9 things I learned (or relearn) in my Sabbatical
by Matt Singleton
After many discussions with my church family, I was granted a 5-week sabbatical and was allowed to add 3 weeks of my own vacation time, for a total of 8 weeks off over the summer. There is so much I’d like to share with you about what I learned! However, I have limited
myself to eight lessons I learned or re-learned, by God’s grace. These are somewhat general in nature and mostly obvious to any mature Christian. But a strenuous ministry season can create a fog in our minds, and what should be obvious becomes obscure. Here they are…
“Don’t leave your time with God until the darkness lifts, even just a little bit.”
1. Spend quality time with God in the Word. Do so without distractions (put the cell phone away!). Read the Scriptures, meditate on them, memorize them, and pray them (Psalm 119:15-16). The Bible is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16) and is, therefore, alive and active (Hebrews 4:12). It is how God speaks to us, and when we hear His voice we are comforted, if not delighted (Proverbs 15:23). You can begin by going through all the passages of Scripture mentioned throughout this article.
2. Don’t leave your time with God until the darkness lifts, even just a little bit. As you steep yourself in His Word and claim His promises, you can also pour your heart out to Him, for He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7). Remind yourself that you are a child of God, adopted through the grace of Jesus into the family of God (Ephesians 1:5). You have a home in heaven (John 14:2) where all wrong things will be undone (Revelation 21:1-7). Your past is wiped clean (1 John 1:9), your present is secure (John 10:29), and your future is better than you could imagine (Jeremiah 29:11).
3. It’s not all up to you. You don’t have to do it alone, for God is always with you (Joshua 1:7-9). You do not do the work by yourself, but are working side-by-side with the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 11:28-30). You don’t have to rely on your own strength, but can
receive the strength of God for the challenges at hand (Isaiah 40:27-31). You are not limited by your own wisdom, but can ask for and generously receive the wisdom of God (James 1:2-8).
4. Worship God through song (Psalm 92:-13, Psalm 150:1-5, Ephesians 5:19). Form a playlist of worship songs that lift you up, and listen to it regularly. Make it part of your time with God to sing them out loud. Really pay attention to the lyrics and let them turn into prayer. Let the combination of sound and meaning minister to your soul.
5. The Enemy would have us believe no one can understand what we’re going through, that no one really cares about us, and that no one can truly help us. He is good at lying (John 8:44). Reject those lies. Reach out to family, friends, and even professional counselors. I’ve
done all these from time to time and it can help. Who do you know and trust? Who has God placed in your family to help (Proverbs 17:17)? Who is your “friend that sticks closer than a brother,” as Proverbs 18:24b says? Do you know a professional counselor? If not, contact me and I will give you a few options. “Where there is no guidance, a people fall, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs
11:14, ESV). There is strength in numbers (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)!
6. After Job lost almost everything, he desired to see his experience (his intense heartache AND his hope in God) to be written down, preserved for an eternity (Job 19:23-27). Like him, we can process our thoughts, feelings, and experiences by journaling. Your grammar doesn’t have to perfect, your handwriting doesn’t have to be legible, your thoughts don’t have to be comprehendible or comprehensive. Just be consistent. That’s been my goal and it has been an incredibly helpful practice during my
7. Take time off on weekends and use all your vacation time. God does not need to rest, but He did so after six days of creating the universe. Why? In order to set for us a pattern of rest from work so that we might rest in Him (Hebrews 4:9-10). So, put away work and distractions and focus on God and enjoy His blessings. A simple formula might look like this: Pray + Play = Sabbath (I got this from Eugene Peterson).
8. Do something strenuous. Work up a sweat. Get some exercise. I often remember that the Apostle Paul wrote that physical training is of some value (1 Timothy 4:8). Speaking of Paul, he pushed his physical limits so that the gospel of Jesus would be imbedded in his life and ministry (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). On many occasions, when I am feeling stressed out or emotionally down, I’ll go for a walk, a hike, a bike ride or to play basketball, etc. It always lifts me up, even if just a little bit.
9. Do something you enjoy, particularly in nature (visit a park, go star gazing, play on the beach, watch the sun set or rise, etc.). Over and again we read in the Psalms how creation draws us to our Creator (see Psalm 19:1, 65:9-12, 95:3-5, 96:11-12). Our trips during sabbatical involved the beauty of God’s nature and it has reminded me of His creative goodness.
I had a lot of help and did a lot of work to prepare and execute an effective sabbatical. I believe it is paying off. If you are wanting to take a sabbatical and would like to chat about it, I’d love to visit with you! Please don’t hesitate to reach out.
Pastor Matt Singleton
One gift that God gave me on the front end of planning my sabbatical was to press this reality
check into me: Do not expect your congregation to understand. They will not understand why
ministry has been so challenging, they will not understand why you need a sabbatical and
they will not understand how it will benefit you and them in the days to come. So don’t
expect them to understand. Be as gracious to them as you want them to be to you. Better
yet, be as gracious to them as God has been to you!