Almost immediately after I started dating Jammie, the amazing woman I am now married to, we faced a hurdle that threatened to derail our relationship: distance—430 miles to be exact. I had just accepted a new job, which meant that I would live an agonizing eight-hour drive (without traffic) from where Jammie was living.
As soon as I relocated to my new town I felt really lonely—I missed Jammie terribly. As much as we talked on the phone, it quickly became clear that nothing could replace an actual in-person meet up. So after barely a week of being apart, I spent a weekend driving the 860 miles so that I could see her again. This first visit was followed by a flurry of others as Jammie and I took turns making the journey.
The trips were both expensive and time-consuming. They forced us to rearrange our lives around the priority of our relationship. I remember returning home after weekends of driving and feeling exhausted before the workweek had even begun. Investing in our relationship was a challenge! But it is clear to both of us now that had we not sacrificed for the relationship in those early days, we would not be married today, more than a decade later.
Relationships require time and attention—they have to be nurtured. You can’t put them on autopilot or take them for granted. Without intentional investment and sacrifice, ties fizzle and die.
As important as this principle is in developing human relationships, the need for genuine focus becomes so much more critical when it comes to prioritizing a spiritual relationship with God. If we’re going to enjoy the peace, renewal, and spiritual strength that comes from a thriving relationship with God, we have to find ways to prioritize it.
Meet and repeat
The good news is that we have been given the perfect way to ensure that our connection with God is the number one priority in our lives. This opportunity comes in the form of a weekly 24-hour period. It comes at the same time each week, rain or shine, 52 weeks a year. It’s basically a weekly date with God. This day that’s totally set apart and infinitely more special than any other day is the seventh day of the week, the Sabbath. In order to ensure the best conditions for this special day with God, the Bible has provided some excellent principles to keep it distraction-free.
For starters, God calls on us to take a complete break from the daily grind. He specifically calls us to set aside our work, our jobs by which earn our living (Exodus 20:9, 10). The fact that God invites us to rest on the Sabbath shows how well He knows us. He knows that if we are going to live up to our full potential as human beings, we need rest and rejuvenation (Mark 6:31). He knows that rested minds and bodies must be kept in the best of health if we are to have an optimal connection with Him.
God leads by example. Speaking about how the world was created, Genesis 2:3 tells us that God “blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” We should take our cue from the Creator of the universe and embrace this oasis in time.
In a similar vein, the Sabbath is an invitation to set aside the little things that crowd our days and keep us from focusing on our relationship with God (Isaiah 58:13, 14). The great news is that this gives us full license to put on hold the insane multitasking that defines so much of modern life without feeling guilty about it. Yes, that means paying bills, rushing around the supermarket, taking the kids to tennis, and binge-watching that new Netflix show. All this can wait. You’ve done a lot during the week; it’s time to rest. It’s important to give yourself some mental and spiritual space.
How should you use the time that’s freed up on Sabbath? There are no New Testament stories featuring Jesus twiddling His thumbs on the Sabbath. Idleness is certainly not the answer. The Bible shows that Jesus worshiped God with others on the Sabbath (Luke 4:16). We would do well to follow suit. There’s a genius in worshiping together; it’s one of the best ways to strengthen yourself spiritually as you meet like-minded people who can support your spiritual walk. The Sabbath is about reconnecting with God as well as with your spiritual family and loved ones who help you grow and develop.
Jesus said that “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:12). He made a point of healing people on the Sabbath. We have all experienced the tremendous boost that acts of kindness bring to both the receiver and the giver. The Sabbath is a perfect time to get practical about faith and to truly live what you believe. Why not visit a friend who’s in dire need of some cheering up—and bring some chocolate for a special Sabbath blessing?
For the task-driven personalities among us, it may be particularly tough to embrace what the Sabbath has to offer. It can actually be scary to put aside work and focus on God and our long-term well-being rather than all those urgent to-do items. But even in this situation, the Sabbath is beneficial, for it can teach us to trust that God has things in control.
Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30). We need to have the courage to give God those burdens and accept rest for our entire being, trusting that the world won’t fall apart just because we’re taking a break.
Today I look back on my early days with Jammie and smile. I’m grateful that we took the opportunity to be together, even though it meant giving up time for other things and spending a small fortune on gas. There simply is no human relationship that I value more, so the investment of resources was absolutely worth it.
In much the same way, setting aside the time to spend with God on the Sabbath is deeply rewarding because my relationship with Him grows stronger. The physical and mental rest that I receive is worth everything else I have to give up in order to devote one full day every week for my relationship with Him.
Bjorn Karlman is a Seventh-day Adventist freelance writer who travels the world as a “digital nomad,” living in two or three countries per year with his wife and toddler.