In a few days, I’ll begin an extended time away from my normal pastoral responsibilities. Our church established policies a few years ago providing regular sabbaticals for our full time pastors. More churches than ever recognize the need to build in these rhythms of rest for pastors. Our church views sabbaticals not as a reward for good behavior, but as an investment in the future health of our pastors and the entire congregation.
Knowing this was coming, I’ve done a little research on the best way to use this time. The most common advice I’ve heard is to disconnect from email, texting, and social media, to rest, to do things I enjoy, and to not over plan it. I’m taking all of that advice to heart.
One other word to the wise I’ve heard is to make sure my church knows how to pray for me while I’m away. This has been a surprising personal struggle. Even writing this article using the first-person singular pronoun is uncomfortable.
While I think of myself as a down-to-earth, transparent pastor-leader, I tend to keep most of my prayer requests silent. All the reasons for that are unknown to me in this moment. Maybe I have trust issues. Maybe I battle with some version of shame over the basic needs of my heart. Maybe I think people will think less of me if they know my vulnerabilities. Or it could be something more sinister like image building.
While I readily admit my humanity and the shortcomings that go with it, I really do not like the idea of admitting weakness, particularly a depth of weakness that requires divine intervention. “That’s just pride,” you may say. Sure it is, but this “just pride” also feeds shame and guilt that has too often led to unhealthy attitudes about rest.
With great consistency, I invest in daily habits of personal Bible reading, prayer, and exercise. I’m an early-riser, so the mornings with the Lord are usually refreshing. Not many months ago, however, I remember stopping to rest in the middle of a Saturday afternoon and saying to my wife, “I feel like I should be doing something. I feel guilty for resting.” It was in that moment, hearing those words come out of my mouth, that I knew an emotional virus was infecting my heart.
In over 26 years of marriage and ministry, I’ve grown as a Christian, husband, father, and pastor, but I have done a poor job keeping the Sabbath. From the beginning, God built in for our good rhythms of work and rest. Yet using my ministerial vocation as cover, I have ignored the fourth commandment and the myriad of examples throughout the Scripture of how to apply God’s call for His people to regular rest.
The most common Sabbath is one day each week set aside for rest and devotion to the Lord. But Sabbaths are also experienced in short moments during each day, long-weekends during the year, or extended absences at longer intervals as well. What we all discover is that neglecting the Sabbath neglects care for our soul, and when our soul withers so does our capacity to love God and love others well.
That brings me to break the silence on my silent prayer request:
As I step away for a few weeks from the daily responsibilities of pastoral ministry, I ask you, my church family, to pray for the Holy Spirit to refresh my soul so that I would have ears to hear Him speak into my heart “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable...” (Philippians 4:8). Pray the enemy and his spiritual forces of darkness have no fertile soil to plant seeds of doubt or discouragement in my heart. Please pray I find His grace sufficient in my weakness, and that His mercy replaces any lingering guilt.
As you pray for my emotional and spiritual health, also pray that God will grow my capacity to love well. We tend to love others like we receive love. So if my shame tells me God really can’t love me without conditions and reservations, then I don’t freely love others. Instead, I withhold love by being critical, impatient, or even angry. That’s bad for me, but eventually it’s really bad for the people around me.
So pray that I will love and enjoy renewed intimacy with God the Father. John wrote, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:9). Pray, therefore, that God’s love will be pressed out through my life and lavished upon Deborah and our kids. Pray they too will be renewed during this season of rest. Pray that my capacity to genuinely love my neighbors will grow and the Holy Spirit will bear in me His fruit of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22).
Finally, I ask you to pray that God will use this extended time away to teach me how to build new rhythms of work and rest into my daily life that will allow me to serve my family and Green Hill Church more faithfully, be an example for others to follow, and be as fruitful as possible for as long as possible.
The last seven years of ministry with the Green Hill family have been some of the most rewarding years of my life. This church family loves our pastors, each other, and our community so well, and I’m excited to know the best days are ahead because God is still “able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us” (Ephesians 3:20).