Keeping the Sabbath, When and How


“Anyone can observe the Sabbath, but making it holy takes the rest of the week” – Alice Walker

elder-nelson-sabbathYou can’t pick up an Ensign these days without hearing much about the need to keep the Sabbath day. This is a good thing. I hope that the Church isn’t just focus-grouping this topic as a sort of “this year’s theme,” or to just amp up the attendance numbers, but see an honest need for people to remember the Lord on a weekly basis. The Church must have data that shows how much it is in disrepair among Latter-day Saints. So it got me thinking . . .

How exactly does the Lord want me to keep the Sabbath day, and keep it holy?

President Nelson’s talk in April is a good resource. I’ve read it a couple of times and I find it to be a great discourse on the subject, as far as some basic concepts:

  • Attend church to offer up sacraments, taking upon us the Name of Christ
  • Rest from your labors
  • Pay devotions to the Most High
  • Serving others–family history is an option, visiting the lonely and sick, etc.
  • Strengthen family ties
  • Preparing food with “singleness of heart”
  • Don’t do your own pleasures, but the Lord’s pleasure

When I was “active,” I enjoyed the gentle call of the Spirit to attend services. When I attended all three hours, I felt a better sense of renewal than I did when I just went to Sacrament meeting. I have not been back to an LDS service in some time, my Sabbath schedule interferes with attending my ward Sunday services, since one of my Sunday fellowships happens over the top of my ward schedule. There are times when I miss that interaction, and I’m challenged to fill my Sabbath worship other ways.

Among folks in this movement, the Sabbath day has also been a hot topic. I thought I would spend some time to break down some of the theories and ideas and hopefully present some ideas on what it means to keep the Sabbath day. I really don’t have a theory on the best way to do it, so maybe you have some better research or revelation as to tell you how to live it best.

Day of the Week

Does it matter? For some of our more Torah-oriented fellowship groups, this is a critical thing. The day is of a vital importance, and as with Jews, the Sabbath should be celebrated from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset. They also include festivals and other holy days celebrated anciently. I’m not sure it matters. I think if the exactness of observance is done in a way that causes a greater remembrance of the Savior, it can be a good thing. If it becomes a rallying point, or a brand, or a system that sets certain people up as have the best understanding of “the way,” I think it creates more pride than it does anything. For me, I’m inclined to keep my Sabbath worship on Sunday out of convenience, knowing that for me, it’s not so much the day as it is the fact that I’m reserving one day (or more) out of the week to honor the Lord. Furthermore, I’ve read some interesting ideas that ancient Jews followed the lunar calendar, so what we deem as Saturday, the day of rest, was a roaming date that depended on the cycles of the moon. It would be quite a feat for someone to come up with THAT Sabbath schedule. Maybe someone should. I’m open to being taught more on this subject.

Thou Shalts and Nots

When I was a youth, my mother would note to me that we would never watch NFL football on Superbowl Sunday (we never watched it on any other day, but that’s beside the point). When Superbowl Sunday came round the first of the year, our family made it a point of pride that we would skip out on such an event. It was the hallmark of how closely we kept the Sabbath. We also stayed in our church clothes most of the day, listened only to uplifting Sunday-oriented music, and couldn’t watch TV–that is, until the sun went down, then on popped the ABC Disney Sunday Movie! There was no systematic approach to Sabbath worship in our home, it was all based on how she grew up and her cultural understanding. These days I watch the Superbowl, not because I like NFL football, but that it gives my wife’s family time to get together and deepen relationships–another critical element of Sabbath worship, strengthening family bonds. Sure, we could do other things, but I won’t quibble. I understand the nature of the get together at least in my mind.

Our scriptures say very little about what you can and can’t do on the Sabbath although some general guidelines are offered up in D&C 59. I have highlighted some things that jumped out to me as well as comments in parentheses.

And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day; (I believe the house of prayer here is very simple, no need to go to a chapel)

10 For verily this is a day appointed unto you to rest from your labors, and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High;

11 Nevertheless thy vows shall be offered up in righteousness on all days and at all times;

12 But remember that on this, the Lord’s day, thou shalt offer thine oblations and thy sacraments unto the Most High, confessing thy sins unto thy brethren, and before the Lord. (See my post on confession, how could we better confess to our Brethren and not just to a church leader?)

