Keeping the Focus

My three month sabbatical is over. I've now been back to my work as pastor for ten days. In just about all respects, it's good to be back. It's fun to catch up with people and hear what they're doing. It's great to be back in downtown Boulder and soak up all the activity and energy, especially with the CU students starting their school year.

What I'm finding hard about readjusting, however, is finding practical ways to live out of that centered place I discovered in my time of rest. Now, with to-dos, juggling schedules, engaging people, managing calendars, doing advance planning, attending meetings--these things clamor for attention and fill the formerly quiet place. The question for me--and maybe for you, too-- is how to preserve the center, how to amidst it all, recall God's voice saying "be still and know that I am God" (Ps. 46:10).

Certainly, the spiritual disciplines are essential. They push back the other voices, at least for a time. They ground me in that which is permanent and life-giving. For me, one practice that's helpful right now is the Prayer of Recollection. I discovered it this summer in my study of spiritual formation. Apparently, the early Christians, prior to hearing the Word of God in public worship, "recollected" their true selves by rehearsing together who they were in Christ. It was a time to resist false idols and false identities and to lay claim to their core identity as beloved in Christ. I've developed a sample prayer below that you can copy and paste into your word processor to fill out and personalize. Regularly recollecting myself with my own version of this prayer is helping me touch base with my core identity in Jesus. It's allowing me, at least somewhat, to keep the focus. I hope it's helpful to you, as well.

A Prayer of Recollection

(A basis for this can be found in Philippians 3:7-9.)

Father in Heaven, in faith I affirm today:

•That at my core, I am not:__________________________________________________


(list any relational roles you play, such as: a father, mother, son, daughter, wife, husband, friend, etc);

•That at my core, I am not: __________________________________________________


(list a vocation you might have, such as: a caregiver, accountant, teacher, attorney, nurse, doctor, manager, boss, employee, entrepreneur, pastor, businessperson, student, volunteer, etc);

•That at my core, I do not need:______________________________________________.


(list a phrase that speaks to your temptation: people to like me, people’s approval, to be successful, to make a lot of money, to control my life and circumstances, to look good, to be attractive, etc);

• But in faith, I remember that:

I am under no condemnation (Romans 8:1)

I am a new creation in Christ (2Corinthians 5:17)

I am free in Christ (Romans 8:2; Galatians 5:1)

I am a beloved child of God (Romans 8:14-16; 1John 3:1)

I am completely secure in Christ’s love (Romans 8:35-39).


Sabbatical Sunset

As my three month sabbatical comes to a close, I'm actively preparing to return to my work as pastor. Right now this means trying to crystallize in my mind the lessons I've learned during this time away. I'm hoping this will give me perspective personally and focus my sharing with others some of the benefits of being away. (I'll have the privilege of developing these thoughts with our congregation when I preach August 29.)

In short, it's been a refreshing time. If author Eugene Peterson is correct in his summary of the two sabbath commandment texts (in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5), then the fourth commandment calls us to both "praying" and "playing." Sabbath-keeping and sabbatical call us to unplug from the often draining routines of our work and tap into the underlying rhythms of rest that God has hard-wired into creation. In sabbath rest, we reflect on God and seek to more purposely relate to him (praying); we also let down our hair (or what's left of it!) and play with abandon, giving thanks for this good gift.

This sabbatical has been a great time for playing. Travel out of state and out of country have been wonderful highlights. I've renewed friendships with pastor buddies and high school pals. I've seen all my old groomsmen. I've sampled tastes of Italy with my family. I've ridden my bike up some pretty cool climbs in California, Arizona, and Colorado. I've pedaled the rolling forests of Wisconsin's Northwoods. I've gone on some great runs. I've spent some time in the kitchen cooking. I've eaten good food and enjoyed delicious beverages. I've golfed pretty regularly with my wife and sons. Life has been good. Playing has been restorative.

Praying's been part of the picture, too. Times formal and informal. Times at home and away. A highlight for me was a couple day trip up to Highlands Camp, a Presbyterian retreat and conference center in nearby Allenspark, CO ( What a lovely place tended by dedicated people who graciously assist others to draw near to God. And it doesn't hurt that the camp is nestled at the foot of the Mt. Meeker-Longs Peak base! If there's been a consistent theme in my time with God this sabbatical, it's been the renewed invitation to bring my true self, warts and all, to God, trusting in his love and grace and allowing his Spirit to direct me. A very basic message, to be sure. I've been reminded that God first and foremost wants my heart, not my service or even my obedience. With my heart more fully his, the rest will naturally follow.

My reading has focused on the early Church and on contemplative prayer and spirituality. In addition, I've just wrapped up a very helpful (and challenging!) online course by Dr. John Coe of the Talbot School of Theology. It's served as a beacon for me personally and it may be very helpful in the ministry of Spiritual Formation and Discipleship I'm privileged to lead. Check out the course if you're so inclined. It's free.

Well, the time to return is almost here. I think I'm ready. Fall's in the air and the family is ramping up their routines. It's been a good sabbatical and a great gift to me and to our family as well. I'm very grateful to our generous congregation. Thanks for reading.