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Lessons I Learned on my Sabbatical – Part 1

I decided to reveal some of the hard-won lessons I’ve learned on my fumbling attempt at a ministry sabbatical. If you’re in full-time Christian ministry or missions, this is a must-read. If you are not “in ministry” but you are a human being, this is a must-read. I think that these are timeless lessons for all people in all walks of life.


Lessons I Learned on my Sabbatical – Part 1

So, I’ve been a missionary overseas for about 8 years. I had taken breaks here and there throughout the years, in between assignments, but nothing really intentional. I didn’t think I needed it.

Last year, I was rarin’ to go after a couple quiet years of ministry service. A sabbatical was the last thing on my mind. This was when God so lovingly disrupted all my “go-ye-into-the-world” plans and loudly said, “STOP!”

Say what, God?!

I was adamant in my resistance, at first, but finally accepted the call to stop and take a “sabbatical” from ministry, even though it did not make total sense to me. I just couldn’t ignore the voice of God. I had to heed His word.

I went back to my homeland of Canada. I royally freaked out, to be honest. I fumbled and fell my way through it in the early stages. Being on this sabbatical broke me, first, before it was able to bind me up and heal me.

A majority of the time, the impatient “gotta-produce-some-tangible-results” part of me felt like I was completely wasting my time. The “idealistic-and-perfectionistic” part of me often felt like a failure, as if I had this unattainable image of what “The Ideal Sabbaticalizer” would be doing on their sabbatical, and somehow, I was surely doing it all wrong. It’s funny to think back on this now, but at the time, it was not funny at all! It was like I was looking for some kind of “blueprint” to guide me through my sabbatical, when all God wanted was for me to put my hand in His and trust Him step by step, with no backup plan.

Sometimes you’ve got to have all your buttons pressed (and I mean EVERY button) in order to receive a greater insight and wisdom that will truly help and direct the rest of your life.

Sometimes you’ve got to be taken off the radar and brought into a place of complete obscurity, in order for God to get your attention, so He can show you what’s really going on inside of you, to produce some real, lasting transformation within you.

Sometimes you’ve got to be taken past the point of breaking, where you think you can’t take one more week of “feeling-like-you’re-wasting-your-life-away-in-the-prime-years-of-your-life!” (I may or may not have said this very thing about a million times on my sabbatical…)

Would God really shut you down and hide you away in the very years that Jesus came out of hiding and had His public ministry? Yes, yes, He can. And He does. And He did it with me. And maybe He wants to do it with you.

3 Reasons to Take a Sabbatical:

I strongly encourage any of you in long-term missions or ministry to take a sabbatical. It is wise and it is healthy to do so. “How” you do it is totally up to you and the counseling-nudges of the Holy Spirit, but I’ll give you a few reasons why I’d recommend it. None of my reasons are proven in “sabbatical textbooks” or backed up by any “sabbatical theologians”, so take it all with a grain of salt. Here’s what I personally think are the 3 main reasons (or purposes) for taking a sabbatical (and if you do it for only 1 of the 3 reasons, it will totally benefit and bless you):

  1. For rest and refreshment – physically, emotionally and spiritually.
  2. For real heart transformation, change and redirection
  3. For greater intimacy in relationships, first with God and then with the people God has given you.

If you can identify with one, two or all three of these reasons, maybe God is trying to get your attention. All I ask is that you consider it.

With that said, I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve learned on my “so-far-from-perfect” sabbatical, and maybe you can get a nugget of gold from it. Maybe you’ll discover that it hasn’t been a waste of time at all, but rather, absolutely necessary and extremely fruitful.

Lesson #1: It is a labor to enter into the rest of God.

Does that sound like a contradiction? In a way it is! It is work to enter into rest. You don’t just sleep your way into rest. You have to make an effort to re-orient ways of thinking, and re-position ways you’ve lived your life, in order to make your life more restful. You have to make it more restful. You don’t just fall your way into a state of rest. There is a really significant line that I’ve heard Laura Hackett sing, a worship leader from IHOP-KC,

“I labor to believe Your word, that I might rest in You.”

I agree. You labor in faith to believe what God says, and this brings you into the rest of God. I have discovered that the most fruitful times on my sabbatical, where I experienced great peace and rest in my heart, were when I invested my time and my energy and labored to seek the face of God and experience His presence in the Word of God.

Lesson #2: If you break the Sabbath, it will break you.

God is serious about Sabbath. I didn’t know how serious, until He interrupted my whole life to tell me. I hadn’t realized that I was entering my seven-year mark in full-time missions and ministry. God’s biblical pattern of Sabbath is to work the land for six years and then rest it on the seventh.

It is never convenient to take a Sabbath (sabbatical). It is always an interruption. If it was convenient and easy to enter into Sabbath, everyone would do it. And sadly, most people have forsaken this all-important season of life. When you take a sabbatical (or a weekly Sabbath) you must trust God with all your unfinished work. Six days labor. Seventh day rest. You must leave your work undone until the next week begins. It takes trust to let God interrupt your work-flow and follow Him into a sabbatical. I certainly felt the weight of it. Right in the prime of my life, when I was so ready to “GO YE”, God said, “STOP” and “REST”. Majorly inconvenient, God! Not funny!

But God gives us the Sabbath because He loves us. God so seriously values the Sabbath for our own sake. It’s not just one more rule to keep. It exists to give us more life. He knows that if we break the Sabbath, it will break us. Meaning, we will eventually burn out and have a breakdown without it. Something “not-good” will happen to us if we don’t take the “good gift” of Sabbath that He is giving us.

We just won’t flourish or thrive long-term without rest. It’s as simple as that. We may look okay for a little while on the outside, but over the long haul, we’ll fizzle out (or be miserable). And if there’s anything I’ve learned on this sabbatical, it’s that we reproduce who we are and what we value. Why would we ever want to reproduce driven, miserable, burned-out workers for God? If God values rest, let us value it as well. We want to reproduce what He’s about. And He’s about Sabbath rest.

Then, out of our refreshed and restful heart, we will work and we will labor for Him.

(For the final 3 lessons, check out Part 2)

 * Photo by: idlphoto