13 And on this day thou shalt do none other thing, only let thy food be prepared with singleness of heart that thy fasting may be perfect, or, in other words, that thy joy may be full. (Maybe we should be skipping the pot roast)

14 Verily, this is fasting and prayer, or in other words, rejoicing and prayer.

15 And inasmuch as ye do these things with thanksgiving, with cheerful hearts and countenances, not with much laughter, for this is sin, but with a glad heart and a cheerful countenance—

Much of what we get on the topic also comes from the New Testament when the Savior was constantly testing the Sabbath cultural rules that He thought were either nonsense or looked past the mark. The point is, “to keep it holy,” and not get caught up in rules and customs that must be kept.

As I began thinking about this, I’ve applauded that the Church has avoided a lengthy list of do’s and don’ts. What President Nelson states is pretty much the sum total and it comes primarily from our own modern scriptures. In the past decade, there was a big push back in the Hinckley era to get people to stop shopping on the Sabbath. I think this is a good albeit somewhat inconsistent application of the term, “shopping,” since gas purchasing, eating out, online shopping, and other types of shopping were sort of isolated from the more leisure shopping as outlined in those discourses. My wife worked at a Mormon-owned restaurant chain in Provo and in the afternoon, the suits and ties littered the place by people who needed to eat–perhaps they were staying in town–or just didn’t want to cook but wanted the fancy meal. The point is that we could understand the need for meals for visitors who were from out-of-town, but for people that just wanted to “rest” on the Sabbath, but have the big meal, it seemed like they were passing on the sin to my wife and her co-workers, who were pretty much forced to work Sundays. Perhaps this is meant by singleness of heart–keep it simple, you don’t need pot roast every week. I think what it comes down to is how much charity do we employ towards others in our day of rest? Does it cause others to have to work harder so we can enjoy our Sabbath? Do we accelerate the engines of Babylon with our Sabbath habits or calm them down? How much does charity play in our activities? Are we using the Sabbath day to do more with the encompassing commandments to “Love the Lord Thy God, and Love Thy Neighbor?” If not, perhaps we need to repent.

The Sabbath is only the beginning

I return to the statement I quoted at the beginning. “Anyone can observe the Sabbath, but making it holy takes the rest of the week.” Perhaps the best use of the Sabbath is to set ourselves up so that we can find more ways the rest of the week, to keep it holy as well. For me, movies, TV, video games, shopping, leisure, have taken a back seat to spending time reading and pondering the gospel in my free time. I don’t say this to boast. I’ve always been a gospel hobbyist and so for me, I have to use my idle time to do more than argue about church matters on Facebook. Taking time to watch an uplifting program with my wife may be a better use of my time.

What has whispered to me as I’ve written this is that all of the debate about the right day to worship is sort of a Telestial affair. In Zion, the Sabbath day will be everyday, not just one day in the week.

I leave my post with the lyrics to Take Time to be Holy by William D. Longstaff

“Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord;
Abide in Him always, and feed on His Word.
Make friends of God’s children, help those who are weak,
Forgetting in nothing His blessing to seek.

Take time to be holy, the world rushes on;
Spend much time in secret, with Jesus alone.
By looking to Jesus, like Him thou shalt be;
Thy friends in thy conduct His likeness shall see.

Take time to be holy, let Him be thy Guide;
And run not before Him, whatever betide.
In joy or in sorrow, still follow the Lord,
And, looking to Jesus, still trust in His Word.

Take time to be holy, be calm in thy soul,
Each thought and each motive beneath His control.
Thus led by His Spirit to fountains of love,
Thou soon shalt be fitted for service above.”

9 Responses

  1. I think it is useful to study what it means to, “offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day”. That is surely different than taking the sacrament.

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  2. Really? The Sabbath day is what we focus on now? That is now the standard of righteousness? What good pharisees we make!
    I remember a Book of Mormon people who were very good at keeping the Sabbath day holy. If fact they were the best at it. We know them as Zoramites, who Alma called the most wicked of all the people he’d ever met. Not only are we good pharisees, but it seems like we are doing our best to make even better Zoramites.

    Good luck with that.

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  3. For me, the Sabbath is just a day like any other, except, to the extent possible, I refrain from participating in the world’s economy.

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  4. Also, if I may proffer opinions on a few topics…

    1. The perfect is not the enemy of the good, though the good may well be the enemy of the perfect.

    2. There are stages of development that each person passes through on the way to perfection, or maturity. Let us therefore give credit for good intentions, for we, too, were young once.

    3. The purpose of the law of God is conflict resolution. Conflict extended through eternity is hell. Love resolves conflicts in favor of the other, at the expense of self; it also forsees conflicts and resolves them before they occur. That’s the golden rule. That’s also the root of the atonement.

