Julie and I begin a three month sabbatical from the start of May through to the end of July. This is something that we have been planning for a couple of years in response to a clear sense from the Lord that this should mark a new season, for us and for The Well.
Some have been asking; ‘so what is a Sabbatical?’ so here is a quick overview. It is rooted in the biblical principles of ‘Sabbath’. Sabbath is the (weekly) rhythm of rest built into the creation story and echoed by the instructions in Leviticus and Exodus that every seven years the land was to be given a year of rest and remain ‘fallow’ to recover its nutrients. Our understanding of healthy rhythms of weekly Sabbaths and seasonal Sabbaticals are that they are a time to STOP and ask: what do I need to do to really cease from all my work? To REST and ask what kind of things will enable me to rest during this break? To DELIGHT and ask what will replenish my soil and fill me with energy, and to delight in God’s gifts? To CONTEMPLATE and ask: how can I build in time with God during this extended time?
Our ‘semicircle’ (remember the life-shapes?) reminds us of the principle that we are human beings and not just human doings, that the sabbath was made for man and that we operate best when we fully embrace a healthy sabbath rhythm. Sabbath emphasises that we are more fully ourselves when we learn to ‘work from a place of rest’ and not just ‘rest from work’. This is the freedom God intends for all of us. A rhythm of rest and sabbath is a literally sign and a wonder in a culture that demands that we live by ‘the sweat of our brow’. As Gods’ people we are not to be slaves to work, whatever our vocation, but are to rather demonstrate our trust in Father God as our provider as we obey a sabbath rule of life.
It is a challenging truth in a world so committed to ‘doing’. How do we slow down for deeper relationships? How do we practice deep listening? How do we better understand our own seasons of rest and work, abiding and fruitfulness? Sabbath unveils what drives us and spotlights how darker motivations can sometime take over even committed followers of Jesus. There is a good reason that Sabbath is one of the ten commandments, right up there with ‘don’t kill’ and ‘don’t commit adultery!’
Julie and I aspire to model Sabbath; a daily, weekly, annual rhythm that leads us into a deeper communion with Christ and with one another. Sabbaticals are part of a larger seasonal rhythm that we encourage all to consider. I know many will say; ‘thats alright for you Phil, my job or responsibilities simply don’t permit such a luxury’, and I understand. It is not an easy thing to plan or execute time away from work in today’s culture. It is in fact extremely counter-cultural and may require some years of planning, and prayers for a miracle shift in attitude in your employer!
One of the reasons that Sabbath and Sabbatical is so powerful is that it teaches us to let go; to embrace our smallness and accept the limits of our lives. We are not God and the universe can run quite well without us thank you. This is more of a challenge for some than others but all of us do well to embrace this truth in an intentional way. It is an antidote to the need we have to be in control or to think of ourselves as indispensable. God passionately seeks our partnership, but doesn’t need our instruction. He needs to be in the driving seat. I am keenly aware of how often I find my hands firmly gripping the wheel. Sabbatical is a response to and a requirement of faith, an act of letting go, of positioning ourselves to listen. God promises to bring blessing and increase in season if we will only press into him in season. He is God and we are not. He is a good Father who wants to bless. Getting ourselves off of our hamster wheels is a crucial part of Sabbath, and Sabbaticals can take that to the next level.
Be assured that we will be praying for all of you these months, asking that you also may find deeper rhythms of rest and fruitfulness. May the Lord bless you and keep you and make His face shine upon you and give you peace. See you in August..
All our love, Phil and Julie