What’s So Great About Time and Space?

Posted by Andrew Hill on 1 April 2013


Time and space may be two of the things we feel like we are missing in our busy, crowded lives. But without our worship being touched by these two essential elements, we’re missing the point. 

Christians will usually seem to have a lot of time. You will wonder where it comes from. So says C S Lewis in his classic work 'Mere Christianity'.

It is my prayer that we all experience Lewis's observation: a lot of time, time for everything, time for work and rest, worship and meditation, leisure and recreation, family and friends, and service to Christ's Church and others.


The Jewish Sabbath celebrates holiness in time rather than in space. For six days a week humanity lives under the tyranny of things of space.

The Sabbath day is a day of freedom and independence from technology and civilisation, from the things of space and the chase after things. The Sabbath nurtures the proper attitude toward things, possessions, the world of space - 'to have them and be able to do without them' - as Heschel put it in 'The Sabbath'.

Biblical teaching about time should impact Christians in a similar way when it comes to the world of space. In his excellent book 'Freedom Of Simplicity' (Harper & Row), Richard Foster articulates principles that seek to balance inward simplicity - particularly personal piety and worship - with outward simplicity, a biblical approach to the world of space.

Especially important is the discipline of 'the single eye of simplicity toward God.' That means learning how to renounce possessions and the world of space and to learn detachment - a detachment from things that liberates the Christian from the control of others, 'no longer manipulated by the people who hold our livelihoods in their hands'.

Gordon Dahl challenged Christians to this kind of detachment from the world of space in his prophetic essay of the 70s, 'Work, Play, And Worship In A Leisure Oriented Society'. He proposed the ABCs of Christian lifestyle, and called the Church to:

A - Abandon. Let go of things. Travel light. Be willing to give away all possessions to become Christ's disciple (Luke 14 33);

B - Take time to enjoy the beauty of God's creation in nature and human culture. Slow down. Cultivate an aesthetic appreciation for the timely beauty in all that God has made and done (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

C - Celebrate life. Let the celebration of redemption in worship spill over into daily life in such a way that you can truly rejoice in each day God has made (Psalm 118:24).

Of course, all this doesn't mean the Christian forsakes or neglects the original mandate of creation: 'Fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over (it)' (Genesis 1:28 RSV). Again, Dahl argues the opposite is true.

The 'kingly ministry' of the Christian Church must address issues of authority, distribution of power, control of technology, and the production and consumption of resources and goods. Dahl called upon the Church to actively participate in the management process of our world, a world of space and things.

The Christian and the Christian Church has a divinely granted responsibility to be 'earthkeepers' in the very best sense of the term, biblically and ecologically.


Worship is the key to a Christian understanding of life and time. Only worship can place all of human experience in the larger context of life's ultimate purpose and meaning. For the Christian, all of life is a response to a loving and gracious God.

'The worship that God expects,' says Dahl, '...involves a continuous response of gladness and hope through every experience of life - including its work and play - and a daily discipline of service and self-examination in the context of the Law's claim upon us and the Gospel's call to freedom and maturity.'


How many times have you heard a wristwatch beep or chime at 12noon during Sunday morning worship service? True worship is a meeting of the human and divine that transcends time.

I fear we have been conditioned to approach corporate worship much like the factory clock. We punch in, put in our time, and then wait for the whistle to blow quitting time.

'If worship is to be an integral part of church life we must have time to do it,' writes George Mallone in 'Furnace Of Renewal' (IVP). Formal worship requires time:

- time for confession and repentance;

- time for praise and thanksgiving;

- time for the Word of God and the Eucharist;

- time for responding to the Word and the Table;

- and time for the spontaneous ministry of the spiritual gifts represented within the body of believers for the edification of the church.


Not only do we need time for genuine formal worship of God as a corporate body, as a church; we also need worship to pervade our time - all of it. Since time is a divine gift, making all time sacred, worship is a lifestyle.

'We may speak in jest about going to church when you're hatched, matched, and dispatched,' says Robert Schaper in his book In His Presence: Appreciating Your Worship Tradition (Thomas Nelson).

'But that does not destroy the reality of the place of the worshipping community at all high points of life...we will discover that virtually every Christian tradition feels the necessity of a congregational and liturgical response to the mountain peaks of our lives.'

This regular corporate worship celebrating major events of a lifetime is vital to the experience and expression of the Christian community or body life. But Schaper emphasises, 'We go from the service of corporate worship into the service of individual worship, never away from the presence of God, never to be called anything less than the incarnation of his love and the vehicle of his will'.

The continuing reality is the 'body language' of unceasing spiritual worship offered to God (Romans 12:1-2). This worship as a way of life both permits and demands the Christian to 'make the most of every opportunity' (Ephesians 5:15-17; Colossians 4:5-6).

For Jacques Ellul, this means the work of 'preservation,' preserving God's creation by God's methods and 'salvation,' redeeming a world burdened with sin and separation from God with Christ's gospel. The Christian places herself or himself 'at the point of contact between two currents: the will of the Lord, and the will of the world' ('The Presence Of The Kingdom').


The purpose of special worship or festival times marking key events in Israel's redemptive history in the Old Testament was to bring meaning and celebration to all time. This principle of religious time transfers to the New Testament as well.

The key redemptive events for the Christian Church are: Christ's birth, manifestation, baptism, death, resurrection, ascension, bestowing of the Spirit at Pentecost, and his second coming. This series of events brings meaning to all time in the Christian era.