    4. Young Gods require instruction in conflict resolution at a highly granular level, thus there are given many rules – think of the Law of Moses. As we mature, the number of rules decrease as the principles behind the rules begin to be understood – think of the Sermon on the Mount, leading to “the two great commandments” – until finally we see the principle, and purpose, behind them all – think of the golden rule.

    5. Babylon has had the effect of breaking the ritualistic, and symbolic, nature of the necessary tasks of life. As an example, if one considers how bread would have been made in the Bronze Age from sowing to consuming, and wine also, one may see clearly a deeper symbolism to the Sacrament than can be discerned in our modern practices. Oh yes, be as detailed as you like. It’s fascinating. Interesting questions: what do the grapes represent? What do the harvesters represent? What happens to the wheat field after the harvest? &c.

    6. I really don’t care for statements of the form “we need to do X”, where X might be “repent,” “pay 10% of our gross income,” “join the Church of the Firsborn,” “refrain from watching football on Sundays,” and the like. I know, I know, what’s really happening is the author has written something to preach to himself, to whip himself into shape. But why not whip yourself into shape and THEN teach others to do likewise?

    7. The Sabbath is a symbol and a tool of instruction. As a symbol, it represents the days when the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, and peace reigning upon it, free from the demands of debt and justice, symbolized by money – which again is a symbol for man’s enmity with one’s fellow man, and a system of relationships built upon quid pro quo, or tit-for-tat, with almost everyone trying to cheat everyone else. As a tool of instruction, the Sabbath gives an opportunity for making our eye single to the glory of God and the service of our fellow beings – to try things God’s way, laying aside the world’s ways.

    8. Can’t we all just get along? 😉

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  5. Log, I’m not sure I’m capturing all of your points. Correction, I’m NOT capturing all of your nuance, but that’s my problem, not yours. 😛

    Pertaining to some of your ideas on the Sabbath I appreciate your perspective–worth considering.

    I reread my post to see if I made any “we need to do X” kinds of comments. Maybe along the way you felt I implied that. Not my intention. Most of what I did was to ask lots of questions and make statements about what I THINK may work. I’m just as interested in what others think, particularly those that have dug deep in this well, because if I’m doing it less perfect (although it may be good), I’d like to adjust and change.

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  6. TZ:

    Most of what I did was to ask lots of questions and make statements about what I THINK may work.

    That’s really my point. Wouldn’t you like to know what works? But doesn’t that take finding out what works? And then, if you know what works, as well as why, wouldn’t you like to be able to tell others? Wouldn’t that feel better than teaching what you THINK may work?

    Lots (all?) of our traditions arose because of what people THOUGHT may work. So, if you catch yourself deploying “we need to do X” language, that is a good sign that maybe it would be better to step back and reevaluate what you’re doing and what you know.

    At least, that’s what I do.

    On another note: rather than fixing the dearth of spiritual nourishment in our sacrament meetings, our Beloved Leaders are instead making like the abusive Mom they collectively are and demanding we put away our toys, electronic books, and snacks, and take in only what they deign to deliver to us: insipid drivel, a crust of bread, and a sip of water. It never occurs to them to change their behavior, but only ours, because they’re always right.

    Because it cannot be about them not meeting our needs, it has to be about our disobedient or irreverent behavior making them look bad.

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    • I’m right with you, Log.

      For as long as I can remember, our stake has been a “sacrament meeting last” stake. I teach gospel doctrine and felt that my job was to bring the spirit, teach the gospel, and prepare the class for sacrament meeting. We have now changed our schedule to comply with the mandate.

      I’m not exactly sure how the idea that the sacrament is the most important thing we do in the block justifies putting it in the first 15 minutes, without any preparation, with half the ward late and in the foyer. I guess by that same justification, we should say that the most important part of the temple endowment is the creation story [the veil and celestial room are very unimportant]. Its why we have baptismal services with the baptism right at the start, and then have talks.

      List any other reasons for that schedule order, it does NOT promote the sacrament as the most important thing of the day.

      I guess they are just following the example of Jesus, though. After all, if there is one thing he did in his ministry, it was to emphasize the importance of the rules of sabbath day observance.

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    • LOG I have occasionally had the opportunity to attend other worship services where ” worship” actually takes place . The difference between our typical sacrament meetings and inspiring worship services is enormous. You are right if we truly worshiped on Sunday in our formal meetings perhaps those 10 million plus non attending LDS members would return . It can happen .I have seen it happen . But alas it requires a level of humility and desire on the part of attendees that is lacking in most meetings I attend ( there are exceptions including worship services at our state prison- the Spirit there is palpable)

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  7. Not all my “points” were inspired by your post. Some were inspired by one of the comments, instead.

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