How can we determine the appropriateness of Sabbath activities?

“How can we determine the appropriateness of Sabbath activities?” Ensign, June 1995, 66–67

How can we determine the appropriateness of Sabbath activities?

Dean M. Hansen, gospel doctrine teacher in the Alta Heights Ward, Sandy Utah Canyon View Stake.

As a boy growing up in Tetonia, Idaho, I remember hearing Bishop Richard A. Egbert remind us that, barring an emergency, we should not sow or harvest our crops on the Lord’s day. The bishop, himself a farmer and sheep rancher, promised us that God would bless us if we would exercise faith during our short mountain-valley growing and reaping seasons.

I remember weather-hardened farmers and their wives standing during fast and testimony meeting and tearfully thanking their Heavenly Father for personal or familial blessings—a life spared, a child healed, a marriage renewed, a crop harvested. In many cases, these families attributed their blessings directly to their efforts to observe the Sabbath.

As I wondered at the faithful spirit of the people I knew and loved as a youth, I began to understand the logic of Sabbath observance. If I really wanted to enjoy life’s greatest blessings and God’s spirit and care, I realized I must keep his day.

President Spencer W. Kimball offered important guidance regarding appropriate Sabbath activities:

“People frequently wonder where to draw the line: what is worthy and what is unworthy to do upon the Sabbath. But if one loves the Lord with all his heart, might, mind, and strength; if one can put away selfishness and curb desire; if one can measure each Sabbath activity by the yardstick of worshipfulness; if one is honest with his Lord and with himself; if one offers a ‘broken heart and a contrite spirit,’ it is quite unlikely that there will be Sabbath breaking in that person’s life” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982, p. 219).

Another key to determine the appropriateness of Sabbath activities is to examine their impact upon our spirituality. President Ezra Taft Benson said that Latter-day Saints should be engaged in Sabbath activities that contribute to greater spirituality:

“The purpose of the Sabbath is for spiritual uplift, for a renewal of our covenants, for worship, for rest, for prayer. It is for the purpose of feeding the spirit, that we may keep ourselves unspotted from the world by obeying God’s command” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988, p. 438).

When King Benjamin taught his people the words of a heavenly messenger, he gave advice that is useful in determining suitable Sabbath activity.

“For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he [1] yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and [2] putteth off the natural man and [3] becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and [4] becometh as a child” (Mosiah 3:19; numerals added).

Keeping a true and good Sabbath requires that we seek the Holy Spirit in all we do and say, that we put off those things pleasing to the natural man. We are promised, “If thou … call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and … honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words:

“Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord” (Isa. 58:13–14).

When we strive to become as a child, “spiritually begotten” of Christ and reborn into the ways of a covenant Saint (Mosiah 5:7), we will feel inclined to observe the Sabbath.

The Sabbath spirit is the spirit of helping, loving, lifting, and teaching family, friends, and neighbors. It is a day of opportunities to lose ourselves in the service of others. It is a day for repenting, for giving up such things as evil speaking, hard feelings, sinful habits, unkindness, pettiness, meanness, uncharitable attitudes and actions, pride, and irreverence.

An overarching standard by which to judge Sabbath behavior is to thoughtfully and prayerfully ask ourselves: “What would the Savior do?” If the Savior were with us on any given Sunday, would we feel all right about inviting him to participate with us in a particular Sunday activity?

Another yardstick for measuring the appropriateness of Sabbath activities is found in Doctrine and Covenants section 59. The Lord offers guidelines so that we might “more fully keep [ourselves] unspotted from the world” (D&C 59:9) and from the worldly recreation, entertainment, and amusements that threaten proper Sabbath observance.

The Lord says we are to “pay [our] devotions unto the Most High” (D&C 59:10). We do this as we rest from our labors, attend church, and “offer up [our] sacraments” (D&C 59:9), which means we participate in activities “whereby we affirm our allegiance to our divine Lord” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 221). We have been taught of some activities appropriate to the Sabbath: repenting, renewing our covenants, fasting, praying, and studying the scriptures, among other things. Activities that deter us from these duties may be inappropriate.

What we do on the Sabbath is a measure of the depth of our conversion to the gospel, of our love for our Heavenly Father, and of our attitude toward the Savior Jesus Christ and his atonement and resurrection (see Ensign, May 1975, p. 49).

Most questions on Sabbath observance can be answered by reading what the Lord has revealed in the scriptures and through his modern prophets.

If still in doubt, we need to seek and follow the Spirit in discerning appropriate Sabbath activities.

By drawing closer to our Heavenly Father through Sabbath observance, we strengthen our testimonies, expand our gospel knowledge, increase our spirituality, reinforce our determination, better control our appetites and desires, and find joy in duty.

Inasmuch as we “remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Ex. 20:8), the Lord has promised that “the fulness of the earth is [ours] … and the good things which come of the earth” (D&C 59:16–17).