As a family, we did the most unconventional thing (no we didn’t wear ugly Christmas sweaters for a family picture…but I’d like to try it). We left the city and a teaching career behind and took a full year off. All due to an Old Testament practice that became a living principle.
A few qualifiers are required. We were and presently are a one income family—an unconventional custom in today’s society. That one income was slightly above average in Ontario, Canada but far from six figures. We had no nest egg to rely on. No hefty inheritance. No stocks or bonds. I’m not trying to portray us as heroic, persecuted or highly sacrificial. There are others who are real heroes of the faith.
But what we had most of all was faith. This move was also not to escape a teaching career that had lost some of its shine. In fact, I was in a great school, with an excellent staff, having a very rewarding time with energetic students. My wife was just starting to home school our kids in their third and fifth years of life.
What we didn’t know was that God had additional, highly unique plans for us.
I was in a seminary program part-time (later I completed my Master of Theological Studies). I was learning more in-depth that the Israelites, farmers during the 15th century B.C., were called to rest the land every seventh year. This naturally would have led to a year of rest for them. Sadly, they didn’t have the faith to give up their income, they disobeyed God, and were forced into years of exile. In the end, their land was given the rest that it had missed (Lev. 26: 33-35).
God kept pressing me, “This rest is for you and your family.” But I fought it. One night I felt like I was Jacob, wrestling the whole night with God. However, it was the clearest message I have ever received from the Lord. I approached my wife with the idea, and she was amazingly agreeable. She knew I was sincere in what I believed, and our plans were made.
We moved from our home in the city to my wife’s parents’ small cottage at the lake in cottage country; a year devoted to God and family with few other things to crowd the mind and soul. Imagine perpetual bike rides, beach days, and field trips! Maybe not things that would interest everyone. But the point is it was a year of rest, a gift from God.
God had promised the Israelites that he would provide for them in the preceding six years (Lev. 26:9), so they needn’t worry for provisions in their seventh year when they rested. In our case, God had seen to it that our mortgage was paid off, we had just enough saved, and God gave me the precise, small amount of supply/substitute teaching days for expenses. I even had to pay for courses during this time, but everything worked out.
You might raise your eyebrows at the detail I added about some supply teaching. You might even choose to get a bit legalistic and say I cheated the sabbatical principle. But here is where God was also at work. Those supply teaching days were at the lake with a different board of education than the one for which I worked full-time in the city. God was preparing us for the future.
After our Sabbatical year was over, we returned to our home in the city and my full-time teaching job. But that’s when God began speaking to my wife. She heard from Him, “Buy the log home.” This log home was back at the lake. He was moving us back to the lake and cottage country. This time permanently, to a new faith community, new purposes, and church involvement in particular. The board of education with which I taught became my new full-time employer.
God is the master conductor as He orchestrates everything to the finest detail…and fine tunes the universe and makes plans for everyone in every circumstance.
This was thirteen years ago and we haven’t looked back. We know for certain that God rewarded our obedience.
What made it work?
1) Obedience and overcoming guilt feelings. Not to look down at the Israelites, but I had to swallow my pride as a man. I heard from another male, “Men were meant to work.” Yes, but they are also called to be obedient.
The Israelites lost out on a huge blessing. They likely felt too worried about provisions and too guilty to accept such rest and recreation.
2) Faithful spouses. My wife trusted me that I had heard from the Lord. I trusted her that she had heard from the Lord. We both could have said, “That sounds nice, but it’s not realistic, practical, wise, nor prudent.” I can’t imagine being in a marriage that is “unequally yoked” (2 Cor.6:14), in other words, being married to a spouse without faith and a commitment to God. (Blessings and strength to those of you living and praying for an unsaved spouse.)
3) God’s plan for humanity. The Old Testament practice of sabbatical rest every seven years is not meant to be a strict practice in modern life. But it is meant to be an enduring principle. Far too many careers are lost to burnout, particularly in the church, where a sabbatical would be enough to restore the mind and soul.
I’ve had a renewed passion for my career since the sabbatical that has surpassed what I had before. God loves His children and we often miss the rewards when we don’t slow down for rest and to really listen to the Master.
I couldn’t help but relate and praise in wonder, when Scott Silverii wrote about the Biblical Sabbatical For Husbands, based on Deuteronomy 24:5. If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year, he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married. Excellent article.
I’m sure many have said, “I need to take some extended time off,” but then don’t follow through and continue languishing in burdens and work. If you’re ever able to take the extended time off, just ensure it is dedicated to the Lord, for He is the one who has provided it. Time off dedicated to worldly pursuits will lead to an even greater break down of the mind, soul, and spirit.
If you’re in need of true rest and you feel God nudging you, stop and take time to consider it seriously. Listen and be assured that rest is part of His plan. It’s not as unconventional as you may think.
Hebrews 4: 9 There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; 10 for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works,[e] just as God did from his. 11 Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest…