Here we are again – Sunday shopping.

‘Again’ because there’s been continuous organised concern about what we can and cannot do on Sunday for nearly 200 years! The Lord’s Day Observance Society, for example, was set up as early as 1831.

Then there’s been the ‘Keep Sunday Special’ campaign, started in 1985. That’s brought together trade unionists, owners of small shops, church leaders and others. It focuses attention on possible consequences of changing the Sunday trading laws. It influenced the provisions of the 1994 act – which is in place at the moment.

The proposal this week is that the 1994 act be relaxed during the Olympics to allow all shops to open when they want, including the big ones at present restricted to only six hours of trading.

The arguments against this are pretty clear and have been summarised in this online statement by ‘KSS’.

All available evidence shows that a clear majority of UK citizens do not want further deregulation and shop staff are strongly against it. Many parents are already working long hours at the weekend to the detriment of their children and their own relationships and a government which truly supports good parenting would not agree to extend Sunday trading. Long working hours in the UK already contribute significantly to stress at work with significant costs to the public purse and other detrimental social effects. Many small shops have already closed, not least because of competitive pressures from large retailers on Sundays. Many more will shut if Sunday hours were extended, with adverse effects on community life, the elderly the disabled and the poor. Many practising Christians would be denied the opportunity to worship at all on Sundays, contrary to the overall aim of creating a tolerant society where minority rights are protected.’

And, yes, I’m in agreement with the general point here.

So what am I writing about then?

It’s just that, for Christians, it’s not – or shouldn’t be – merely a question of what they do or don’t do. I may refuse to spend any money on a Sunday – but throw it about the other six days. Or not drive on that day, yet make unnecessary car journeys the rest of the time.

And what about Christians who have to work shifts (I’m thinking especially of those in the health service)? Some actually find it very hard to avoid working and to get to a church service on a Sunday.

According to Jesus, our outward actions must reflect what’s in our hearts. It’s no good putting on our Sunday best and behaving in a certain way just one day in the week and thinking that’s OK. Doing what God wants must be a 24/7 commitment.

So how do I ‘keep the sabbath’ in my heart?

The Israelites were told to do no work on the Sabbath to help them remember that it is God who provides what we need. One day a week they were to give up self-reliance and trust God for their needs. That was it. If we trust Him we can be at peace all the time, knowing that He’s in charge. And we won’t need to shop every day.

Not everyone shares that faith – and I can’t impose it on anyone.

But for the country to have a ‘day off’ each week – no pressure to work, to trade, to shop – wonderful!

By Nigel O’Dwyer, who lives and works in Worthing.