It’s the most commonly asked question when people want to know who we are, what we do, and why we call ourselves by this extraordinary number. There are many answers, but the simplest one is this:
God loves the number 7 so much,
He repeatedly uses it to illustrate His nature and plan.
The number 7 is found over 700 times in the Bible, second only to the number 1. In Genesis, God rested on the 7th day after spending six days speaking the world into existence. He told Noah to take 7 pairs of every clean animal onto the ark, and it was 7 days from the time of the closing of the ark until water began to fill the earth. The pattern continues through Revelation. It’s a number symbolizing completeness, perfection, being finished.
Life operates in cycles of 7: Days of the week, notes in the musical scale, wonders of the ancient world, continents, colors of the rainbow, number of holes we have in our heads, etc. We were astounded by all of the ways 7 is represented around us, but we kept coming back to the original 7, the idea of rest. That was the seed that had begun taking root.
While God was wooing us into a deeper relationship with Himself, our eyes were opened to the lack of rest around us. We work mainly with two groups of people: Christians, and the homeless. Sometimes they are same, but even when they’re not, they have a lot in common.
Believers are taught from birth to “Go into all the world,” but I think someone scratched the record and we got stuck on the word Go and forgot about ever slowing down or stopping. To rest was to risk idleness or laziness, and we didn’t want to give the enemy a foothold. And there’s so much to do! There’s no time to rest. My grandma used to say, “You can rest when you’re dead.”
I recently heard the phrase “Christian Fatigue Syndrome.” As much as I loved youth ministry, I was definitely suffering from that when we moved back to Colorado 8 years ago. It’s an epidemic among ministry staffs everywhere. More on that later.
The lack of rest among the homeless looks different, but produces similar results. When you’re homeless, rest is a safety issue. When you’re exposed and your life is lived in the public eye, rest isn’t really an option. You’re on your guard at all times, protecting yourself or your stuff.
Do you know what happens when your body doesn’t rest? It’s susceptible to illness and disease, and you cease to function at the level for which you were created. You become cynical, judgmental, and inward focused. It’s the same for the spiritual life.
For the last six years, our goal has been to be a place of rest for our homeless friends. Amidst their stormy lives, they could find shelter in our presence, share a meal with us (we DO NOT call them feeds), and know they have friends who will walk through life with them. This happens through conversations, doctor appointments and jail visits, weekly meals in the park, and a lot of hanging out.
It’s also been our goal to teach Christians the concept of rest and give them an opportunity to experience it through our Spring Break and Summer trips called SABBATH. See what we did there?
Rest takes a few different forms. Sometimes it’s getting away from it all to be refilled and renewed. Sometimes it’s sitting in the Father’s lap and resting in the midst of a stormy season of life. It’s physical AND a state of mind, and absolutely essential to EVERY human being.
I love how it’s stated in Matthew 11:28-30:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (The Message)
That’s the life we desire for our friends and family, and certainly for ourselves.
Today is the first day of the 7th year of SEVENS,
and the beginning of our first Sabbath year.
That’s the big announcement. Can you hear us all cheering? 😉
This means so many things to us. Our ministry in Boulder is far from over, but we have reached a wonderful milestone. We’ve been creating a community for six years, and while we’ll still be nurturing and doing life with our community, we’ve come to the place of needing to rest. This 7th year will be all about that. We have a few ideas on what that will look like, but we’re relying heavily on the Holy Spirit to lead us through the process.
Our regular outreach and weekly meals will remain mostly unchanged, but we’ve decided not to hire summer interns or do any SABBATH groups this year. Our summers are the busiest time of the year with training interns and running our program, and that’s a good thing. What’s better than that? Our family ministry. This isn’t an either/or situation. Our children are a big part of the way we live out our ministry. They are a gift, they come first in our lives, and they deserve/need a Nowell family summer. In their 9, 10, and 13 years of life, we’ve never taken a family vacation. Never. The closest we’ve come is tacking a few days on to a youth trip. Even that has been over 9 years ago. We may or may not travel this summer, but everything we do will be in the spirit of rest as a family.
Why the big announcement?
YOU are invited to join us in our SABBATH year.
We know it will look different for each of you. We’ll be sharing some specific ways to find and make rest happen, but this is not a year of strict adherence to religious traditions. Really people, have you ever know us to be like that? Think of it as a restful journey, and a practice that we promise will bring about greater blessing in your life. We’ll be hosting some fun challenges and activities relating to the number seven. Our website/blog is under construction to reflect the theme, and we’ll be chronicling our journey of rest here, and on Twitter and Facebook.
May I ask you for a favor? If you’ve ever been on one of our SABBATH trips, we’d like to hear your story, how it impacted you and or your community. Submit your stories, quotes, photos, etc. to be included in our Sabbath chronicle. Anything you feel will be uplifting and encouraging to others.
For those of you who love us from afar or haven’t participated in our groups, we’d love to hear from you too. Tell us what you think about the idea of rest. Is it difficult? How does it make you feel to take a day off? Do you take one at all? Share your stories about the number seven showing up in your life, or whatever you’d like to share.
To kick it all off today, the first 7 people to respond to this post on the SEVENS blog (with more than 2 sentences, thank you) will receive a free t-shirt. (Not you, Ty. SEVENS interns not eligible. :P) If you already have one, you can give it as a gift, or donate it to someone else. Every time you wear it or see it, you’ll be reminded to live in the unforced rhythms of grace.
So what’s your story?
Will you join us?