So, what did you do on Sabbatical?
That’s a question I’ve been asked regularly since I returned to Immanuel after a three month break. The weight in how the question has been put to me has been on what I’ve ‘done’, however I’d like to answer a different but related question, what did I learn?
Right from the start I realized that a lack of prayer has little to do with a lack of time and a lot to do with a lack of desire and intent. I had plenty more time to read the Bible and to pray, yet I did not pray as much as I had romantically envisioned. That taught me to drop any excuses about a lack of time and to focus more on my heart desire for the Lord. That’s stuck.
Along the same lines I found that removing the usual routine can reveal a shallow spirituality. It’s amazingly easy to persuade yourself that busyness accompanies a deepening love for Jesus but of course it doesn’t necessarily. I knew that before I stopped work yet the time out revealed a rather disheveled spirituality. I had many a sobering moment with the Lord facing an empty diary.
I read a good chunk of my Bible and that was energizing. It dawned on me anew that I’m not reading the Bible to keep the Lord happy but for me to grow to know and love him more. Time off reinforced that truth and encouraged me to delve deeper into the Scriptures.
I learned a more meaningful appreciation for what life is like for my wife looking after the kids full time and keeping the show on the road. Days are long, can lack texture and there is no ‘off’ switch. I have a job that allows me to be with the kids a lot but this was a new exposure and I’m grateful for that.
The extended and unbroken time with family was an absolute gift and joy. It was humbling too to be confronted afresh with my need for gospel growth. I was often grumpy and plain grouchy for no good reason! Perhaps not the spiritual breakthrough one might envision but that’s the truth of it. A selfish entitlement raised its ugly head plenty of times and still does, I’m in constant need of pushing into the gospel of grace and to grow up.
We visited many other churches and I learned a few things here too. It taught me what it’s like to come to church as a member and as a visitor. With the best will in the world, people arrive at church tired from their week. They’re often distracted, a bit hassled perhaps and have not spent the week considering the Scripture text for that day! That taught me that less is more. To aim for brevity, explicability and to be encouraging.
On a rather humorous note the only sermon I properly remember had three points beginning with ‘P’! It was from Colossians 4:2-18 with the exhortation to Pray, Proclaim and Partner. Don’t bet on alliteration from me any time soon all the same...
We can assume far too much in our gatherings and need to be constantly alert to the newcomer who may have no clue what’s happening. Websites often lack basic information such as start times! We need to be as accessible and explicable as possible to those thinking about joining us whether for a weekend or for a lifetime.
I came back with a fresh appreciation for liturgy. We attended many gatherings without liturgy of any kind and we missed it. The familiarity and solid grounding liturgy gives theologically speaking and the structure it facilitates practically speaking is invaluable. I intend to keep cultivating its use in Immanuel.
I learned the importance of constantly expressing thankfulness to God for the bedrock truths of the gospel in the cross of Christ. The vibrancy of the cross can grow dim in our eyes and cold in our hearts when we are not intentional in our thanks for that which is of first importance.
I did read some books! A modest number of them mind you. Novels, classic literature, science fiction and of course some theological reads too. I read some titles I knew very little about previously such as ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ by Oscar Wilde. Reading an original book for yourself is fascinating whatever the genre. That simple experience has emboldened me to invite others to read a book of the Bible for themselves according to the same principle.
At the close of my Sabbatical I sat quietly in my in-laws’ home, eyes locked on a simple landscape picture on the wall. The scene is emblazoned with the quote “My grace is sufficient for thee”. I meditated on those words for some time and appreciated how they encapsulated what I’ve learned on Sabbatical and need in my ongoing journey with this Jesus I love.
‘But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power will rest on me’ 2 Corinthians 12:9.