Sabbatical Reflections

Today is the last day of my three-month sabbatical. It's been an incredible time. Some initial reflections:

Rest - I had no idea how much I needed the rest. I was tired, not physically but emotionally and maybe spiritually as well. One of my friends has talked about the difference between a jumpstart and a trickle-charge. For a while I found that my battery was dead, and a jumpstart would get me going again - an extra long weekend or a couple of days off, for instance. But there comes a time when you need a trickle-charge. A trickle-charge is safer and better and leads to greater longevity, and it's exactly what I needed.

My mentor, who guided me through the sabbatical, explained that my job was rest. That's it. God would take care of the rest. I'm thankful for his wisdom. He was right. I received the rest I needed, and God provided everything I needed and more. By the way, I had to work at rest. My to-do list actually became structured around how to rest.

One takeaway is that I have a greater appreciation for Sabbath and my ongoing need for rest even when I'm not on sabbatical.

Identity - It's too easy to confuse identity with ministry. I've pastored for 19 years now, and before that I was getting ready to pastor. I found it freeing this summer to temporarily step away from my role and to rediscover my primary identity as a son of God.

This Sunday I'm speaking on Psalm 131. I'm convinced that David gets at this issue in the beginning of this psalm. He is king of Israel, but when it comes to God, he comes just like everyone else:

O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.

I rediscovered the joy of coming to God not for the sake of another sermon or study, but simply for the pleasure of coming to my Father.

Provision - I'm amazed at how well God provided for us. He gave us precisely what we needed at every turn. His timing was impeccable. Just when we thought he had given us more than we could have expected, he gave us a little bit more.

When my mentor told me that my job was to rest, and that God would take care of the rest, I believed that God would provide us with what we needed. I just had no idea that he would be so generous. We have quite a few stories of how God surprised us these past few months and repeatedly exceeded our expectations.

Fear - I was surprised to discover that fear is an issue that I need to deal with. I wouldn't have guessed this, but I've discovered some areas of fear in my life. I've been reading Running Scared: Fear, Worry & the God of Rest and it's been helpful. I'm also memorizing Psalm 27.

Who knew that this was an issue? It may have been obvious to others, but I didn't know. My worries during the sabbatical were pointers to fears and idols I didn't know I had, and it's been helpful to identify them and to learn more about how to handle these fears.

I'm sure I'll continue to unpack more lessons from my sabbatical. It's been a great experience, and I highly recommend it. I'm grateful that Richview allowed me to experience this. It's been better than I could have expected.


Almost two months ago, I deleted my Facebook account. I wrote:

One of the surprises of my sabbatical: I’m enjoying being unplugged from some distractions, like Facebook. I deactivated my Facebook account at the start of June, and I’m enjoying it so much that I deleted it a couple of days ago...

And it's true. I loved being more unplugged and having one less inbox in my life. But last week I rejoined Facebook for two simple reasons, and one more complex one.

The two simple reasons: I want to keep up with my family, particularly my brothers, sister, nieces, and nephews. I was getting tired of looking over my wife's shoulder as she looked at pictures of the shed my brother just built. Secondly, we made some new friends this summer who live far away, and it seems that Facebook is going to help us keep in touch.

But the more complex and profound reason is that a pastor friend of mine mentioned last week that it's a useful tool for pastors to know what's happening in the lives of people within the congregation. It's not the only tool - it's hard to beat spending time with people - but it helps.

I'm still going to stay unplugged more than before. I'm hoping to batch process emails (and Facebook) once a day. But for now I'm back on Facebook. We'll see how long it takes before I'm either out of control or sick of it.

Love and Fear

The most common command in Scripture is "Do not be afraid." This command occurs over three hundred times. Ed Welch writes:

God never says anything just to get you off his back. The sheer number of times he speaks to your fears says that he cares much more than you know...Search Scripture and find that our fears are not trivial to God. (Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God Rest)

There are two ways of seeing the command, "Don't be afraid." One is as a command; one is as an invitation spoken by One who cares for us. When we understand God's love and power, we don't need to be afraid.

This psalm says it well:

The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
(Psalm 27:1 ESV)

By the way, Welch's book makes a good thirty-day personal study if you're interested in this topic.