Sabbatical Reflections

I have a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and I always have considered it a good thing to have a little newspaper ink on my hands each day. Yet I have also long had the conviction that newspapers are often a poor source for evaluating the relative importance of any given story or event because of the lack of time available for reflection and assessment before the morning edition must go to print. [And that is all the more true for television news and internet pundits.]

Only with time are we able to discern with greater clarity and accuracy what is important and what the significant factors in an event were. And because of that state of immediacy I am still in the process of attempting to evaluate my recently concluded sabbatical. I’m still “sorting through” my activities during that time and trying to discern all the spiritual benefits I accrued during that time. My suspicion is that in six months or a year, I will evaluate some of those benefits somewhat differently than now.

Nevertheless, I have seen God working in my heart in a number of areas, and desire to maintain a number of changes that I began during the sabbatical. Here are some things (in no particular order) that have increased in significance because of my time away:

  • a commitment to reading books more than the internet. I spent more time reading than I had initially planned (I read somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 books and journals). I kept the email off during the day, and checked it and my internet RSS feeds only sporadically.

There were at least two benefits to that change in practice: 1) I began controlling my email (and time!) more effectively, and 2) I was able to read things that were significant, instead of urgent. There is a reason that good books stay in print for hundreds of years and internet pages are regularly changed or removed. One is enduring; the other is not. I want to pursue the most valuable treasures.

So, in renewing my regular schedule this month, I have made a concerted effort to check email no more than once a day (hence, I will likely be responding more slowly than previously!). Email and the internet are tools that can be used for much good and benefit, and I want to make sure they are tools that are used to stimulate me to accomplish the best things, not distract me from those things. [Aside: you may think reading a book a daunting task, but reading only 5-7 pages each day will allow you to read an average-length book every month!]

  • a commitment to journal regularly. In one of his books, Don Whitney advocates spending one minute meditating on Scripture for every two minutes spent reading. That can be hard to do without a plan.

One means by which I have accomplished that in the past weeks is to spend some time journaling about what I have read that morning and how I desire that to change me. My thoughts are generally focused around two kinds of questions: 1) what have I learned about God and His Word? and 2) how should that change me?

The benefit of that plan became quickly obvious to me. I am not only thinking more deeply about Scripture at the time I am reading it, but I am also thinking about it more often during the day, and using it as a stimulant for my prayers. Journaling is not the only means by which one can stimulate meditation on the word of God, but it is a means God has been using in my life, and I am grateful.

  • an increasing satisfaction prayer. Three things are contributing to this, I believe: 1) my time journaling (and meditating) about God’s Word is preparing my heart to pray as well as informing my prayers — giving me guidance in the content of my prayers; 2) reading good books (including good books about prayer) is giving me instruction and discipleship from other godly men about my devotional life; and 3) initiating a more detailed plan for my personal prayer time has given me more to pray about and is stimulating more prayer throughout the day as well.
  • a renewed passion for the cross. It was my intention to spend a significant time thinking about the cross and justification during my sabbatical. And it proved to not only be a great refreshment to me, but also a stimulant to a sermon series that was not even in my mind when the sabbatical began.

The cross is the foundation of our life in Christ. Remove the cross or misunderstand its import and your spiritual life will inevitably suffer. The church is the guardian of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15), and we likewise have been made guardians of the gospel (1 Tim. 6:20; 2 Tim. 1:14). I not only want to be faithful to those callings, but yearn to have its power known increasingly in my life, and see that power evidenced in the life of our church body and the unbelieving community around us. It is the cross that is the power and wisdom of God for righteousness, sanctification, and redemption (1 Cor. 1-2). So it is the cross which we must cling to, protect, and proclaim.

  • a continued encouragement about the priority of the local church. Apart from all the things I observed in the way church ministry is being done in the various churches I visited, being away from this church made me all the more grateful for you and made me recognize afresh the significance of the local church.

For all the benefit of observing other ministries and being fed spiritually by other pastors, I was not in regular fellowship with my church family, which was a significant detriment to me spiritually. It is not spiritually healthy to be disconnected from church involvement for an extended period of time. God has created us to be in dependent fellowship with each other. And being away from each other removes one of the instruments of God’s grace to stimulate us to sanctification (“love and good deeds,” Heb. 10:24 calls it). That’s not good. And that means I’m glad to be back home at Grace!

  • an increased awareness of the impact of time spent with family. I had happily anticipated that I would spend more time with Raye Jeanne and Elizabeth and Emily. What I did not recognize was the impact that would have on them. While I do all I can to minister to them and serve their needs, a work schedule will always place some restrictions on our ability to serve our families. Being much more available to them these two months was a real means of grace for them, which in turn gave me much joy and satisfaction.

I am so very grateful for this church. The people of Grace Bible Church have been a great instrument of God’s grace in my life. I have received so very much from you, and the opportunity to be away from the daily aspect of church ministry for these two months has been another means of grace from you to me, and additionally, a great means of refreshment to my heart.

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