“Today, class, we’re going to talk about Sundaes!” I pulled out some ice cream and put three big scoops in a bowl. “Who wants some ice cream?” I always had some VERY eager students raise their hands! “Oh good,” I continued, “but plain vanilla ice cream isn’t very good. Let’s put some toppings on it!” I pulled out some ketchup and, ignoring the protests of my students, squirted a generous amount on top. “Hmmm, this isn’t very healthy. Let’s add some green beans!” The class moaned as I continued to put black pepper, beans, and other “disgusting” things on top. “You’ve ruined it!” some of them groaned. “What are you talking about?” I argued, “Green beans are delicious. Black pepper spices things up!” Amazingly, I always had a few students who still wanted to eat it!
The class contended that all of the ingredients I had put on top were good, but NOT on a sundae. “Exactly my point!” I exclaimed, “there are many things that are good things to do, but not on a S.U.N.D.A.Y! So many of us start out our Sundays on the right foot. We go to church and get 3 scoops of vanilla ice cream, but then we come home, and through our Sabbath Day activities, proceed to dump ketchup, green beans, and pepper all over it!” I announced the theme of my lesson: Don’t ruin your Sunday!
Let’s turn to the Book of Mormon for an example of a people who were ruining their Sundays! The Zoramites had built a synagogue to worship in. Inside, they had built a high stand called the Rameumptom that would only admit one person at a time. Every person climbed up the stand, said the exact same prayer, and then they “returned to their homes, never speaking of their God again” until the next Sunday! (see Alma 31:23). Satan must have whispered, “See, you built a church. You go every Sunday. You’re a good person.” There is a big difference between going to church each week and being changed by what you learn at church. One of the main purposes of church is to teach you the tools, motivate, and help you to live better DURING the week.
The tower gave the Zoramites the illusion that they were close to God. Now, the goal of every Sabbath is to come closer to God, but you can’t do that merely by constructing a tower (a one time event). We must actively choose to do things, throughout our life, that bring us closer to Him. If God feels far away, He is NOT the one who has moved!
The tower only admitted one person at a time. Contrast this with Moroni 6:5 which reads “And the church did meet together oft, to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls.”
Now, the Zoramites were correct in going to church – that is a crucial step in keeping the Sabbath Day holy:
A man of my acquaintance remained home each Sabbath and justified himself by saying that he could benefit more by reading a good book at home than by attending the sacrament meeting and listening to a poor sermon. But the home, sacred as it should be, is not the house of prayer. In it no sacrament is administered; in it is not found the fellowship with members, nor the confession of sins to the brethren…: ‘It is expedient that the church meet together often to partake of bread and wine in the remembrance of the Lord Jesus’ (D&C 20:75) (Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, , 220).
However, as important as it is to go to church, the Zoramites were NOT keeping the Sabbath Day holy. The Sabbath doesn’t end after church! It lasts the ENTIRE day!
Today is the Sabbath. It does not end when we leave this session; it does not end if someone calls on the phone or knocks at our door inviting us to come out and play, go for a ride, to a ball game, or shopping; it does not end because we are on vacation or someone is visiting us, whether member or nonmember….The Sabbath lasts all day! (H. Aldridge Gillespie, “The Blessing of Keeping the Sabbath Day Holy,” Ensign, Nov 2000, 79–80)
But didn’t God rest on the Sabbath? Isn’t it a day when we can relax, hang out, and have some fun?
The Sabbath is not a day for indolent lounging about the house….The Sabbath is a holy day in which to do worthy and holy things. Abstinence from work and recreation is important but insufficient. The Sabbath calls for constructive thoughts and acts, and if one merely lounges about doing nothing on the Sabbath, he is breaking it. To observe it, one will be on his knees in prayer, preparing lessons, studying the gospel, meditating, visiting the ill and distressed, sleeping, reading wholesome material, and attending all the meetings of that day to which he is expected. [Failure] to do these proper things is a transgression on the omission side.” (Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness (1969), 96–97)
I think the problem lays in the fact that, in the English language, rest means to relax, but let’s look at how the word “rest” is used in the scriptures! Do we really think God created the Universe in six days and then went and took a nap on the seventh? What does the term “rest” really mean? Let’s take a look at the following scripture chain (D&C 77:12, 3 Nephi 27:19, D&C 84:20-24, and Alma 13:12-13)
We are to understand that as God made the world in six days, and on the seventh day he finished his work, and sanctified it (D&C 77:12)
This scripture does not even mention the Lord resting on the seventh day. It says he was sanctifying his work. God did work on the Sabbath, but it was a different kind of work – a spiritual, purifying, sanctifying work. We’ll come back to that later.
