I’m nearing the end of the halfway mark of my first sabbatical. After seventeen years of following Jesus and fifteen of those years being devoted to lots of volunteer ministry that lead into full time vocational ministry for the last ten years, it was evident this last Spring that the time for a sabbatical of some sort was way over due.

A friend of mine asked me on the front edge what the condition of my soul was. That’s a scary question. My mind wanted to say rested and encouraged but my heart knew better. In some ways I was clinging to some shreds of restedness and a sense of encouragement but in many ways I was worn out, frustrated and discouraged.

I found myself battling my despair by reminding myself of the small things I witnessed the Lord doing in our ministry but when that didn’t encourage my soul then I would give into contemplating what it would be like to pastor a different church with more resources or even find a new profession that would release me from the weight I feel for planting a sustainable and thriving church that makes missionally engaged disciples who glorify God with their lives.

It seems crazy to me that something as miraculous and exciting as making disciples could become a heavy weight that feels too hard to bear anymore. I mean, I believe that the Lord is the one who adds sons and daughters to his family and matures them as disciple making disciples through the preaching of the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Or do I? Do I really believe that statement above? Do I really believe it with every fiber of my being? When I take that phone call, lead that membership meeting, preach, follow up with a visitor or potential donor, make the house call or hospital visit, counsel a grieving friend, confront and correct sinful behavior in a friend, lead a gospel community or leadership development meeting… or make a journal entry like this one… do I really believe the Lord is the one who produces the results?

Or is my discouragement really just proof of my struggle to believe that the Lord is doing the work he says he will do? Isn’t the condition of my soul directly related to my attachment issues? If my identity, who I know myself to be, rises in encouragement or falls in discouragement and despair based upon the fruitfulness or success of my ministry efforts, then… how do I begin to better attach my being to the one being who can satisfy every longing of my soul?

I think one of the things the Lord has really driven into my soul over the last couple of weeks is a renewed understanding of my limitations and his unlimited resource. In other words… I can’t be everything to everyone because that’s not who I am and when I try to be everything to everyone then I am in fact trying to be God because only God can be everything to everyone.

So… I am limited. I am limited in my emotional capacity. I am limited in my intellectual capacity. I am limited in the levels of my energetic capacity. I am limited in my ability to be present in many places and spaces. I am limited in the amount of time I give. I am limited in my struggle against sin.

These are very freeing things to confess because it helps me to commune with Jesus as a broken and needy person who doesn’t have it all together. In fact this is the prerequisite for communing with Jesus. How could I ever really have true communion with the one who has no limitations while believing that somehow I bring something unlimited to the table outside of my relationship with him? In other words… to commune with Jesus is to come to him with nothing but who he says I am in him.

My soul has been depressed because I was attached to and serving a picture of the god of church planting or the god of finding financial sustainability or the god of shepherding faithfully or the god of careful exegesis and exposition or the god of people-pleasing. Serving these gods always results in despair because they cannot ever produce satisfying results. The church will never be big enough, sustainable enough, reproducing enough or in enough locations.

Furthermore, serving these gods will always result in despair because I cannot produce enough financial sustainability and I cannot exegete perfectly or preach perfectly or fix anyone. This doesn’t mean I will not seek to do well in pursuing funding or exegeting the text or exegeting the culture or preaching faithfully or shepherding the flock. But this does mean there needs to be a shift in the reservoir I labor to do these things from.

It seems to me that the best way forward is to relentlessly lean into my limitations and the Lord’s unlimited reserve through regular sabbatical. Weekly Sabbath is vital and I practice that fairly well. But I’m thinking now that a daily, weekly, monthly and annual schedule of rest and renewal is vital for living out of a deep attachment to my Father’s unlimited love and resource for my soul. I need to play offense with my schedule and ensure that times of rest and renewal and play are ruthlessly planned, guarded and executed well.

I also think there needs to be a shift in the way I shepherd and disciple others. My tendency is to live outside the bounds of my limitations and create a codependent or savior complex with people I seek to serve. So moving forward, I am prayerfully planning to draw up some boundaries on what scenarios I can faithfully lead alone and what scenarios I need to begin to invite other leaders locally into so that I do not begin to lead pout of a place of unhealthy attachment. (Still fleshing this one out. So more on this later!)

Lastly, Psalm 42 has been my anthem over the last year because in it the Psalmist realizes that his soul has been downcast because he his seeking to fulfill his hopes and dreams in something or someone or somewhere other than the Lord and he preaches his own soul back into fulfilling his longings and desires in the Lord.

“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”