A group of parents, clergy, and community leaders met in Ridgewood, New Jersey, to discuss a pressing problem. They had all noticed and experienced in their lives that “life” was becoming too hectic and joyless. Garland Allen, the director of wellness for schools in Ridgewood, voiced the concerns of many when he said, “We’re creating a generation that’s overscheduled by parents, overtested by teachers and overtrained by coaches.”

In response to this, the group developed the first Ready, Set, Relax! Project for March 26, 2002. The concept was simple. On that day, schools were to schedule no homework. Clubs would schedule no meetings, and sports teams would cancel practice. Parents would come home from work and spend time with their families. Everyone thought the idea was great, and the first project day seemed to be appreciated by those who participated. It drew nationwide media attention, and several other towns also tried it, but after a few years, it seemed to fizzle out.

As much as we all realize that we need time out, actually taking it is difficult—we just can’t let go. In a world where we can’t let go, a command to stop can be a tremendous blessing.

Sabbath and holiness

A careful reading of the two complementary Creation reports found in Genesis 1 and 2 highlights one important fact: God deemed only the seventh day, the Sabbath, as holy. The earth, space, stars and luminaries, land, plants, sea, animals, and even human beings are never designated as “holy” (Genesis 2:3). Some cultures and religions treasure holy mountains, holy springs, or even holy trees. God declares time holy—for it is God’s blessing and His presence that transforms a regular twenty-four-hour day into a temple of time that diffuses holiness.

Holiness in the Old Testament is closely associated with God. His presence transforms something mundane into something holy. A burning bush, not consumed by the fire, becomes “holy ground” (Exodus 3:5) when God speaks out of the fire and calls Moses to lead His people from the “house of slavery” (Exodus 20:2, NASB*) into the Promised Land. People become “holy” when they are consecrated to the Lord, as in the ordination ritual of Aaron and his sons in Leviticus 8:30.

Scripture’s first reference to holiness focuses on time. This time is not empty or devoid of something; it’s full of goodness and holiness, for God is present. While the entrance of sin disrupted the direct access between God and Adam and Eve, Sabbath time spent in conversation with the Creator offered a weekly opportunity to connect, again and again, to the Holy One of Israel. God’s holiness, as preserved in the Sabbath, is not just a leftover of Creation; it fills the void created by constant activities and work and helps us anticipate a new creation.

never forget

“Remember” is a unique way to begin a command; none of the other Ten Commandments begin in this way. “Remember” presupposes that there is something to remember—a shared history. In Exodus 20:8–11, the Sabbath command, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (verse 8, NKJV), takes us straight back to Creation week and helps us remember where we come from. Sabbath reminds us that we do not belong to ourselves; we are not independent entities (see Genesis 1:26). We were created to live in community. We remember that marriage and family are key parts of our social fabric and need to be guarded and carefully nurtured.

The repetition of the Sabbath command in Deuteronomy 5:12–15 highlights other things to remember. We do remember not only that we are created but also that we are free. Sabbath is a celebration of freedom—freedom from sin, freedom from our own attempts at righteousness, freedom from our own Egypt—all the things and places that keep us in bondage. Although we are free, we are still called to remember what it’s like to be a slave. Our resting and relating to our Creator and Redeemer will drive us to look at the rest of creation with different eyes.

understanding God’s signage

The Sabbath is more than a reminder that we have been created and saved. The Bible tells us that the Sabbath “is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you” (Exodus 31:13, NKJV).

Signs give us directions. They also alert us to unexpected changes, such as the arrow warning us that a two-lane street will soon turn into a one-lane street due to construction. Street signs help us orient ourselves and find our way—especially when we have no cell phone coverage. Signs are points of reference designed to communicate important ideas or concepts.

Sabbath keeping is not an optional recreational activity. Rather, it’s a divine command by the One who made us and knows how we tick. It also functions as a sign between God and His people and helps us to think biblically about right living.

The Sabbath, rooted in Creation, is called the sign of “a perpetual covenant” (Exodus 31:16, 17). Scripture mentions three covenant signs in the Old Testament, including the rainbow in Genesis 9:12, 13, 17, the circumcision of all male children in Genesis 17:11–14, and the Sabbath in Exodus 31:13, 17 and Ezekiel 20:12, 20. Of these three, the Sabbath is the least physically tangible. We can easily see rainbows in the sky following a storm, and circumcision was a visible physical sign. But the Sabbath is a sign in time that involves a consistent human response and helps us “know” the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. Each Sabbath is like a flag that gets raised every seven days, functioning as a mnemonic device, for we tend to forget.