And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end. (3 Nephi 27:19)
Those who enter into his rest are those who are sanctified (have become clean through the Atonement of Jesus Christ). What does it mean to enter into his rest?
24 But they [the children of Israel during the time of Moses] hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory. (D&C 84:20-24)
God’s definition of rest is to receive the fulness of his glory. It is to receive your salvation (as members of my church would say – it is to receive your exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom (see D&C 76:6)).
That is how Alma uses the word “rest” as well:
Now they, after being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, having their garments made white, being pure and spotless before God, could not look upon sin save it were with abhorrence; and there were many, exceedingly great many, who were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord their God. And now, my brethren, I would that ye should humble yourselves before God, and bring forth fruit meet for repentance, that ye may also enter into that rest. (Alma 13:12-13)
When we think of the word “rest,” we think of being lazy, relaxing, and doing nothing. But that is NOT God’s definition of rest. Entering into the Lord’s rest means entering into his Kingdom. Therefore, the Sabbath is a day to prepare yourself to enter into the Lord’s rest – to prepare yourself and sanctify yourself so you are more worthy to enter his presence (get to the Celestial Kingdom). The Sabbath is a day to REST FROM worldly activities and ENTER INTO THE WORK of the Lord which is, actually, restful work because the more you become like God, the more at rest you are and the easier life becomes. God is in a restful state. It is easy for him to keep the commandments.
Once each week man is commanded to cease his own labors and allow God to perform His work of sanctification on him. Resting on the Sabbath, then, implies far more than taking a nap or stopping normal activities. Mankind must enter into the Lord’s work on that day. This work involves making themselves and others more godlike, another way to speak of sanctification. Doing the work of the Lord (sanctification) often involves great activity on the Sabbath day, and the day may not be restful in the usual sense. One can assume that if doing good to an animal on the Sabbath is approved by the Lord (see Matthew 12:11; Luke 13:15), then doing good to men is an even higher good. The two commandments for the Sabbath are rest and worship (see D&C 59:10). The Hebrew verb la-avodh, “to worship,” means also “to work” and “to serve.” This holy work then creates a new and holy man… (In “The Fourth Commandment,” Part 1, The Ten Commandments Today, pp. 55, 57–58.) (See also Exodus 20:8-11, D&C 77:12, 3 Nephi 27:19, D&C 84:22-24)
You know you’ve kept the Sabbath Holy if, at the end of the day, you can honestly say you feel closer to Heavenly Father than you did at the beginning of the day.
When my mom was teaching a class of children, she asked them if they knew what the 10 commandments were. With her help, they listed 9 out of the 10 on the board, but she purposefully left #4 blank. She announced, “Great job! Let’s move on with the lesson…” The class, of course, wouldn’t let her. They wanted to know what #4 was! My mom simply responded, “Oh, that one isn’t very important. No one keeps it.” They protested, “It’s one of the 10 commandments! It has to be important!” My mom insisted that it wasn’t and started moving on with the lesson, but a little boy, more curious than the rest, demanded to know. My mom looked him in the eyes and said, “If I tell you, will you keep it?” He didn’t even hesitate, “No!” Apparently, he didn’t want that kind of responsibility! I love how honest children are! My mom (probably trying to hold back a smile), wisely said, “If you won’t keep it, then why should I tell you?” She taught her lesson for a while until the little boy promised he would keep the 4th commandment if she would just tell them him what it was. So she read him these verses:
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God:in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:
For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.(Exodus 20:8-11)
She talked about how everyone must not think it’s important since the mall parking lots are full and the churches seem to be more and more empty.
