24x7 Living?...

I have quite clear memories of Sundays when I was growing up. I wasn’t brought up in a committed Christian family, so church rarely had much to do with it.  It was a day for family and for visiting grandparents; it was a day sometimes for playing and watching sport. It certainly wasn’t a day for shopping, ‘cos I don’t remember any shops being open on a Sunday other than the newsagents for a few hours in the morning.

How things have changed. Now it seems, further changes may be in the offing. Some of you may know that for the period of the Olympics and up to the first week of September Sunday trading rules were relaxed. In theory that could mean shops could open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

There are now calls from some quarters for this to be made permanent. One argument being that people should be able to purchase whatever they want whenever they want it; more choice it is argued can only be a good thing.

Of course, not everyone agrees – for shops to be open people have to work longer hours, not only in retail but in all sorts of support industries too. There will clearly be less time at home.  But will people have any more money to spend all of sudden? Will shopping be increased or just more spread out?

All this remains to be seen, but what is certain is that this is another step on the road to us becoming a 24/7 society and potentially a very significant step too.  So, how should we respond to this as Christians?  Is a 24/7 culture a healthy one?

The Sabbath is a day set aside for rest and for ‘religious observance’ and I think it’s true to say that for many Christians, Sunday as a special day used to be kept far more strictly than it is today (In fact the Sabbath, as for Jews, used to be a Saturday but came to be observed on a Sunday way back in church history)

But whenever Jesus is questioned about Sabbath observance, his answers are less to do with strict observance and far more to do with trying to get people to understand what the idea of a Sabbath actually is.  ‘Is it lawful to do good or do evil on the Sabbath?’ he asks on one occasion.

The Sabbath command – to keep one day in seven as a special day; without work, a day set apart to rest, to refocus on God and what is really important in life – was given for our good – which is what is very much at the heart of God’s desire for us.  All God’s commands come with the unwritten prefix – I love you so much that….. (you shall not kill, steal, lie, you shall honour your parents, keep the Sabbath etc)

I firmly believe that the command to keep a day special for God, a day of rest still stands – and it stands because God has not changed and fundamentally neither have human beings. We still need rest. We cannot be rushing around 24/7 and live balanced and healthy lives. It’s not what we’re made for. That kind of living eventually leads to burnout, illness and the break-down of relationships.

So, given that God knows what we’re like and what we need, the key is I think for us to work out together how to keep the true spirit of the Sabbath, how to hold on to the reasons God originally gave the command in a world today where leisure and especially commerce seem to take precedence. In a world where economic forces can be so dehumanising; where people can get ‘lost.’

The Christian response has to be counter cultural. We simply cannot ‘go with the flow’ of everything in modern society and say it’s OK – because some things are not OK.  To encourage a culture which dehumanises and which treats people as something like machines is just not the way of Christ.

Instead we must affirm the importance of every single human life, the importance of rest and re-creation (note that the word recreation – actually means just this RE- Creation – a time of new beginnings and refreshment)

We affirm the Biblical command of keeping a Sabbath because it is the most human and godly thing to do. We were also made to worship, and time set apart for Christians to meet together is also vitally important.

I suspect we will need to be creative and look at new patterns of Sabbath keeping in a world which continues to change. I think it’s something Christians need to seek God about and work out together.

So, here’s the thing - Can we take that concept of Sabbath and apply it to the culture we live in – still receiving the God given physical, emotional and spiritual benefits it offers?  God’s desire is for human life to flourish. The question is will the inexorable move to a 24/7 society really enable that to happen. What do you think?

With love in Christ

Nick