberts reflects on the wisdom of practising sabbath.


When I wrote the original Holy Habits book I included ten habits. Why ten? Because these were the habits or practices I noticed in Luke’s portrait of the early Christian community in Acts 2. They were never meant to be a bounded set or an exclusive list. When it comes to spiritual disciplines or holy habits, there are many more that form part of a wholesome life of discipleship.


One such habit, that is enshrined in the ten commandments, is the practice of sabbath. The esteemed Old Testament professor Walter Brueggemann has written a superb book about the practice entitled Sabbath As Resistance. At just 89 pages, it is both deeply scholarly and easily readable. The book also has a six-session study that would be great for home groups. The six sessions explore:

  1. Sabbath and the first commandment

  2. Sabbath as resistance to anxiety

  3. Sabbath as resistance to coercion

  4. Sabbath as resistance to exclusivism

  5. Sabbath as resistance to multitasking

  6. Sabbath and the tenth commandment

Brueggemann advocates the rediscovery of the practice of sabbath, both for personal well-being and as an antidote to the relentless pursuit of more, more, more that is ruinous for both human life and the well-being of the whole created order. He sets in stark contrast the lifegiving principles of honouring God, resting and creativity enshrined in the principles of sabbath with the driven and destructive practices of the Egyptian pharaohs. Pharaohs could easily find their modern-day counterparts in those who advocate destructive policies and practices of growth, growth, growth. Policies and practices which make an idol of financial wealth, are ruinous to well-being and are ultimately both unfulfilling and unattainable. His biblical critique of these things is sharp, timely and welcome.


If you are a bit anxious that Bruggemann might be championing some sort of pietistic legalistic return to Victorian images of bored children playing with Noah’s ark models whilst prim parents read or embroider, don’t be. He is not a legalist or killjoy. Rather, he is concerned, as was Jesus, to see life flourishing in all its fullness (John 10:10).


Some years ago, I was on a train and, like many others, I was working on my laptop. At the time I had a very busy job and was also studying for an MA. Life was full on and every moment seemed to be crammed. Briefly, I looked up from the laptop and looked out of the window. There on a dank misty autumnal day were two people walking across the fields at a leisurely pace. A sabbath picture and such a contrast to the battery hen-like tapping of many keyboards going on all around me. I resolved that day to make more time for such moments.


If it’s not too late to make resolutions for 2023 perhaps the rediscovery of the principles of sabbath would be both timely and healing for yourself and the world of which we are part. And resolving to read Walter Bruggemann’s outstanding book would be a good one too.


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