But just showing up for church is not enough. The Zoramites showed up for church, but it didn’t do them much good! We need to be actively engaged at church.
Years ago I was sitting in a sacrament meeting with my father. He seemed to be enjoying what I thought was a dull talk,…I watched my father, and to my amazement his face was beaming as the speaker droned on. I kept stealing looks back at him, and sure enough, through the whole thing he had this beatific smile.
… [As] we walked home I remember walking with my father on the shoulder of the road,….I finally got up enough courage to ask him what he thought of the meeting. He said it was wonderful.
Now I really had a problem…I was puzzled. I was trying to summon up enough courage to ask him how I could have such a different opinion of that meeting and that speaker.
Like all good fathers, he must have read my mind, because he started to laugh. He said: “Hal, let me tell you something. Since I was a very young man, I have taught myself to do something in a church meeting. When the speaker begins, I listen carefully and ask myself what it is he is trying to say. Then, once I think I know what he is trying to accomplish, I give myself a sermon on that subject.” He let that sink in for a moment as we walked along. Then, with that special self-deprecating chuckle of his, he said, “Hal, since then I have never been to a bad meeting.” (Henry B. Eyring, to Draw Closer to God: A Collection of Discourses, p. 22-23)
Spencer W. Kimball further explained our individual responsibility on the Sabbath:
But we do not go to Sabbath meetings to be entertained or even simply to be instructed. We go to worship the Lord. It is an individual responsibility, and regardless of what is said from the pulpit, if one wishes to worship the Lord in spirit and in truth, he may do so by attending his meetings, partaking of the sacrament, and contemplating the beauties of the gospel. If the service is a failure to you, you have failed. No one can worship for you; you must do your own waiting upon the Lord (Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, , 271).
He also gave a powerful suggestion for the purpose of the Sabbath:
The Sabbath is a day on which to take inventory—to analyze our weaknesses…(Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, , 216).
Isaiah was trying to teach the same thing – that the Sabbath isn’t a time to do what we want, but to do what the Lord wants, improve ourselves, and draw closer to Him.
13 ¶If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, fromdoing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words:
14 Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. (Isaiah 58:13-14)
The Sabbath is supposed to be a day of delight! It is not one of drudgery. It is not a day of bemoaning the fact we can’t do some of our favorite activities. Look at the amazing blessings we get if we will just give ONE day to the Lord!
BLESSINGS FOR KEEPING THE SABBATH DAY HOLY
The prophet Jeremiah had the serious responsibility of warning the Jews that, if they didn’t repent, Jerusalem would be taken captive by their enemies. He pleaded, prophesied, and cried repentance, but no one listened. In Jeremiah chapter 17, the Lord tells Jeremiah that if the people will just keep ONE commandment, the entire city will be spared. Jeremiah goes to each gate of the city and proclaims this commandment. What is it? Searching the scriptures? Praying? Going to church? Serving your fellowman? No, it was keeping the Sabbath Day holy. God wasn’t even asking them to be righteous every day. They just had to give him ONE day and they couldn’t do it.
Sadly, Jeremiah watched as Babylon destroyed the city and took many, many captive. I have often pondered about this chapter. Why, out of all the commandments, did the Lord pick the Sabbath Day? I finally came to the realization that if you keep the Sabbath day holy, you will automatically begin keeping all of the other commandments! If you would just stop sinning on one day, give it to the Lord, and allow Him to start speaking with you, you will automatically want to start praying, reading your scriptures, serving others, etc. One of the greatest blessings of keeping the Sabbath Day holy, is that YOU are made holy. It transforms your heart to the point that you no longer desire sin. You WANT to live righteously.
