When we think of the story of the woman at the well most of us picture a bucolic scene by some quiet spot among the lovely hills of Samaria. But more likely the scene at the well was busy with people coming and going because water is something that everyone needs. Often the case is made that the well was deserted at noontime and the woman was alone but it could have been a scene more like the pool of Bethesda with people crowding around on every side. Yet in that busy place Jesus chose to rest and wait for a single woman to come.
Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour. A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” John 4:6-7
In our own life our day may seem cluttered and overcrowded. There may appear to be no place to rest. Jesus reminds us that our outward circumstances need have nothing to do with our ability to pause, rest and wait. It is not only possible but desperately necessary for us to rest at a well at what may seem to be the most inopportune times. While we push forward in our activities with another cup of coffee or another shot of our favorite energy drink, Jesus is calling us to come to rest both physically and spiritually. You will need to rest and to wait by the well because someone is passing by who needs a drink of water that only He can give but only you are holding the cup.
Okay so we know Tricia didn’t write this precious old hymn but I am thankful for how she has helped to bring the classic truths in the lyrics to life. In our continual rushing we of all people on this planet need to pause for a moment on a quiet Sunday and rest in our Beloved!
Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. Exodus 31:16
Keep / Shamar – To hedge about (as with thorns) to guard; gen. to protect… Strong’s Hebrew/Aramaic Dictionary
I remember clearly my grandmother’s small front yard. There, around the edges of that bit of grass and pressing out ever so slightly into the sidewalk was a short hedge or barberry bushes. How I hated those tiny shrubs! Whenever I would brush my leg a bit too closely or if I ran my hands ever so gently over the tops, the small, almost invisible thorns would reach out and quickly grab hold of a bit of skin. Rarely could the barb be found and usually a few days needed to go by before my skin would somehow push out the invader and become whole again.
Grandmother planted those tiny guardians of the front yard to protect her grass area from becoming a shortcut for any of us as we headed around her corner on the way to the elementary school down the street. She was wise. She knew that neither signs, nor verbal warnings would do any more than stimulate childish retaliation. Her secret defense was the guard of thorns.
God has chosen to create one day out of seven in order to be a garden of rest for us, His children. The day was uniquely created as a gift. As Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man…” Mark 2:27. Before there was law and even before there was sin – there was Sabbath.
Sabbath is a gift but it is a fragile one. God has woven into the DNA of our bodies, minds and spirits, the need to delight in a Sabbath rest. This gift can be so easily trampled by the world around us, by the hustle of events and even by our own busy thoughts. Keeping Sabbath is not about pointing to rules or yelling at the neighbors to turn down their hip-hop music. Keeping Sabbath is about planting an internal hedge of thorns to slow down the buffalo stampede of our own minds, hearts and desires. On that day we are given a free choice. Just as God Himself rested on the Sabbath, so we can choose to join Him in that rest, Sabbath is a trusting pause between knowing that while there is always important work to be done, God’s will includes a rest to guard and keep as we find a rest for our soul.
If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight… Isaiah 58:13
It was more than forty years ago and we had driven through the night out of Nevada, through Lake Tahoe and then gently descended into the area surrounding Sacramento California. Of all the new sights and sounds for this New England boy, the one that lasts till today was the aroma of the acacia trees. It was a fragrance I had never known and it stays with me as the unique and beautiful signature of that moment.
Peeking out from the sometimes grayness of our daily grind God has created a day that is meant to carry the very essence of His presence. His Sabbath is given to us, not as a dour demand but as a place of delight. On the Sabbath day there is a window open through which the sweet breeze of Heaven can blow. Once that fragrance fills our soul we will forever long for the day when it will never end.
And a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus,they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” Matthew 12:10
Understanding how we can honor the Sabbath should begin by seeing how Jesus acted on the day of rest. One thing we seem to find over and over in the gospels is that He seemed to take special delight in choosing the Sabbath day for healing.
When the Pharisees were upset about seeing Jesus heal on the Sabbath He explained, ” it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” Matthew 12:12. In other words, our day of rest is not simply a ceasing of all activity. Jesus was no less active on the Sabbath than on any other day. The Sabbath rest can be a day of miraculous restoration. At the finish of creation, God’s assessment of His work was, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good…” Genesis 1:31
But today when we look out around the world, even the rosiest of the rosiest views is that not all is good any longer. In fact there is incredible pain, suffering, sin and loss. Jesus came into our dark world to give us the breath of life again. He came to the weary and heavy laden to give a new Sabbath rest for our souls. The Sabbath is there at all times and in all places as God’s special day of healing, hope and restoration. It is a day set aside not simply to get rest while we watch TV, but to switch our focus to a service that gives life and rest to others.
Jesus accomplished more as He rested by the well and slept in the boat than the disciples did while buying food or pulling hard at the oars. God has given us the Sabbath day of rest as a gift. He has given us this unique day and waits by the well to see how we will choose to use His gift in the lives of those around us. Day one the question was, “Have you received God’s gift of the Sabbath? Day two let’s ask, “To whom have we given it away?”
For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. Exodus 20:11
As I was resting today I began to thank God for having planned for us a day of rest. Rest is coded into the very DNA of God’s creation. The Sabbath was unique because on that day when He was no longer busy with creation, God set aside an entire day just to spend time with Adam and Eve. God wasn’t at all worn out or tired from His work but instead He rested by choice.
Today is to be the first in a seven part series on why God has made the Sabbath unique. I am sometimes afraid that in our modern 24/7 world that we have forgotten how to rest. We worry. We Hurry. We push and we compete, and it is so easy to forget the value of Sabbath rest. God’s day is not meant simply as a ritual observance or a duty to be carried out with gritted teeth. God’s Sabbath is in fact His gift for us. Together let’s slow down and allow the wheels of life to cease turning just long enough for us to unwrap His gift and look into God’s humble and unhurried heart.
Then Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat. Mark 6:31
Even Jesus knows when we need some time away. Having a feeling of weariness often has more to do with our own sense of a lack of control than it does with plain physical tiredness. Elisha went to the mountain while David just got alone with his harp. For me the little daily duties of the garden with its natural order help to keep my heart and mind in balance. It is that small personal space where I find refreshment in the middle of the push and pull of life. It isn’t a place I need to stay in for long but for just a quiet moment, I can say hello again to the squirrels, robins, and the neighbor’s cat who seems to like my yard better than his!