Coming into the sabbatical, we already had a hunch that God was speaking not about fresh outward and other-focused activity, but about how He wanted us to relate to Him: our God-ward activity!
A few weeks before the sabbatical formally started, we had visited a vineyard near Henley, and seen, in early Spring, the bare vines cut right back to the stem and main branches - ready for a season of heavy fruit. Many times in the last few years the church pastoral staff have discussed John 15, and what it means to remain in Christ the vine, and understanding seasons of pruning and fruitfulness. But on that visit to the vineyard, suddenly it became blindingly obvious to me: hard pruning is necessary to prepare for future fruitfulness.
Put as simply as possible, God was saying to us, "Do less! Pray more!"
Part of our sabbatical has been taking time to explore together, and with colleagues, what focus our life and ministry should have as we move out of the sabbatical season. But a more important part has been to refresh, rejuvenate and refocus on our vital relationship with Christ, the vine (John 15), the river of life (Psalm 1) and our first love.
In our last blog we told of our visit to Lindisfarne. After Lindisfarne, we visited Northumbria Community, a community self-describing as "new type of Monasticism … rooted in the history and spiritual heritage of Celtic Northumbria." (For more, read Encounters on the Edge #29.)
Through Northumbria Community, and some reading about historical movements in church history, we were inspired by the monastic idea of a 'rule of life'.
In his excellent book The Emotionally Healthy Leader, New York City Pastor Peter Scazzero comments: "A trellis is a tool that enables a grapevine to get off the ground and grow upward, becoming more fruitful and productive. In the same way, a rule of life is a trellis that helps us abide in Christ and become more fruitful spiritually, keeping God at the centre of everything we do."
For Ruth and I, our new rule of life includes daily, weekly and annual guidelines concerning rest, prayer, people, social media, exercise, and retreat. We trust that it will serve us, and enable us to ‘abide in Christ and become more fruitful spiritually, keeping God at the centre of everything we do.’
What guidelines do you need to put in place, with support of your family and friends, to help you "abide in Christ and become more fruitful spiritually, keeping God at the centre of everything you do"?