Eugene Peterson: Celebration of the Sabbath Provides Opportunity for God to Act

'The Message' Bible Translator Talks Sabbath With Gabe Lyons in Q Session

Author, scholar and pastor Eugene H. Peterson, best known for The Message Bible translation, asserts that Christians must make the Sabbath a meaningful part of their lives, as it provides an opportunity for change. Peterson's comments came during a Q Ideas discussion Tuesday with organization founder Gabe Lyons. 

In today's society, the idea of the Sabbath often gets muddled and lost in nonstop activity, but Peterson insists, it can and has to be celebrated.

Sharing how Christians can celebrate the Sabbath, presented as a day of rest in the Bible, Peterson said bluntly that people need only to "show up, and shut up." The Bible scholar further explained that in the celebration of the Sabbath, one should not be afraid of silence or boredom because that period of inactivity provides time to notice God's activity.

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The notion of being too busy to celebrate the Sabbath is due to the way society relates to time, Peterson said, noting that "we kill time, we use up time," but believers have to learn to experience time. Peterson referred to the ancient Greeks' two concepts of time – "chronos" and "kairos." Chronos refers to chronological clock time – the time people fill, kill and use up, Peterson explained. But kairos is the opening of an opportunity in time. It is when something happens that changes people, and it is in kairos that Christians have to celebrate the Sabbath.

"Kairos time is the time of salvation, forgiveness and worship," and to experience kairos, Christians have to "break the habit of killing time," Peterson explained. 

If Christians break out of the habit of "killing time" on the Sabbath, then they should find themselves left with two activities: playing and praying.

As Peterson explained, playing is not necessarily shooting hoops or sitting down to an afternoon of Pac Man. Instead, playing is doing something enjoyable that one is not obligated to do. Giving examples of such activities, Peterson revealed that he personally goes for hikes, and has friends who watch multiple movies or go to sports games. It is the idea of taking a break from work with something that is not in any way work, and in that way, Peterson explained, Christians "honor the dignity of work."

However, prayer is just as important in an authentic celebration of the Sabbath, Peterson said. It is not enough to simply "enjoy" creation, The Message author insisted, one also has to contemplate and interact with creation. Prayer on the Sabbath provides the chance to "not act while in awareness that God is acting" and contemplate how God is working, even though His work cannot always be seen.

"Play and pray are pointless if they become duties," Peterson stressed.

Peterson's discussion with Lyons was the first of a two-day event at Q Ideas called "Q Sessions NYC" that runs from Feb. 28-29. The aim of the event, opened to 99 cultural leaders seeking to cultivate the inner life, is to provide insights from Peterson who is said to have spent much of his 79 years "living theology instead of just thinking about it."

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