things to do on a sunday

It’s unfortunate that every time the question of sabbath observance comes up, all the focus is put on things you can’t do on a Sunday.

  • work
  • turn on the radio/tv
  • buy anything
  • take public transport
  • etc
  • etc
  • etc

Focusing on the restrictions and their justification means that you miss out on the more important bit – that the main motivation for avoiding some things is so that you get more time to spend on other things.

  • going to church
  • going to church again
  • catching up on bible reading
  • praying
  • discussing the sermons you heard in church
  • celebrating the resurrection of the Saviour
  • being thankful for redemption
  • thinking about the eternal sabbath ahead of believers in heaven
  • etc
  • etc

These are things which do you good, particularly in your soul, but they also tend to demand a certain amount of concentration – enough that you really notice the difference when you’ve tuned out of the things that you’ve been doing for the other six days in the week and can focus more especially on spiritual matters, things relating to God and eternity and the needs of your soul.

It’s not just the break from ordinary work that makes it possible to view the sabbath as ‘a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable,’ but also the pleasure that it’s possible to find in worship – in gathering with other people to hear a gospel sermon, and reflecting on gospel truths during the day, perhaps also in conversation with other Christians or with the help of scriptural devotional books. Six days are long enough to spend immersed in the activities and concerns of everyday life – a seventh is often only too short to spend with your heart running out to the Saviour and drinking in the truths of the gospel.

imagesw.jpgAdmittedly that’s a best-case scenario, and I confess I waste far more sabbath days than I can honestly say I’ve spent continuously delighting in the things of God and eternity, but that’s the principle behind clearing the decks for a sabbath and avoiding as much as possible that distracts your poor soul from what will do it good. It’s also why Psalm 92, a psalm specifically titled a psalm or song for the sabbath day, is not so much a lament for things that you’re forbidden to do that day, as an outflowing of praise and gratitude to a God of perpetual lovingkindness and faithfulness, for the great things he has done for his people.


11 thoughts on “things to do on a sunday

  1. After a couple of discussions with people recently it also has been dawning on me that it’s important not to construe this (or let it be construed) as just an admirable-stroke-absurd (delete as appropriate) form of self-discipline or austerity or something – ie there is a purpose in avoiding x, y, z, and that is *in order that* you can do a, b, c instead. And that these alternatives are concrete, worthwhile, and labour-intensive, for want of a better word. Ie the rest isn’t idleness, or (en)forced inactivity, it’s purposeful activity in another direction.

    I don’t know if this makes sense or is entirely necessarily theologically adequate – but certainly, if the things you can’t do, and the related perceived nuisance factors, have historically or societally been seen as more important (either from the point of view of people who attack this kind of sabbath observance or from the p.o.v. of the people who’ve defended this practice and provided justifications of it), this is unfortunate and even misguided.


  2. And yes – this was your original point – there are more correlations between heaven and sabbaths than we/I generally recognise. If you have further thoughts on this point please do be encouraged to share them :)


  3. The “laborious rest, restful labour” or the “holy leisure” has been long recognised in Christian life and literature.

    Here’s a wee thing on a relevant passage from Augustine:

    I’ll put some stuff on wur blog on the subject so as not to fill up EVEN MORE than I already do (sorry) your comment boxes. (I shouldn’t apologise unless I intend to amend, I suppose)

    “Here [he] is occupied in busy leisure, and at rest in tranquil activity.” (statues of the Carthusians). You see the dificulty in translating this kind of expression, and worse when the single word “leisure” comes up, when it means exactly what you describe above, and what Augustine describes in the passage in that linked blog post.


  4. I suspect that what makes some Christians puzzle over Lord’s Day observance is how they are supposed to fill their time between church services (assuming they attend the evening service). If you can’t work, shop, or (supposedly) read secular literature, then how are you supposed to fill your time during the day (one can only read the Bible for so long!). On another site, one person even asked if it’s biblically permissible to make love with one’s wife on Sunday! (I voted “yes” on that one.)

    Some people take naps which, I suppose, some people think of as cheating. If you can’t think of anything else to do, sleeping at least helps the time pass!

    So, as I say, some people are puzzled.


