God calls on us to refrain from participating in those activities which are not in themselves sinful, but will inevitably distract us from the purpose of the day (WSC Q.60). Only once we realize that God’s calling us away from doing our own pleasure is in the interest of calling us to the higher pleasure of communion with him will we begin to see the Sabbath as among God’s chiefest blessings and not an unwelcome burden.
When I first learned of the ongoing obligation to keep the Sabbath day holy, it felt like a bucket of ice water being dumped over my head— I was shocked and gasping for answers. “How could I have missed this for so long? What do I do now? What do you mean I’m not allowed to do x, y, or z?” My experience is not unique. As a pastor, I have had countless conversations regarding the 4th commandment and been asked questions in the same vein as my own. It is that third question, “Why can’t I?,” that I have had to think through carefully and ask God for wisdom to respond in such a way that it will help the inquirer to call the Sabbath a delight.
The question itself, “Why am I not allowed to do x, y, or z?” betrays an exclusively privative view of the Sabbath day. The individual is fixating upon the relatively few things to which God says “no” and in so doing misses the many things to which God says “yes.” When Scripture speaks of the Sabbath, it presents it in an overwhelmingly positive light, as a divinely appointed means through which true and lasting rest and satisfaction are communicated. It is toward this positive end that we need to direct our conversations regarding the Sabbath if we hope to convince our brothers and sisters to love it and observe it as Scripture commands. Persuasion is to be preferred over coercion.
I like to illustrate this positive attitude toward the Sabbath using my own honeymoon as an example. When my wife and I married 8 years ago, we went on a nine-day Caribbean cruise for our honeymoon. These floating cities come standard with all manner of creature comforts (pools, theaters, all you-can-eat buffets), save two— no internet connection and no cell reception. However, despite not being able to scroll through my Facebook feed, respond to emails, or check sports scores, I was not complaining in the slightest because what I was able do was far more satisfying than what I was not able to do. The focus of my honeymoon was my wife and I drawing closer together as one, not all the things that we left behind in order to do so. Because my focus was all on her, all else naturally faded into the background.