Twenty-seven years ago, I went on my first sabbatical. I had heard of ministers taking sabbaticals—going away for a few days to be with the Lord—but as a businessman, I didn’t think a sabbatical applied to me. However, the Lord led me to go on one. My in-laws helped me find a place to go, and I ended up spending a week in January in a freezing one-room cabin in East Texas.
I spent the first three days of my first sabbatical hearing nothing from God and complaining about the money I could’ve been making if I were at work instead. Then, on the fourth day, in the span of 30 minutes, God gave me five ideas for my business. Five ideas that, for almost 20 years after, continued to dramatically change how we did business and gave us a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Since that time, I’ve taken three sabbaticals a year. I don’t believe I could live the life God has called me to live without them.
You may be thinking, Well, that’s good for you, Steve, but why would I need to go on a sabbatical? The answer is: to strengthen your relationship with the Lord. The word “sabbatical” comes from the word “Sabbath,” which is a day of rest dedicated to God. Essentially, a sabbatical is several Sabbaths put together. Whether you’re a businessman or a student or a stay-at-home mom, I bet you spend a lot of your time running around. We work hard, we spend time and money trying to find solutions to problems, and oftentimes we end up destroying our businesses, families, and health when what we really need is to sit still and be rightly related to God. And if you want to develop a better relationship with God, it takes time. If you want answers and wisdom, you need to spend time with Him.
Every time I go on sabbatical, the Lord gives me greater vision, for me personally, for my family, and for my ministry. He gives me very detailed direction for my life. He also shows me things from His perspective. So whether you go away for two days or for a week, spending extended time with the Lord changes you.
As you plan to go on your first sabbatical, here are 12 tips to help you prepare.
1. There’s never a good time to go on a sabbatical. Something else will always be happening, but I go because I see the blessings and benefits of it, even if it’s just for two or three days. And I trust God’s Word that says if we spend time with Him, He will drive out our enemies and enlarge our borders (Exodus 34:21–24).
2. Find a place where you’re not easily distracted. It doesn’t have to be a freezing cabin in the woods, but it should be somewhere you and God can be alone. As you start your sabbatical, pray over your room and dedicate the sabbatical to the Lord. Ask the Holy Spirit to fill the room.
3. Start preparing for your sabbatical about a week ahead of time. Begin to consciously slow down your mind and thoughts so you will be prepared to focus on the Lord rather than work, projects, and issues. The point of a sabbatical is not only to spend time with God but to rest, pray, fast, worship, and do whatever He wants you to do!
4. Bring plenty of paper, pens, pencils, and highlighters.
5. Prepare to be organized. I keep a “sabbatical binder” and list on separate pieces of paper topics in my life I feel the Lord may want to address in the next year (ministry, relationships, family, to do, prayer requests, and work). I place these pages into different areas of a binder so that each topic is easy to find when I need to write down things the Lord is saying. I also have a general topic entitled “Sabbatical (Year)” where I can write anything the Lord says that is not under a specific topic.
6. Create a blank “To Do” list at the beginning of the sabbatical. Any time you think of a task that you need to do at work, at home, etc., immediately write it on this list so you don’t have to spend time thinking about or trying to remember it.
7. Try to do some type of fast during your sabbatical. Fasting makes your spirit more sensitive to the Lord. If possible, start fasting the day before your sabbatical as part of your preparation. Drink plenty of water to flush out any toxins brought out by the fast and bring warm clothes. Fasting tends to make you feel colder than usual.
8. Do not go into the sabbatical with a set agenda. Pray for God’s agenda to be accomplished. The purpose is not to get something from God but to spend time with Him. I usually begin the sabbatical by asking the Lord to reveal to me any sin in my life I am not aware of.
9. Keep outside contact to a minimum. I check in with my family once every two or three days and avoid outside conversations.
10. It is good to get out of your room periodically. I like to take a quiet walk once a day and sometimes walk at night. There is nothing wrong with doing an activity that takes your mind off the sabbatical as long as it is for a short time.
11. Keep your focus on the Lord and use this time to build your relationship with Him. I avoid all newspapers, magazines, and television. It is fine to bring a few books along, but it is usually best to keep them to a minimum. It is easy to get involved in reading a book and lose a lot of time meant for the Lord. Additionally, this is typically not the best time to do an in-depth Bible study on a specific topic. It can be very time consuming and distract you from spending time with God and hearing from Him.
12. Submit your will to Him, and ask Him to direct and guide you. Ask Him to give you revelation as you read His Word. The Lord wants to speak to you more than you want to hear from Him.