Like the Hebrew religious calendar, the application of Christian 'event-time' to all time gives a certain transcendent meaning to all of life.

Since our relationship to event-time determines our relationship to all time, I concur with Robert E Webber when he advocates a return to the observance of the church year by evangelicals. Whether one's church celebrates a liturgical year or not, individuals and families benefit from marking time on a daily, weekly, and yearly basis.

Especially important for the Christian is the weekly celebration of time. Robert Lee has challenged the Church to consider the concept of 'Sabbath time' for the Christian Sunday. That means recognising a weekly cycle of time in which one day revitalises life during the other six.

He calls on the contemporary Christian Church to relearn the significance of Sunday as understood in the early church. He suggests three meanings for Sunday in the early church that we might recover profitably for our day:

1 Sunday as the day of light - light was created on the first day of the week, and Christ, the light of the world, arose from the dead on the first day of the week;

2 Sunday as the day of resurrection - a sign of the new covenant in Christ;

3 Sunday as the day of the Spirit - the day the Holy Spirit descended on the first Christians, the birthday of the Church.

Perhaps the appropriation of this early church teaching about Sunday would help us recapture the enthusiasm Tertullian had for the Sabbath. That great second century Christian apologist proclaimed: 'Sunday we give to joy!'.


The prophet Habakkuk's charge to the nation of Judah, facing imminent destruction by the pagan Babylonian hordes of King Nebuchadnezzar, is no less forceful today. 'But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him' (Habakkuk 2:20).

Holiness in time through worship is possible only because God is indeed holy. In turn, God's holiness exposes our smallness, inability, frailty, and mortality. As we hush before the Lord in his holy temple we are reminded that God is sovereign in time.

This assures the Christian of salvation and divine redemption in human history (Psalm 4:4-8). It also keeps the believer in Christ from apathy and cynicism because the personal involvement of our Holy God in creation preserves the sense of mystery and wonder of time, of a lifetime.

The silence of worship is equally as important as the noise of worship. Silence takes the worshipper out of time and into God's eternity - 'Be still, and know that I am God' (Psalm 46:10).

Silence is valuable in Christian worship because it is disturbing, arresting. We feel uncomfortable, helpless. We are no longer in control. The silence we spend in God's eternity brings perspective to our life in several ways:

1 Theologically, silence heightens communication with God because it provides a framework for hearing his word;

2 Spiritually, the silence of worship leads the Christian to maturity in Christ because in silence we learn obedience to God

3 Sociologically, the silence of worship teaches compassion for others because we are no longer attempting to 'devour people with our words' - as Foster puts it!

The discipline of silence also instructs the worshipper in what it means to 'wait upon the Lord' The psalmist vowed, 'For God alone my soul waits in silence' (Psalm 62:1, 5 NRSV).

Waiting on the Lord in silence renews the physical and spiritual strength of the faithful (Psalm 27:14; Isaiah 40:31), breeds genuine humility, instils a practical hope that sustains the righteous in the present (Psalm 130:5-6; 131:1-3), reveals the will of God to those who are patient (Psalm 25:4-5; 37:7), and perhaps most important, reminds us that our times are in God's hands-not our own (Psalm 31:15).


The legacy of the Old Testament Sabbath for the Christian Church is a day of rest and worship. Augustine understood Sabbath rest as a rest of the heart, the peace and tranquility of a good conscience before God.

Sabbath rest is the application of Sabbath time to all of life in God, to all of time - all our senses alive in the joy and celebration of Sabbath worship. The human and divine encounter of Sabbath worship transcends time 'so that in our ministry in time we may extend such transfigured life into the daily world without becoming lost in it'.

Today, the question is not what is Sabbath rest or Sabbath worship. There are a multitude of resources available describing and defining the essence of Sabbath time, several discussed in this very study.

Our question is: how do we participate in Sabbath rest and worship meaningfully, consistently? Here I think Robert Lee offers at least a partial solution. He contends Christians need to rediscover the difference between holy day and holiday.

The holy day celebrates in worship (or solemn and penitential quiet) past events. By contrast, the focus of the holiday is essentially the celebration of the present, having a good time now.

The Christian celebration of a holy day is not marked by a red number on the calendar. Rather, it is a posture toward time and history, toward divine mystery and revelation in space and time.

Sabbath rest also had a humanitarian dimension, as it recalled the rest the Hebrews achieved when God delivered them from slavery in Egypt (Deuteronomy 5:12-15).

This prompts Tilden Edwards in 'Sabbath Time' to observe, 'Judeo- Christian sabbaths provide remembrances and signs of who we are in God's sight; ultimately equal and free from human subservience'.

For Edwards this freedom invites the liberation of time for 'appreciating rather than manipulating life'. Indeed, Sabbath time tutors the Christian in doing justice and loving mercy at all times (Micah 6:8).

Sabbath rest points to a time when the principles of justice and righteousness inherent to divine rest will pervade God's creation (Isaiah 32:15-11).

Recognising that the Christian belongs to two cities, Ellul calls on all those who belong to the heavenly city to practise a revolutionary Christianity. By this he means a lifestyle characterised by the power of Christ which unleashes biblical justice and righteousness - the kingdom of God, if you will - in this present order.

May your Sabbath rest and Sabbath worship enable you to celebrate time today in light of time in that day to come!


[Taken, with permission, from Andrew Hill's book 'Enter His Courts With Praise! Old Testament Worship For The New Testament Church' - published in the UK by Kingsway]






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