Sabbath, noun, a period of rest.
For the past 15 years I have enjoyed what I call “distance leadership” roles. Ministering over geographic and cultural distance taps into my gifts and passions. It also demands a lot of travel and emotional energy.
In 2002 a number of challenges led to me to begin taking a regular weekly Sabbath. My goal was simple: no email, no phone, and no wristwatch for 24 hours each week. Since that time I’d say I’ve averaged about 35-40 good Sabbaths each year. Not perfect, but definitely profitable. I’ve also managed to squeeze in one or two “mini-sabbatical” weeks each year which have been devoted to reading, reflection and prayer.
Last August the Lord showed me that my soul needs to take an extended rest from ministry. There’s a subtle temptation, almost unnoticeable, that creeps in when one is constantly positioned to help others enjoy Jesus: we can stop enjoying Jesus for ourselves. When this happens we can be in danger of drying up as a branch, or worse, losing our First Love. To combat this condition, most missions organizations provide for regular sabbaticals to refresh one’s soul. It might help to think of this period as an athlete looks at off-season. In off-season, athletes continue to work out and to cross-train, but their bodies enjoy a break from intense competition. It’s a chance for the body to recover and for the mind to gain new perspectives on its craft.
Campus Crusade offers senior staff members one month of sabbatical for every four years served. Stunningly, very few people take this gift. We talk about how we long for rest, but we’re too busy to take it.
In his eternal wisdom, God has provided for us regular periods of rest. It began with creation (“on the seventh day, God rested from his work.”) It continues throughout Scripture. Here are a few passages of the many that highlight our need for regular celebration and rest:
- See! The Lord has given you the Sabbath. (Exodus 16:29)
- Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. (Exodus 20:8)
- Be still, and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10)
- And Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. (Mark 2:27)
- So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. (Hebrews 4:9)
- Draw near to God, he will draw near to you. (James 4:8)
In March I will be taking a one-month Sabbatical. My goal is simple: To draw near to Jesus in fresh, unhindered ways so I can experience fresh power and fruitfulness in the next season of ministry.
This is a HUGE step of faith for me at this time. For the next 31 days I will not be answering any work-related email or phone calls. No ministry-related travel. No meetings. No trips to the office. Nothing. Nada. Everything has been placed in the capable hands of my Lord and my team. I am fairly confident the world will continue to spin without my help.
It requires faith to believe God works even when we don’t. I’ve learned that in Scripture, and in life, Sabbath is not so much a day off, but a day with. It’s a time to be with the Lord and with special people who restore our passion for living and loving well.
As the Lord prompts you, would you pray for me during March? Pray those verses above for me. Ask that Jesus would give me the discipline to wean myself from work, from Facebook and Twitter, and from other cultural white noise that clutters my soul. Pray that my Father the Vinedresser would prune me so that I could bear much more fruit. Ask that I would return on April 1 like Moses, whose face shone after he had been with God.
Thanks, and feel free to take the rest of the day off.
Suggested resources: The Rest of God by Mark Buchanan and Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership by Ruth Haley Barton.
7 replies on “God Works When We Don’t”
Thanks for posting this, Ken. I have attempted to take 2 sabbaticals, and neither has been of great profit, probably because of my unwillingness to recognize the very truth you outline. I desperately need the refreshing power of time with the Lord, but I often overestimate my importance to the mission….forgetting that it’s all in hands anyway. Thanks for the reminder!!
Yep, it really takes a group of committed people to help you sabbath. I want to put up healthy boundaries, not hard walls. What amazes me is how many friends and colleagues are cheering me on, saying “if you can do, maybe I can do it too.”
May God grant you His peace and presence in a special way as you sabbath with Him this coming month. Thanks for sharing your reflections!
I’ll miss your college ministry blogging, but I’m excited for you! Enjoy the month, sir.
I took my first sabbatical last year. It took me about three weeks to really be able to get away from everything and rest. (I was blessed to have planned vacation right after my sabbath…I really did get to
rest then! A pastor reminded me that the essence of the sabbatical was trust: to trust that there would be enough time to do the work I was leaving undone for that amount of time. Those words really helped me…not only for that sabbatical but for my regular sabbath, as well. Somehow that experience has also helped me in my faith journey in general…I think I took a huge step forward in understanding the Spirit filled life, as a result.
Lord Jesus, I pray this would be a sweet and significant time for Ken. My he be aware of your presence with him and your power in him. Meet with him and commune with him. Thank you, Jesus for your pursuit of him and his family. Amen.
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