“…we will be amazed at how much we were blessed in important—though often unperceived—ways through keeping the Sabbath holy; and to our sorrow we may sense how many blessings we kept from ourselves by not consistently keeping the Sabbath day holy. Oh, my dear brothers and sisters, there is power in keeping the Sabbath day holy….If we would have God’s blessings and protection as individuals, as families, as communities, and as nations, we must keep His Sabbath day holy. (John H. Groberg, “The Power of Keeping the Sabbath Day Holy,” Ensign, Nov 1984, 79)
I love the Sabbath day! It has blessed my family in countless ways. I bear a testimony born of personal experience that the commandments of the Lord are “true and faithful.” I know you will be happier, enjoy greater peace, and find your lives made glad as you witness the miracles that come to each person and family who make the sacrifice of keeping this eternal covenant. (H. Aldridge Gillespie, “The Blessing of Keeping the Sabbath Day Holy,” Ensign, Nov 2000, 79–80)
When I was in college there was an engineering class I was sure to fail. I didn’t understand a thing the teacher was saying. He’d put up crazy equations and mention things from biology, chemistry, physiology, and physics and somehow expected his freshmen to put it all together! Everyone in the class was confused, frustrated, and feeling pretty helpless. This professor was used to teaching graduate students and had no idea how to teach freshmen.
I prayed and prayed about this class. I couldn’t understand anything in the book and the homework was ridiculously impossible. My friends finally got together and announced they were going to do a study group once a week where they could do the homework together and prepare for the upcoming test. I was so relieved. I was sure this was the answer to my prayers. Unfortunately, the only time all of my friends could meet together was on Sunday. My heart sank. I had never done homework on Sunday before. In high school I had decided I would never do homework on Sunday. I would keep that day reserved for Heavenly Father and spiritual things. Even though I had some really challenging classes in high school, I kept my promise even if it meant staying up until midnight on Saturday and waking up at 3 AM on Monday morning to finish.
I didn’t know what to do. All week I stressed about it. I had to go to these meetings or I would fail. I was sure of that. But how could I do that to Heavenly Father? I did some more praying. One night as I said my prayers, I knew I shouldn’t go. Not because I’d feel like an evil, terrible person, but because I didn’t want to go. I wanted to have a day where I could relax and work on my relationship with my Heavenly Father. I told Heavenly Father that if I was going to fail then I was okay with that. My relationship with Him was more important to me than passing the class. I promised I wouldn’t go to the study sessions on Sundays.
I worked and prayed hard over the material during the week. I was envious of my friends and how much less time it took them to do the homework. The big day of the test came and I was scared. I filled it out as best as I could, but it was very difficult. I was sure I’d missed a lot. As it turned out, I had, but to the amazement of myself and all of my friends, I scored higher on that test than ALL of them! I don’t know how (and they sure didn’t either!), but I had. And it was like that every test! I out-scored them EVERY time.
I learned a lot about priorities from this experience. I learned that if you put God first everything else will fall into place. God may not give you more time (he won’t give you 26 hours instead of 24), but my testimony is that He enables you to do more in less time.
You will notice that I have purposefully NOT given a list of what you can and can’t do on the Sabbath. I have not listed what things are good toppings – chocolate syrup, sprinkles, bananas, and whip cream – or what the “bad” toppings are – ketchup, black pepper, and beans. Russell M. Nelson discussed how to determine which activities are appropriate on the Sabbath.
…I learned from the scriptures that my conduct and my attitude on the Sabbath constituted a sign between me and my Heavenly Father. With that understanding, I no longer needed lists of dos and don’ts. When I had to make a decision whether or not an activity was appropriate for the Sabbath, I simply asked myself, “What sign do I want to give to God?” That question made my choices about the Sabbath day crystal clear.
How can you ensure that your behavior on the Sabbath will lead to joy and rejoicing? In addition to your going to church, partaking of the sacrament, and being diligent in your specific call to serve, what other activities would help to make the Sabbath a delight for you? What sign will you give to the Lord to show your love for Him?
Not pursuing your “own pleasure” on the Sabbath requires self-discipline. You may have to deny yourself of something you might like. If you choose to delight yourself in the Lord, you will not permit yourself to treat it as any other day. Routine and recreational activities can be done some other time. (Elder Nelson, “The Sabbath is a Delight,” April 2015 General Conference).
What things has your family done to make the Sabbath more of a delight? Comment below!