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Sabbatical Reflections

by | Aug 8, 2014 | Blog

My most important goal for Sabbatical was to relax and let God do the work. He is Lord of the Sabbath. I wanted to trust Him to be that for us over this time away. He has been so faithful.

Self-Discovery

Jim Cofield, my sabbatical coach, talked about how our God uses both our make-up and our experiences to form us. Sometimes, our make up and experiences combine in ways that honor the Lord. Sometimes, sin distorts this in ways that can damage our soul. The primary formative experience in Jim’s mind was my having to grow up too quickly. His goal for me during Sabbatical was for me to learn to be more like a child.

Part of this journey for me was learning to play as well as slowing down and experiencing wonder again. From sitting outside the house listening to songbirds to watching fireflies light up the foliage outside, I got to slow down and experience some wonder. All of this was awkward at first; it felt childish…like a waste of time. But, the theme of my Sabbatical journey was learning to be like a child in some practical ways.

God Reveals these things to children…

Sabbatical gave me time and space to begin that process of self discovery. Matthew 11:25-30 became a well for me over the whole of my time away.

At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children;  yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”

The Father has hidden truth from the wise and understanding, but revealed it to little children. What a startling statement! God has not passively set up the world so that the wise and understanding don’t see. He has actively hidden the mystery of Messiah from them. However, God has actively revealed Himself to little children. This was an act of grace–not earned by the children. It was God’s gracious will.

I started thinking about all the time and energy I spend trying to appear wise and understanding when people like that have the mysteries of God hidden from them. I needed to repent of this.

Little children have the revelation of Jesus according to the gracious will of the Father

On July 4, I wrote…

So interesting how it keeps coming back to that [being like a child]. And yet I spent most of my childhood learning not to be one…learning to be self-sufficient, the man of the house…a leader…So, now I have to/need to relearn what it means to be like a child…For to such belongs the kingdom.

Jesus desires children to be close to Him. He said, “to such belongs the kingdom”…helpless, weak, learning, curious, persistent, powerless, dependent, filled with wonder and little pretense. To such belong the Kingdom…to such get the revelation of Jesus by the gracious will of the Father. I want to be one such as this–like a child.

There are ways in which I’m trying to continue pursuing being more like a child. I’ll probably not do these well and stumble and fall, but maybe that’s part of learning to be like a child. And to such belong the Kingdom and the revelation of the King.

Call from Jesus

As I continued to process Matthew 11, I noticed that there was a clear call from Jesus that was desperately needed in my life.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

These words rang in my heart with anticipation and longing. Though I would have said before Sabbatical that I wasn’t “tired” and didn’t “need” this time away, the settling of my life allowed for some introspection, confession and repentance. I was more weary than I knew, and laden with more than I had been aware.  My heart began to cry out, “Lord, I want to come to you…to learn from you. To find rest for my soul.”

What would I need to do in order to experience His invitation to me–to find real soul rest?  

New Yoke

When I come to Jesus, part of the rest He offers is a new yoke–a wooden frame joining two animals (usually oxen) for pulling heavy loads was a metaphor for one person’s subjection to another. This yoke is…

  • To be taken. Jesus doesn’t force His yoke on me. He will let me wallow in being weary and heavy laden. He will let me seek to appear wise. His grace comes in the command that I take it. I must give myself to it. I can’t fight against it and learn, I must “take it” in order to really learn from it.

  • A gift of grace, not to be earned or attained. This yoke is part of God’s gracious will to me. Even the invitation itself is a communication of God’s gracious will to me. Without His grace, this wonderful truth would continue to be hidden from me.

  • Jesus’ yoke. I don’t take “my” yoke upon me as if Jesus has prepared a yoke for me. Rather, I take His under which I learn how to live a life that gives rest to my soul.

  • To teach me a new rhythm for my labor. The rhythm I know gets me to weary and heavy laden. The rhythm I need provides not only rest for my soul, but meaningful labor and ministry.

  • The way Jesus gets close to me and teaches me. This yoke doesn’t just give me a new pace, but a new closeness to Jesus. I learn from Him–to match His pace, His steps, His way.

As I thought and journaled about these things, I wrote…

“Jesus, grant me the humility to take your yoke from you and learn. Thank you for letting me be close to you. I am blessed to be brought near (Psalm 65:4). But, I’ll need grace often. I’ll want to set the pace, to set the destination and to take the lead. So remind me that my way leads to destruction, to weariness, to a proud heart. And that your way leads to rest for my soul…”

New Teacher

When I come to Jesus and take His yoke, I surrender myself to Him, submitting my steps to Him, my pace to Him. I am to learn from Him; He is my teacher. He doesn’t teach those who seek to appear to wise and understanding. He teaches those who are like children. What a crucial truth to massage into my heart!

I saw Jesus’ identity and character as a teacher in this passage…

  • He is gentle. Though I need my chain yanked from time to time, His default when teaching is to be gentle. When I know I am weary and heavy laden–when I am living like a child toward Him–He is gentle enough to teach, but He’s also strong enough to lead, to keep His pace when my steps are inconsistent, to keep His direction when I veer off to the right or left.

