Sabbatical Learnings :: A Bit More Than a Nice Idea

By Jekuthiel Sofer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Jekuthiel Sofer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In Exodus 20, God gives the Israelites some basics for living in response to his act to set them free from slavery.

Known to most of us as the “Ten Commandments” or “Ten Words”, they are pretty much the bare essentials to living as faithful human beings. They include prohibitions against idolatry, cursing, murder, adultery, and stealing. Most folks—Christian or not—would consider these pretty baseline guides for living. Most everyone could agree it’s a good thing to not murder; most would agree that societies can’t exist in trust if everyone is allowed to steal from each other.

The fourth commandment, however, is another story.

Remember the Sabbath day and treat it as holy. Six days you may work and do all your tasks, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. Do not do any work on it—not you, your sons or daughter, your male or female servants, your animals, or the immigrant who is living with you. (vv8-10 CEB)


As I began my sabbatical, one of the things that was immediately apparent to me was how pathological my life was in regards to sabbath. As a pastor/church worker, I am already struggling against the notion that when everyone else is (supposedly) experiencing a sabbath, I am working.

But I realized there was something more.

As soon as I forced to slow down, as soon as I was free from time commitments and was forced to examine my spirituality without regards to my vocation, I realized that I had grown to see the Sabbath as something optional, something that I would do if I could just manage to get all my other stuff done in order to rest.

What’s more, I’m a part of a North American ( slash-evangelical-Christian) culture that tends to tacitly admire, even reward, those who have the most packed schedules. I constantly hear myself saying, with a slight self-satisfied air, “I’ve worked about 15 days straight, but I’m doing okay; gotta do what needs to be done.”

Let’s think about this for just a minute…

Because keeping the Sabbath isn’t optional…

It’s a commandment. 

What would it feel like for a pastor to say, “I had to embezzle some funds; sorry, I needed the money, you just gotta do what needs to be done.”

In other words, we wouldn’t treat any of the other commandments with the same disregard that we seem to treat the Sabbath.

This hit me like a ton of bricks.

In short, keeping the Sabbath needs to be elevated to the same level as the rest of the commandments, busy-ness or not.

And there’s an art to it. It’s not just about watching extra football or eating extra pork (BACON!) on the Sabbath. It’s about leaning into joy and delight.

To be blunt,

  • Are you upholding the 4th commandment?
  • What are some practices that you’re engaging in to do so?



Sabbath Delight

Though my sabbatical began officially last Sunday, for all intensive purposes it truly begins today, because (a) it’s not impossible that I would have a Sunday off, and (b) Mondays are my normal days off.

But Tuesday is another story. 

Tuesday marks the beginning of my work week; I answer email, then drive in for our weekly staff meeting.

But not tomorrow.

Tomorrow I’ll do… well, whatever it is you do on a sabbatical (truly, I’m still figuring this out).

When my lead pastor offered this to me, I emphatically told him, “But I’m not tired!” To me sabbaticals were for the worn out and weary; I had been in a fairly comfortable rhythm of ministry, and felt like I could keep going for the foreseeable future.

Regardless, Shana and I accepted the gift, and so I started to prepare. I called around to some pastors I knew who had taken sabbaticals. A good friend in northern California told me, “If you’re not tired, then make sure you don’t rest too much.”

Then he added, “Just do more of the stuff you love doing and less of the crap you can’t stand doing.”

Ah, yes.

So that’s been the paradigm I’ve been holding to as I enter this season (at least until school starts in February). I’m reading things that bless my soul, attempting to establish rhythms of grace that will sustain me, and trying my best to “make (and ship) things”. I’m listening to music that I love, and I’m watching movies that make me smile.

It will take some work, but I want to learn how to do this.

This morning, I read this from Dan Allender:

“Delight doesn’t require a journey thousands of miles away to taste the presence of God, but it does require a separation from the mundane, an intentional choice to enter joy and follow God as he celebrates the glory of his creation…”

Although there certainly is a distancing from some of the more mundane items in my weekly “To Do” lists, ultimately, sabbath—whether one day a week or 3 months—is not about what I don’t do but about what we savor. 

It’s about delight.

Ironically, most of us are better at abstaining from things than we are at engaging in delight. It takes work and reflection, after all, to know what it is that brings the deepest joy to us.

But from someone who has a long, sabbath road ahead of him, I’d encourage you to take some time to learn.





Resting, Hearing

This Sunday, we announced to my church that I’m going to be taking some time away.

No, I’m not in trouble.

For probably 4 years now, I’ve been trying to discern what God may be calling to for the next season of my ministry and life. I’ve been in ministry for 15 years, and almost of all of it exclusively focused around music on Sunday. Recently, however I’ve started to wonder if my role may be evolving a bit to more purposefully include teaching and leadership. After a few conversations with my pastor, we decided that I should take a few months (!) and go into “listening” mode to try and more clearly hear what God is saying and how He may specifically be leading me and my family.

This is called a “Sabbatical”, and is directly related to “Sabbath.” The Sabbath—and also Sabbaticals—was established by God in Genesis 1, and then reaffirmed a few times in the bible, especially in Exodus. We’re told in Genesis 2v1-3, “So the creation of the heavens and earth and everything in them was completed. On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation.”

You know what strikes me about this passage?

God wasn’t really “done.” 

Surely God knew that even though he’d brought the universe into being, creation—and the act of creating—wasn’t “done.” Creation is alive, growing, changing. Adam and Eve exist after all, now, and who knows what manner of variables they’ll bring into the picture! (Note see Genesis 3.)

Surely God wasn’t saying, “Whew, that’s done; guess I’ll just sit back and watch it all take shape now.”

I believe that God really knew that actually after you’ve created something—say, the Universe—the real work begins… Conflict, love, hate, war, sacrifice, salvation. All of these things begin to enter the picture after you’ve created something.

It strikes me that even though God is aware that creation is anything but “done”, he is choosing to rest. 

Your work is rarely (if ever) going to be “done” enough for Sabbath to make complete sense.

You will have to choose.

You will have to say, “For today, this is done. I am resting now.”