  5. When i was but a child, those of us in the family who couldn’t sit and read a book for more than 10 minutes on Sabbath – even the picture ones – would usually be read to by mum … until she fell asleep :) and when we weren’t engaged in either of those activities we were forced to do did the bible questions in our church magazine. Curiously enough there was also a fruit eating ritual we seemed to have about 4 o’clock when we’d catch up on the week past, it wasn’t particularly edifying spiritually but it possibly stopped us wanting so many chocolate biscuits. And nowadays, in different surroundings, when we’re not reading all the good books we could be, we usually blether and if that degenerates to every-day stuff someone hopefully suggests that we sing a few psalms, commonly myself since i like that sort of thing. Oh and [i]occasionally\[i] *cough cough* the harder working of us will halve a ‘short’ snooze, which i’d say is commendable if it maketh the difference on whether or not you stay awake in the evening service.


  6. Richard – is it genuine puzzlement or just lack of imagination? :)

    Surely a good starting point would be to be convinced that ‘the fourth commandment requires the keeping holy to God of such set times as he has appointed … expressly one whole day in seven …’ as the shorter catechism says – and be committed to at least *trying* to keep it holy and avoid profaning it (by idleness or anything else). Having the right mindset obviously makes all the difference in terms of what you find it possible/impossible to do on a sunday.

    As James has so, er, eloquently demonstrated (thanks james! ;) ) it can be a bit of a struggle to keep children occupied all day, and different families take different strategies to get round that – but obviously if sabbath-keeping is a chore for the parents the children aren’t going to realise there’s anything about it to appreciate, so it’s fundamental for parents to show that it’s a pleasure to have a sabbath.

    (Eg, concretely, parents can read with their children, talk about bible stories, do bible quizzes, get them memorising parts of scripture, sing psalms and hymns together.)
    [& re reading – not necessarily the bible itself – Pilgrim’s Progress is a traditional favourite, plus there’s (esp now) lots of doctrinally sound literature for children, books & magazines, etc.]

    If people are finding it too much of a struggle to spend just this one day in activities like this, surely that’s a bit of a worrying indication that their spiritual maturity and stamina isn’t quite what it could or should be.

    Is that roughly the kind of practical suggestions/advice you would give to puzzled people yourself?


  7. Quote “It’s unfortunate that every time the question of sabbath observance comes up, all the focus is put on things you can’t do on a Sunday.

    turn on the radio/tv
    buy anything
    take public transport ”

    The above things sound like torture to me! Why anyone would want to work seven days a week or waste time in the shops on the sabbath is beyond me!


  8. I am reading a fabulous book “Look What happened while you were sleeping” and noticed that many things I was during on Sundays was not considered participation in the Lord’s day. However, I have a question….. One of the things that recharges my batteries and keeps me focused mentally, spiritually, as well as physically for the upcoming week is exercise.

    Is exercise considered a no-no during the Sabbath. I usually work long hours during the week and usually work out on the weekends. However, not to offend our Lord, I wasn’t sure if exercising (30 minutes to an hours) would be considered work (walking on the treadmill and possibly watching old movies while working out). I don’t really have that much time during the week to exercise all that much but I was wondering on what others may think. I surely don’t want to look like Santa Claus by the age of 40. Thanks!



  9. Sorry for the delay in replying to this – I haven’t been online for a couple of days.

    From where I’m coming from, the purpose of the Lord’s day is to worship the Lord, and as the original post was intending to suggest, that’s the principle that should underlie any question about what you can/can’t do.

    Specific questions really need to be worked out on an individual basis, in the sense that, if I give a personal view of how I’d respond to the specific question, i don’t want to be held responsible for curtailing anyone’s freedom (or even for being unwarrantably lax, although i suppose that’s probably less of a danger in the contemporary climate). The general principle is what I quoted from the Westminster Confession in the box at the end of the original post – the way to keep the sabbath holy is, 1, to prepare for it in advance both practically and spiritually, 2, rest from your own thoughts, words, and activities about your ordinary work and recreation, and 3, devote as much time to actual worship as you can (whether in public or individually, and without neglecting other things that you either must do from necessity or should do from compassion).

    For what it’s worth, for me, working out would fall into the category of ordinary recreation, and (if I ever felt tempted to get going on a treadmill, which i admit is unlikely :) ) I’d try to fit it in on one of the other days of the week. That way, you’d get more time to spend ‘in the public and private exercises of worship,’ which is what the day is for.

    There’s a recentish book, transparently titled ‘The Lord’s Day’, by Joseph Pipa, which I borrowed from a friend and read some time ago – it makes the case for sabbath observance and is written in a very accessible style. (Available from Amazon.)


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