From Pastor to Elders

Experiential Sabbath-Keeping

Alexandra Sampaio is a speech therapist in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

If a spiritual belief or practice never takes root in daily life, we have fallen far short of evangelism's goal for new believers to experience new life in Christ. The process by which we instruct new or potential believers may be as necessary for their joy in an ongoing relationship with Jesus as the facts which we teach them. For example, consider Sabbath-keeping.

It is one thing to accurately teach the perpetuity of the seventh-day Sabbath, which was presented at the end of the six-day creation and authenticated by the testimony of patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and, ultimately, Jesus Christ Himself. It is another matter entirely to ensure that believers experience the benefits of Sabbath-keeping for themselves so that they can say with the Psalmist, "Taste of the Lord and see that He is good!" I am so convinced of the need to emphasize the benefits of Sabbath-keeping that my approach centers less on proving something and more on discovering the blessings Cod has in store for those who, with open minds and hearts, approach the experience of His will.

Jesus Christ wants us to learn by doing, which allows His biblical truths to self-authenticate themselves in our experiment with and experience of obedience. "Anyone who wants to do the will of God will know if my teaching is from God or is merely my own" (John 7:17, NLT).

We should never fear the results of experimentally developing confidence in God's way. Rather, we should seek new and innovative ways to encourage others to "taste and see" for themselves. The most effective evangelists proclaim eternal truths from God's Word, coupled with opportunities (such as special Sabbath celebrations built right into the evangelistic program) for potential believers to experiment with God's will for their lives.

Sabbath-keeping is an excellent test for the value of this approach. Rather than asking people to pledge adherence to an intellectual concept, why not encourage them to experimentally discover the blessing that awaits them in testing God's promised blessings? Instead of risking that

people might reject what they have tried out for themselves, we actually build faith by providing opportunities for experimentation. "Real experience is a variety of careful experiments made with the mind freed from prejudice and uncontrolled by previously established opinions and habits" (Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 3 page 69).

In his book The Different Drum, M. Scott Peck says, "Learning can be passive or experiential. Experiential learning is more demanding but infinitely more effective. As with other things, the rules of communication and community are best learnedexperientially" (p. 84). Personally, I've discovered great benefit in teaching the principles of Sabbath-keeping from God's own fourth commandment, but I've rooted the concept in experimental and experiential discovery and in fellowship with others who seek to know and experience the best that Jesus offers. Referencing the fourth commandment, three distinct principles readily present opportunities to experience Sabbath.

1. Preparation. The biblical concept of "remembering the Sabbath" means that the entire week is spent preparing for a special encounter with our Creator. Friday, the sixth day, becomes a special anticipatory day which even bears the name "Preparation Day." Imagine! Our time, priorities, business schedules, leisure pursuits, and even mundane activities become focused on preparing to meet with God. Experimenting with preparation confirms Sabbath's necessity to prevent self-destruction from exhaustion.

2. Holiness. "Remember the sabbath to keep it holy." Scriptures closely link holiness with worship ("O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness") and corporate fellowship ("Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together"). Experimenting in fellowship with likeminded believers confirms the necessity of communion with our best Friend, Jesus, the Lord of Sabbath.

3. Rest. Six days is sufficient to accomplish our own agendas; we need the rest provided by Sabbath, this sanctuary in time. Rather than being a legalist burden, Sabbath envisions a secure rest in Jesus Christ coupled with a rest of our bodies, minds, souls, and families. Christ declared, "If you are heavily burdened, come to Me and I will give you rest." Experimentation with this rest in Jesus confirms why He said, even when envisioning future troublesome times, "Pray that your flight need not be on the Sabbath" when you could best experience My rest. 

James A. Cress, General Conference Ministerial Association Secretary