Spiritual practices are inward and outward expressions of faith, rooted in Scripture and tradition, that draw us closer to God. They are disciplines; practices that require work and repetition, that we grow more comfortable with and better at the more we do them. And they are a critical part of the Christian life, helping us to mature in godliness.
1 Timothy 4:7b-10 (ESV) tells us this:
“Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.”
But spiritual disciplines aren’t just for grown-ups! Kids can develop their spiritual muscles as well, practicing these helpful exercises alongside their parents or on their own. Childhood provides ample opportunities to develop other lifelong habits (like exercise, eating well, table manners, chores, etc.), and many of the same concepts parents use to encourage their kids to develop those habits can be applied to teaching them spiritual practices!
Over the next few weeks, we’ll learn about 5 spiritual practices that you can help your kids cultivate. Today, we’ll discuss the practice of sabbath, where it comes from in Scripture, and ways to incorporate it into your family’s routine.
The Spiritual Practice of Sabbath
What is the Sabbath?
Within Christian and Jewish tradition, the Sabbath is a day set aside for God’s people as a day to rest. God instituted the sabbath during the creation story in Genesis: having completed the creation of the world and everything in it, God rested.
Genesis 2:2–3 NIV
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
When God gave Moses the law in the books of Exodus and Leviticus, He called out the sabbath as a crucial part of the life of God’s people:
Exodus 16:23 NIV
He said to them, “This is what the Lord commanded: ‘Tomorrow is to be a day of Sabbath rest, a holy sabbath to the Lord. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.'”
When giving the 10 Commandments, this is what God said:
Exodus 20:8–11 NIV
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 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.
We practice the Sabbath because God tells us to, first. He wired our bodies for rest, and He desires to spend time with us. The goal of a Sabbath is to experience both of those things: rest and communion with God.
Put it into practice: Read with your kids the story of creation, either in a full-text Bible or story Bible. Then talk about why God would create the idea of rest. Why is rest important?
How to Practice the Sabbath with Kids
Does the idea of pausing for a weekly day of rest seem absolutely impossible? Especially with kids?
It certainly isn’t the most natural thing in the world, and like practicing anything (sports, cooking, playing an instrument), it requires discipline. That might seem counter-intuitive—practicing rest—but it is the only way to make it part of your life in a meaningful way. It will be hard, messy, and uncomfortable. We live in a society hard-wired to produce and perfect, but there’s often nothing to “show” for a day of rest, a day spent communing with God.
Maybe a whole day isn’t irealistic right now, but perhaps you can set aside an evening or an afternoon each week to serve as a pause. Sabbath rest can look like different things: a hike in the woods, a bike ride, a lazy afternoon playing board games, or reading books out loud. It can look like ordering pizza or takeout on Sunday night, and sitting around a candlelit table telling stories and singing songs. What God asks of us on the Sabbath isn’t perfection, but progress . . . intentional slow times where you remember who God is and enjoy the world He made and the family He gave you.
Here is an acronym to help you and your kids with your Sabbath practice . . . to help you REST!
E: Experience God’s Goodness
S: Spend Time Together
T: Talk to God
Use your Sabbath hours (or day) to reflect on the week behind you and the week ahead. Share the best and hardest parts of your week. Reflect on what you learned in church or school, or a book you are reading, or something you are studying in the Bible. Invite the whole family to reflect on who God is and what He has done. For the littlest kids, this probably means asking them what they want to thank God for or ask God for. As kids get older, engage them more and more in active reflection. You can read Scripture or a devotional book together, or keep a Sabbath journal together. Write down prayer requests, what you are thankful for, and how you’ve seen God working.
Experience God’s Goodness
Experience the goodness of God and His creation together! Use your Sabbath to spend time outside, enjoying creation through a hike, a walk, a bike ride, or driving a scenic route. Live in the city? Walk around and marvel at a museum, try a new food, or explore a new neighborhood. Stuck inside? That’s ok too. Listen to music, like a symphony! Or read poetry or stories together. Experience God’s goodness through creation and the created, the beautiful ways God works through people to make extraordinary things.
Spend Time Together
The Sabbath is, at its core, about spending time communing with God. But by engaging this spiritual practice together, as a family, you invite your kids to start their own journey of spending time with God. When you spend time together, focus on the people in the room. Put your phones away, and engage in a fully present way. Even a few hours of dedicated, engaged rest will be transformative for your family.
Talk to God
When you Sabbath, invite God into it. Spend time praying, reading God’s word, and journaling. Maybe each member of the family has their own journal or paper, and spends time writing or drawing pictures for God. Sing and pray together. Spend time together and with the Lord, and watch how He meets you in your practice of sabbath. No matter how short, messy, hard, and uncomfortable it is, God will meet you in it. He delights to spend time with His children. Pray that you will grow in your delight of spending time with Him.