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Sabbatical Reflection: The Father’s Lavish Love

by Jim Van Meter

We are at our best when we are rested—from having been alone with God.

Having been a missionary for more than thirty-five years and having been committed to the Great Commission since my teens, my only desire has been to give my life wholly to the Lord and his service. While I have always been driven to accomplish the most strategic tasks in order to fulfill the Great Commission, as the years passed, I noticed that my relationship with the Lord was waning. My service was being driven by duty rather than love. However, my erroneous belief was that this was normal, part and parcel of missionary service.

One day, a friend mentioned that he had just completed a sabbatical. The thought of taking a sabbatical had never entered my mind; however, upon hearing of his experience, my heart leaped. It took two years for my wife and me to clear our calendars and create a window for this to happen. My desire for my sabbatical was to focus on my relationship with the Lord. I didn’t know exactly what that would mean; however, I wanted to find out if there was more to my relationship with the Lord than duty and service.
Early in the planning process, I tried to find a place away from home for the entire six months. This didn’t happen. What the Lord knew, as he orchestrated my plans, was that I needed to be home for part of the time in order to recover from a surgery and grieve the homegoing of my father. This was not a sabbatical from life!

One of my biggest questions as I began the sabbatical process was, “What do I do with all this time I am going to spend with the Lord?” Here my spiritual director was extremely helpful. She said, “Just show up each morning, and then follow your heart.” With that liberating word, I would start each morning by filling my day pack with my Bible, journal, a book on the spiritual disciplines, my camera, my MP3 player, a mat and snacks. Off I would go, sometimes hiking, sometimes biking. Everything I did during the day was under the awareness that the Lord and I were hanging out together!

The Ebb and Flow of Life and Ministry
For part of the sabbatical, the Lord graciously provided a place near the ocean. Every day I observed the waves and the ebb and flow of the ocean. The waves would come in and go out. The tides would come in and out every day, in fact, twice during a 25-hour period. There is a time for high tide and a time for low tide. There is a time for “ebb” and a time for “flow.” The low tide is followed by the high tide and the lowest tides are followed by the highest tides. The greater the ebb, the greater the flow. As I reflected on this, I realized that most of my life was focused on pushing ahead, trying to maintain the “high tides” of my life, with little time or desire to pull back and experience the “ebb.” As I meditated on God’s creation, I saw that there is no “flow” without “ebb.” There is no high tide without the low tide.

God intended his creation to live a rhythm of ebb and flow. It is during the times of “ebb” that strength is renewed, and our soul is refreshed. It is during these times of stillness that we have the opportunity to be quiet enough to hear God speak to our hearts. Having experienced the renewal from the ebb, we are prepared to “flow” with greater power. But with little or no ebb, there is little or no flow. As I have returned from sabbatical, I have experienced a wonderful renewal in my soul. I have also noticed that there is little around us that encourages us to live a life characterized by ebb and flow. What is valued is more activity with little or no consideration for the need to pull back, regroup and quiet the noises of our souls. More, however, is usually not better. There is a time for pulling back and a time for pushing ahead. We are at our best when we are rested—from having been alone with God.

One day, my wife—with the Bible, a book and a journal in hand—went to the beach for the day. After sitting on the beach for several hours, not having read one paragraph or journaled one sentence, the thought came to her as from the Lord: “It gives me so much pleasure when you rest!”

The result of this sabbatical was that I came away lavishly loved by the Father. I have such joy from having hung out with God. I remain committed to the Great Commission. Now, however, in deeper ways than ever before, it is the Great Commandment that compels me: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind…and your neighbor as yourself.” My only regret is that it took me thirty-five years to take a break for an extended time of sabbatical, just to be with my Lord and God.

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Dr. Jim Van Meter is an associate with Paraclete. He lives with his wife Leta in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Their shared passion is training, development and soul-care of cross-cultural leaders.

Copyright © 2008 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.

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