to sabbatical

Posted: November 4, 2011 in Thinking Theologically


Sabbatical (from Latin sabbaticus, from Greek sabbatikos, from Hebrew shabbat, i.e., Sabbath, literally a “ceasing”) is a rest from work, or a hiatus, often lasting from two months to a year. The concept of sabbatical has a source in Scripture (Leviticus 25, for example, where there is a commandment to desist from working the fields in the seventh year).

I find myself struggling to get into the rhythm of my sabbatical, which points to a deeper problem that has given me much to reflect on over these last few days. See the concept of taking a sabbatical, actually comes from a practice of sabbath, which we are all commanded to as Christians. From creation itself, we see the practice of Almighty God (Genesis 2:2-3, in which God rested – literally, “ceased” from his labor after creating the universe) the importance of ‘spiritual rest’ – one day where we cease from worldly labors for the purpose of surrender and focus on God. And then of course in the New Testament, Jesus further explains the purpose, “Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27).

Jesus knew our greatest need and then fulfilled it. It wasn’t that we simply needed one day of the week, but rather that we daily need Him for our very life. Not that we simply honor Sunday (and really on Sunday morning since we have NFL to occupy our minds in the afternoon), but that as Colossians 3 exhorts, “Set your minds on things above, not on things on the earth…” All the time. Every minute of every day.

The deeper issue is always idolatry, pride, self-sufficiency… at the core: myself. I need to constantly be reminded that I’m my own worst enemy. “I can do this myself, with my gifts and my abilities – so why would I need to ‘rest and refocus?'” It’s a battle of Lordship.

And so the calling of Christ is “abide in me” (John 15). Find not just your center in me, not just a day in me, but find your very life in me. Exist in me. Everything must be re-examined, re-evaluated, re-focused and ultimately restored in Christ.

John Piper, one of my favorite pastors and authors, recently announced an 8-month sabbatical from his pastoral role at Bethlehem Baptist. In his words he needed a sabbatical, “because of a growing sense that [his] soul, [his] marriage, [his] family, and [his] ministry-pattern need a reality check from the Holy Spirit.”

That is a powerful admission. I find it most difficult, not to be that honest with others, but with my own heart. I need a “reality check from the Holy Spirit.” And truth be told, I need it every day.

I’m sitting here in the hospital writing this (Brooke’s procedure went great… thanks for praying) which brings a greater focus to what really matters in life. And, no, it isn’t our health, not physically anyway. James tells us that this life is but a mist, a vapor – here today and gone tomorrow. I need reminding of this. That is the refocus all of our hearts need.

My life is hidden in Christ… I know that intellectually, but do I live that daily? Do my values, priorities, thoughts, behaviors and words reflect that reality? I pray that God will bring that into focus during this sabbatical… as I learn how to sabbath. Something my soul needs daily in practice for what I will have the privilege to do for an eternity.

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