  • He is lowly in heart. Who would expect One who judges nations (Matthew 11:20-24) to be lowly in heart? Lowly enough to invite me into His yoke, to be patient with me as I try to learn to walk His pace, direction, etc.

  • He knows the pace my soul needs. When I follow Jesus, matching His steps in His yoke, my soul finds the rest it craves. This is the promised gift that comes when I walk in the yoke with Jesus.

  • He has a whole new pace and way of living that has meaningful labor even in the midst of a pace that gives my soul rest. His yoke is easy, but it’s still designed to carry a load. His burden is light, but it’s still a meaningful responsibility for me.

I wrote…

Jesus teach me to walk with you so that your way may be known on earth (Psalm 67:2). How I long for my soul rest to be in the midst of meaningful labor. I’ve never seen a cow with a yoke around it’s neck lying on the ground under a shade tree. A yoke is for labor, work and burden, yet yours is easy and light even when hard and difficult.

New Life with a Restful Soul

When I am seeking to appear wise and understanding, I find myself tired and weary, both from the pretense and posturing required and from the pace needed to seem like I have my world spinning rightly. This call from Jesus promises a rest for my soul while carrying His burden with him.

  • You will find: It is God’s gracious will for me to know Jesus and His power. And I am the one who has to find this new pace. He is hiding it from me but I do have to learn it yoked to Him while coming to Him as a child. When I take His yoke and learn from Him, I will learn the pace my soul needs and in that I will find rest.

  • Rest for my soul: When I yoke to Jesus and learn His steps, I’m able to participate with Him in His burden. I’m able to do faithful ministry that also allows for a restful soul. I learn how to live at a pace that doesn’t destroy my soul.

New Yoke of Meaningful Labor

Cheryl and I had an opportunity to spend a week without kids. During that week, I spent a lot of time thinking about Psalm 67:1-3:

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!

I prayed that God would be gracious to us so that our marriage would grow for worldwide ministry for the joy of the nations.

As I began to think about this call to come to Jesus, learn His pace, take His yoke and burden, I began to shy away from that prayer. I wrote…

Rid me of this insidious idea that I get all of this so that I can be something other than your child. Take away these…no, Lord…purify these desires for my life to matter for your mission in the world. Please don’t take it away, but please purify my desires. Teach me your way so that I might walk with you and be used by you for your purposes.

That’s what new restful labor is about for me. I take His yoke, learn from Him and find both rest for my soul and meaningful labor so that I might carry His burden in the world. Please, Lord, make it so.

With this desire for a purified heart came some observations about this new yoke I take upon me.

  • The yoke is forever His. It never belongs to me even when I take it on myself to learn from Him. My rest and my labor are about staying in step with Jesus. Walking with Him. Learning from Him.

  • There is a burden connected to this yoke. This call is not just to walk with Jesus. There is a burden connected to the yoke. But, it is his burden and it is light. There is meaningful, nation affecting labor for me when I walk with Jesus. I get to participate in His burden for the nations.

  • There is an easiness/lightness that comes when I walk with Jesus under His yoke and burden. I must remember that both the yoke and burden are His. I must learn to walk His pace. I must make sure I am carrying the right burden, and not one I import to Jesus’ yoke. I must learn to take the yoke of Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit and pull the burden the Father hitches to it.

How do I know I’m pulling the right burden? I’m still learning, but as I have prayed, I think will know I’m pulling the right burden when I can walk at Jesus’ pace such that My soul can remain in or quickly repent toward a quiet rest even in the midst of the burdens of ministry and life. This may mean doing less to do more, but the most important thing is being yoked to Jesus.

In his book No Little People, No Little Place, Francis Schaffer writes…

“Quietness and peace before God are more important than any influence a position may seem to give, for we must stay in step with God to have the power of the Holy Spirit. If by taking a bigger place our quietness with God is lost, then to that extent our fellowship with Him is broken and we are living in the flesh, and the final result will not be as great, no matter how important the larger place may look in the eyes of other men or in our own eyes. Always there will be a battle, always we will be less than perfect, but if a place is too big and too active for our present spiritual condition, then it is too big.”

Returning Home

The last few days of Sabbatical, I spent a lot of time in Psalm 92. It seemed fitting to end here. My prayer for the rest of my life resonates with this psalm.

The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the LORD is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

I wrote…

Oh God, may I dwell with you forever…planted and flourishing. Teach me to dwell with you…to learn from you…rather than trying to labor for you. Protect me from taking the reins and trying to lead your yoke. Cause me to learn from you like a child.

Would you give me grace to bear fruit in my old age? Show me what it means for me to connect meaningfully with others in a way that is transforming and real.

Would you keep me limber as I get older–full of sap and green? My tendency is to get in the best path to get stuff done and do it. Keep me flexible under your leadership. Keep my heart soft before you.

And may I spend whatever days I have left declaring your grace, power and might.”

May it be, Lord…

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