24/6: A Prescription For a Happier, Healthier Life
by Matthew Sleeth, M.D.
Rviewed by Landrum P. Leavell III, Th.D.
While I don’t necessarily like the “prescriptive” nature of the subtitle, I really liked 24/6. Sleeth was an M.D., which I found quite interesting for someone writing on the Sabbath. Even more intriguing was the fact that he was not a Christ-follower when he started Sabbathing. He has a great sense of humor and lots of stories from the ER throughout the book. As stated on the cover, the commandment on Sabbath is the only commandment that begins with the word “remember—almost as if God knew we would forget. Well, guess what? We did.” For many of us, Sabbath is a dead word that needs to come alive, and Sleeth aids in that resurrection, guiding the reader to a vigorous way to live in the present.
In the Foreward, Eugene Peterson writes about Dr. Sleeth, “His entry into the Christian faith ten years ago provides a total reorientation of his imagination in the Hebrew/Christian culture of Sabbath keeping. And most impressive of all, he explores the many details of what is involved in practicing Sabbath in a world that is unrelenting in its distractions and pressures to work longer and harder.” (ix) Sleeth writes as a practitioner who draws from the truth of the Bible and from the stories of thousands of patients he has seen. He admits that he is still learning what God meant when He spoke this commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8, ESV).
The book is laid out into four parts: Our 24/7 World, Why We Need 24/8, How We Do 24/6, and Your 24/6 Life. In Part One, Sleeth wrote about what is missing does matter, using an example from medical school in a class on X-ray reading. To generalize, reading an X-ray is normally to find something, to see something clearly, likely a problem. Yet, in the case of someone who has cancer, a missing clavicle can show a problem from a different angle and aid in diagnosis. As we have gone through a metamorphosis from closed banks, gas stations, and stores on Sunday to a 24/7 world, the thing that has gone missing is rest.
Subtracting a day of rest each week has had a profound effect on our lives. This shouldn’t be any surprise. After all, one day a week adds up. Fifty-two days a year times an average life span is equal to more than eleven years! Subtract that, and there’s going to be a change. “This is a law of the universe: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Subtract over a decade of sleep, work or education, and the entire character of one’s existence is altered. Multiply eleven years times a third of a billion Americans, and you are looking for a lost continent of time.” (8-9) I guess you noticed we didn’t lose a Monday. We lost a Sunday, our day of rest.
You can survive without it, but you can’t really live. The practice of stopping one day a week is not new for humanity. Beginning the day after human history began, it made it through the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, was exported to the New World, survived the Civil War and the Depression, and the dawn of the Space Age. The practice of not stopping is what’s relatively new. Sleeth notes, “Some dismiss Genesis, but it rings true. We feel the gist of it in our bones: Something went terribly wrong. Something is missing.” (18) The fact is, we cannot turn back the hands of time, and our 24/7 world is not going to change. The good doctor even says our communication tools will cause us to look back with nostalgia one day at the 24/7 world once these “advances” make 48/7 a reality. Not a very comforting prospect.
Societal default will never bring back a weekly day of rest. It will take a conscious choice. “Remember” the how and the why of a day of rest. “Remember the Sabbath” is how the longest of the Ten Commandments begins. There’s a chapter titled How the Fourth Commandment Got Added, Multiplied, and Subtracted. God didn’t rest because He was tired, but because He is holy, and everything God does is holy. “The Fourth Commandment applies equally to men and women. It is made to protect those who believe and those who do not. It to be followed by humanity, and it is observed by God Himself.” (36)
We all remember the story of Eric Liddell from the movie Chariots of Fire. That Olympic event was in 1924. Life has changed drastically since then. For those with “Huh?” eyes, there are always things to view semiotically: “One twenty-first-century irony is that the secular world is sometimes better about keeping the intention of the Fourth Commandment that the church is…even the most widely published atheist professor still insists on his or her sabbatical (Sabbath leave). Judges who enforce separation of church and state don’t hold court on Sundays. Wall Street measures 24/7 profits but doesn’t trade on the weekends.” (40-41)
Writing about why we need Sabbath, Sleeth cites the Gospel of Mark as Jesus-in-action. “The minute Jesus steps into His ministry, He stakes His claim on the Sabbath. Jesus declares Himself both the Lord of the Sabbath and the meaning of the day.” (51) He further writes: “The meaning of rest to a man who cannot walk is to get up and go. The meaning of rest to the hungry is food. The meaning of rest to Peter’s mother-in-law was not only to be healed from her fever, but to offer hospitality to her son-in-law’s famous employer.” (58)
After getting married, having children, and pursuing the state religion of success, another doctor signed him up to work every Sunday. Sleeth started taking every Saturday off merely to shepherd his strength for the next day’s twenty-four hour shift. On a slow Sunday afternoon at the hospital, he picked up a Bible in the waiting room, and stole it. To seek God, one must have the time to seek. Reading Psalm 90, he began to grapple with the number of our days, seeing that as the reason God gave the Fourth Commandment. “Life is unpredictable. We should always be at peace with God. Observing a Sabbath ensures that at the very worst, we are never more than six days away from a holy perspective.” (101) Furthermore along this line, “We need the Sabbath for the perspective it gives us. You have more than you think if you have too little, and you have less than you think if you believer you have it all.” (124)
In the “Your 24/6 Life” part, he writes about “The Sermon on the Amount”—“Giving money to others makes no worldly sense. It is therefore on equal footing with the Sabbath… The longest of the Ten Commandments tells us to keep the Sabbath, but the majority of its verbiage is about giving the Sabbath away.” (134) He has some good advice for “Those Who Get Paid to Pray.” He cites a number of helpful, practical suggestions for preparing for Sabbath. They have a Friday night dinner (a rare thing in today’s overcommitted culture) with family and friends to begin their Sabbath, seeing this as something wonderful, stumbled onto about the rhythm of Jesus’ life. He writes about what their Sabbaths look like today, how they adjust if he is traveling or preaching.
The book concludes with seventeen pages of 24/6 Scriptures. This was truly an enjoyable, practical, informative read, one with important reminders and applications for our day and the days to come. Get it. Read it. “Remember…”