When I was growing up, pastors were given extended vacations, known as “sabbaticals” (try saying that term to someone outside the church and see how they look at you), for two reasons. Either they were writing a book or some other task that would dominate a period of months or they had screwed up somehow and the church didn’t know what to do with them. When I was 15, the senior pastor at my home church was given a 6 month forced sabbatical. In my mind, that seemed like a lot of time to go fishing.
So, I was surprised when Danny approached me about taking a sabbatical last fall. “Well, um, okay… if you want me to go away for 6-8 weeks, I’m a company man.”
…the greatest thing to ever happen in the history of vacations. Needless to say, we enjoyed ourselves immensely.
What followed in the summer of 2015 was, at risk of over-stating my case, the greatest thing to ever happen in the history of vacations. Needless to say, we enjoyed ourselves immensely. I hope that a few reflections from our time away, as random as they may be, might help you see how valuable a sabbatical can be. So, consider the following reflections and please don’t hold this post to any literary standard, because, honestly, I’ve written them as they came to me.
1. Absence can be a means by which God brings opportunity to others- Having now come back from sabbatical, I’m realizing how many opportunities my absence gave to others. Most notably, our intern Cameron was really able to thrive both as a worship leader and in the youth ministry. I’m not sure those opportunities would have happened in such an effective way had I been present. From my perspective, coming back from sabbatical and not finding worship ministry in disarray served to remind me that God gifts His people to serve His church and push them toward maturity (Eph. 4). My concoction of gifts and passions are not in any sense necessary to God’s plan, they can easily be replaced by another individual willing to be used by God. What’s more, part of my job is to look to facilitate others gifting, not merely to showcase mine.
2. Kids grow up fast- Too fast. In coming back to Grace we had a number of people comment on how Owen, Ellie and Sam had grown physically. While the difference in height stood out to them, I see three children that grew immensely throughout our time away in various ways. One child took some major steps in swimming, another developed more patience and love for those around them. These were not something I expected at the beginning of the summer and I’m not sure I would have seen them so distinctly if it weren’t for the fact that I was with them more often during our time away.
All of this is just a reminder that our kids can grow by leaps and bounds in just a few months. If we’re not careful we’ll miss it. For us, the sabbatical came at a perfect time to catch a few glimpses of God’s faithfulness to us—He’s blessed us with 3 kids that continually change and He invites us to change with them. He wants me to interact differently with Owen today than I did three years ago, because, Owen isn’t the same kid he was. Too often I choose to see this as a frustration rather than a chance for God to invite me to deeper reliance on Him.
Scripture can be absolutely breath-taking in its beauty – The time we had on sabbatical afforded me a great deal of time to read and reflect.
3. My wife is the second best gift I’ve received from a loving God- Of course, the salvation which I’ve been granted in Christ—the restored relationship with God which He wrought by His Son’s blood—is the greatest gift any of us could ever name. But my wife is pretty amazing. There were two occasions throughout our weeks away that Jodi and I had a few days to ourselves. During those days I was reminded of how sweet it is to be married to her. My wife loves a few specific things; her family, HGTV, adoption… and Jesus most of all. I couldn’t have asked God for a better partner.
4. Scripture can be absolutely breath-taking in its beauty – The time we had on sabbatical afforded me a great deal of time to read and reflect. Most of my personal time was spent in Isaiah and Jeremiah—two very stark books. And yet, there are immense gospel promises in each of these books. To name a few…well, heck, lets just post some of those here (for the sake of space, we’ll limit it to Isaiah);
- “He (the Lord) shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness He shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth” (Is. 11)
- “For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters shall cover the sea” (Is. 11)
- “For the Lord of hosts has purposed and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?” (Is. 14)
- “Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: Whoever believes will not be in haste, And I will make just the line, and righteousness the plumb line” (Is. 28)
- “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men, therefore, behold, I will again do wonderful things with this people, with wonder upon wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning man shall be hidden.” (Is. 29)
- “I have chosen you (Israel) and have not cast you off; learnt, for I am with you; be not dismayed for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Is. 41)
- (of Jesus) “Behold my Servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break and a faintly burning wick he will not quench: he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; the coastlands wait for his law” (Is. 42)
- “I, I am he who blots out transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins. Put me in remembrance; let us argue together; set forth your case, that you may be proved right, Your first father sinned, and your mediators transgressed against me. Therefor I will profane the princes of the sanctuary, and deliver Jacob to utter destruction and Israel to reviling” (Is. 43)
- “Listen to me, you stubborn of heart, you who are far from righteousness: I bring near my righteousness; it is not far off, and my salvation will not delay.” (Is. 46)
- “‘There is no peace,’ says the Lord, ‘for the wicked’” (Is. 48)
- “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.” (Is. 59)
5. Rest Is a Bigger Concept Than What we Might Think- Honestly, I was kind of nervous about taking 8 weeks away from work. What on earth was I going to do with my time? Of course, you invariably find things to do (I took up golf for a few weeks until I realized that hitting other people’s houses with golf balls wasn’t going to end well). But the Bible speaks of a rest beyond just the absence of workload. Faith is the means by which we enter into this rest, and while absence of activity can aide that aim, it isn’t always necessary. It was nice for me to have a few weeks where my performance were not the means by which I assessed my value. Rather, rest meant seeing God’s provision, knowing I didn’t need to earn it, and delighting in God’s goodness. It was… refreshing.
6. Your local church is a blessing- We love Greenville Grace. We are blessed by our local assembly of believers. This became increasingly apparent with each of the churches we went to on Sundays. They weren’t bad churches, but you were around number of people you didn’t know and reminded me of those we missed back home. We came back to Greenville ready to touch base with those we knew and loved, mostly in our local congregation of believers. This was a reminder to me that God designed His body to consist of people who knew one another and cared for each other.
All of this is to say, our sabbatical was a huge blessing. We want to thank Greenville Grace and all those individuals who supported us with finances, lodging, prayer, and even the occasional encouraging word.