When I moved cities from Sydney to Melbourne late in 2011, I planned to have at least four months off full time work and ministry. There was so much that I wanted to accomplish in my time off, but I wanted to see it as a sabbatical as well. There were so many things that I wanted to do and see. I planned to go to coffee shops everyday and write, read and plan for the next phase of my life. I wanted to explore this new city, meet lots of people and build connections.
Yet in just the second week in my new city I got sick and had to sleep most of the week. My third week was not that productive either and I told myself it was just the colder Melbourne weather. In the following weeks I got frustrated with myself for not doing enough, I thought that I was "wasting time." This sense of wanting to "do" so much now that I wasn't working full-time would have continued had it not been for one passage of scripture:
"There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience." Hebrews 4:9-11
It seems that God not only rested from His good work but granted rest to those who were faithful to Him. In my plans for my four months off full-time work I had forgotten to allow for God to grant me rest. My plans were so much about continuing the work that I had done over the past 20 years of ministry. It seems that the adrenaline of doing ministry was preventing me from resting in God, which means a rest from doing the work of ministry. In order to really understand my sabbatical I had to understand rest and enter a time of sabbath rest.
There are a few things that I learnt about rest since being on sabbatical over the past four months:
1. If we trust in God we take a break - looking back on the last few years of ministry I failed to take a break because I thought I needed to keep the momentum going. In reality I was keeping the ministry in my hands rather than handing it over to God. If we really believe that our ministry will fall apart if we take a break then we are showing no trust in God. The quickest way to burn out is believing this "season" is to busy to take a break.
2. We need to detox from the urgent - looking back on my ministry I realised that the urgent drew me in as it is exciting. It is exciting to get into things than need to be done "right now". Sometimes we need to see the eternity of God and detox from the adrenaline buzz of the urgent parts of ministry.
3. We are more than what we produce - sometimes in ministry I felt that I wasnt accomplishing anything, that the ministry wasn't working. Yet when I look at it through Gods eyes, God was growing me as a person. God was achieving more in me than through me. Since looking back I now realise that I am more loved by God for who I am than what I achieve for His Kingdom.
4. If God wants to achieve something, it will get done - who am I to think that God needs me or the church will fall over? There is an arrogance in the thinking that I have to achieve everything right now, perhaps I need to be more in tune with God's timing than the desires of my own heart. Looking back over the past few months I have discovered that God's timing is perfect, I was just too busy doing ministry to see that.
So that is just a little bit of what I have learnt since being on Sabbatical. In the past four months I haven't been to as many coffee shops or done as much writing or built as many projects as I thought I might, but God has strengthened me through the sabbath rest that He has granted me. Looking back I see this past four months as a great blessing.
Whilst I have learnt these few things I am still not out of the woods. The challenge is to implement what I have learnt when I get back to work and back to ministry. In the coming months I will begin the real difficult time of trying to enter sabbath rest when ever ministry gets "busy." My one encouragement for you and for me as life gets busy again is to take a weekly sabbath rest. Perhaps it can't be Sunday as you are working, but find some time in your week to stop doing and listen to who God is helping you to be.
Please leave a comment on how you have rested during the busy times in ministry. What do you do to relax and enter into God's rest?
At the age of 37, after 16 years in full time ministry, Mark took his first break from ministry in almost 20 years. Many of the thoughts and reflections from his time off, a sabbatical, form the basis of the Mark of Faith blog. Mark has worked in student and young adult ministry, facilitated retreats, planted then closed a church and worked as a ministry consultant to 30 churches. Mark has been married for 13 years and is the proud father of two boys (8yrs &10yrs). After spending most of his life in Sydney Australia, his family moved to Melbourne Australia because of employment opportunity for his wife. Mark enjoys watching baseball, listening to Hillsong United, downloading every Matt Chandler talk he can find and listening to the Catalyst Podcast.
[CC Image • Leonard John Matthews on Flickr]