When I was a boy, the best part of Sunday School was song practice. That was because of Dr. David Smith, the chorister, who could even get a deacon to sing—and love it. One of his favorite songs was “Thanks for the Sabbath School.” We really sang the words with enthusiasm and spirit: “Thanks for the Sabbath School. Hail to the day” (Hymns, no. 278).
But after the pleasure of singing together with the congregation, I was left to wonder what there was to hail about Sunday—what joy could I find during a day when the routine of my boyhood was so severely disrupted? I didn’t like Sunday and the restrictions it imposed.
Then I started reading the scriptures and came across passages such as these:
“If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and shalt 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; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it” (Isa. 58:13–14).
That made me think. Why would the Lord require that we should keep the Sabbath day holy? What was in it for me?
The scriptures speak of the Sabbath being a delight, a day of refreshment, for rejoicing and giving special consideration to the things of the Lord. They promise blessings as we honor our Father in Heaven on his holy day.
I concluded that the Lord gave us an awesome responsibility for our own spirituality. But with it he also gave us the means by which we can become well-rounded mentally, physically, socially, and spiritually. I know now that the purpose of the Sabbath is to nourish the spirit. Truly we are rested, refreshed, and renewed as we pause and concentrate on spiritual things. We are better prepared to meet the world and the challenges of our daily lives if we turn away from our own pleasures and delight in the Lord.
Bishop Russell C. Harris gave some keen insight on Sunday behavior: “You can rationalize, justify, or quibble with your conscience, or you can listen to the Lord. … Does the admonition ‘not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure’ suggest anything about golf, skiing, movies, baseball, and like pursuits? It does to me” (New Era, Nov. 1971, p. 9).
Here are two simple questions to help determine what activities are appropriate on Sunday:
Does it keep me from the ways of the world?
Does it cause me to grow spiritually?
Jesus said, “Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days” (Matt. 12:12). To do well means to be helpful, righteous, and obedient.
Nothing is more inspiring than to see youth praise God by honoring him on his holy day. Let me recount the story of one of them to you. Eric Liddell had been raised in China by missionary parents. When he returned to Scotland for his education, he discovered while playing rugby that he was fast on his feet. Those who watched him run called it sheer artistry. He was a wild runner, technically imperfect, but with exultant, liquid speed.
As Liddell continued to run, he began to receive honors. Friends pushed him to train for the Olympics, but his devoutly religious sister, Jennie, thought it would turn his attention from God. She knew he couldn’t be half-hearted about anything and she said, “Be honest with me. How much time will you have left for God?”
But Liddell’s father advised him differently. “Run in His name … and let the world stand back in wonder.”
And wonder it did. Liddell became known as the “Flying Scotsman,” making the 1924 British Olympic team with ease. On the way to Paris for the games, however, a reporter tossed him a question that startled Liddell. “What about Sunday? Do you think you can beat the Yanks?”
Liddell had not known that the heat for the 100-meter race he was scheduled to run in was on Sunday. The news made him a quiet passenger, and his sister’s words echoed in his mind: “Your mind’s not with us anymore, Eric.” It was heartbreakingly clear to him what he had to do. He could not run in the race, even if it meant undoing all the years of training, even if it meant disappointing his teammates.
They took the news badly, and Lord Birkenhead, who was leading the group, took it worse. “Won’t run?” he bellowed and turned red. He simply couldn’t understand.
Liddell responded, “I’m not sure that I understand. … I’ve run, driven myself, and run and run again for three whole years just to be on this ship. I gave up rugby, my work has suffered, I’ve even deeply hurt someone I hold very dear. Because, I told myself, if I won, I would win for God—it was his will. And now I find myself sitting here destroying it all, with a couple of words. But I have to. To run would be against God’s law.”
The pressure on Liddell didn’t end there. In Paris, he was called into a special meeting with Lord Birkenhead and the Prince of Wales himself. Had he no allegiance to king and country? “There are times,” said the Prince, “when we are asked to make sacrifices in the name of that loyalty. Without them, our allegiance is worthless. As I see it, for you this is such a time.”
Liddell was uncomfortable, but unmoved, and the tense situation was only resolved when a teammate entered the room and offered to give up his spot on a 400-meter race on Thursday so that Liddell could still run.
That Sunday at church, Liddell read from Isaiah 40:31. [Isa. 40:31] It was not an easy day for him, for he longed to be running for the gold, but he told the congregation what he told himself: “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”
Later that week at the 400-meter race, he had his chance to take the Lord at his word. As the runners lined up at their marks, rumors circulated among the crowd that Liddell would never win this race. He was a sprinter, fast in the short haul, but could he take this quarter-mile distance? But as he stood at the line, Liddell received a boost that the crowd didn’t know. One of the top runners on the American team handed him a folded piece of paper that read, “In the Old Book, it says, ‘He that honors me, I will honor.’”
Liddell won that race that day. He got his gold. In doing so, those who watched believed he had passed the supreme test. He had found the courage to throw his head back, push his heart until it almost burst, and cross the finish line ahead of all contenders. But that was not really the supreme test. The supreme test he had passed on the boat on the way to France, in the meeting with the Prince of Wales, and again that Sunday while he watched the race he might have run. The supreme test in any life is whether one can stick to his highest ideals when glory or expedience pressures us away from them. (Excerpted from W. J. Weatherby, Chariots of Fire, Dell/Quicksilver, pp. 50–165.)
By keeping the Lord’s day holy, we are blessed temporally and spiritually “For them that honour me I will honour” (1 Sam. 2:30).
Speaking of Sunday, the Lord declared: “For verily this is a day appointed unto you to rest from your labors, and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High; … that thy joy may be full. … inasmuch as ye do this, the fulness of the earth is yours” (D&C 59:10, 13, 16; italics added).