The biblical text tells us that the Sabbath is “a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you” (Exodus 31:13, NKJV). The “you” in the original text is a plural form and not a reference to an individual but to a larger community—God’s people. We don’t become holy by keeping the Sabbath. Rather, in keeping the Sabbath, we publicly recognize God as our Creator, our Redeemer, and our Sanctifier. Holiness is based on divine action, not on personal effort.

what God really wants

While Sabbath keeping is a key part of our faith, questions of how to practically do this are often asked. How do we keep the Sabbath holy without making a list of rules that can turn our focus on dos and don’ts and, like the Pharisees of Jesus’ time, end up missing th “Lord of the Sabbath”? We know that God does not want empty worship or pious silence. He wants to see His people engaged with the people surrounding them. True Sabbath keeping cannot be a self-centered pursuit of “holiness” by withdrawing and trying to keep from worldly contamination. Keeping the Sabbath holy must be more than attending a church service and then living as any weekday for the rest of the day.

The answer lies in understanding the Scripture precepts that help us see beyond rules to the universal, timeless principles that can be applied to all cultures and in all circumstances. These biblical principles will always reflect God—His nature and character. (See the sidebar.) When we prayerfully focus on the foundational principles, the Holy Spirit can guide us in the appropriate application to Sabbath keeping within our diverse cultures and life circumstances.

Isaiah 58 highlights authentic dedication and commitment as opposed to formal religion. Isaiah calls his readers to the real—not the artificial. The following texts highlight this crucial chapter.

“If you turn away your foot

from the Sabbath,

From doing your pleasure on

My holy day,

And call the Sabbath a delight,

The holy day of the LORD


And shall honor Him, not doing

your own ways,

Nor finding your own pleasure,

Nor speaking your own words,

Then you shall delight yourself

in the LORD;

And I will cause you to ride on

the high hills of the earth,

And feed you with the heritage

of Jacob your father” (Isaiah 58:13, 14, NKJV).

These verses mention the notion o “delight” twice. We are blessed with delight when we connect with the Lord of the Sabbath. Poetic texts link delight in the Lord with divine blessings an “the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). Isaiah contrasts human pleasure with God-centered delight. Instead of pursuing the alluring whisperings of selfishness, God invites us to experience the sheer delight of discovering His sustaining and creative grace.

15 Guiding principles for Sabbath observance

The following principles are based on God’s character and provide a foundation for Sabbath practices:

Preparing for the Sabbath day to enjoy its benefits.

Resting from work, life’s burdens, and secular concerns and distractions.

Renewing ourselves physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and socially.

Healing our minds by observing the day in such a way as to foster relief, release, liberation, and refreshment.

Celebrating the creation, or birthday, of the world and of our redemption in an atmosphere of joy and delight.

Sanctifying ourselves by keeping the Sabbath day holy—setting it apart for a special focus on God, His Word, and His agenda to nurture a relationship with Him that makes us holy.

Remembering, reflecting, and rejoicing about Creation, redemption, Christ’s second coming, and the creation of the new earth.

Worshiping God corporately with our church family.

Basking in the day by enjoying, studying, and experiencing the world that God made rather than working at maintaining it.

Responding to God’s grace in obedience to His loving command to remember Him and His Sabbath gift.

Trusting God to take care of what we leave undone during the hours of the Sabbath. Learning to depend on God rather than on ourselves.

Fellowshiping with others to nurture our relationships with family and friends.

Affirming the Sabbath by rightly representing the atmosphere of the day in a spirit of acceptance and love.

Serving other people in love and witnessing lovingly for God.

Caring for necessary physical needs on Sabbath; no creature—animal or human—should be allowed to suffer on this day.*

* These guidelines are from May-Ellen Colón, “Making Sabbath a ‘Happy’ Day,” Adventist Review, July 1, 2016, https://www.adventistreview.org/1607-35.

Gerald Klingbeil and Chantal Klingbeil are university professors, and they enjoy teaching, preaching, and writing together.

The Joy of Rest

by Gerald & Chantal Klingbeil
From the April 2024 Signs