With a new season, comes a new opportunity for growth!
What if at the end of this season you could experience more peace, more rest, and even be more productive?
I want to share some insights I learned going offline for 5 weeks.
Last summer was a great summer as my family had a truly wonderful sabbatical.
I was pretending it was 1992 – no texting, no cell phone, no emails, no internet. Before the summer I had printed out maps so I could drive around with paper maps on my trip to Wisconsin and to Washington D.C.. That was tough and probably more dangerous than driving around looking at a map on my phone!
I also tried to only watch television when my wife wanted to watch – which I discovered is not very often.
You know what I discovered going offline and watching less TV?
Without touching the phone, I could pray. I could think. I could observe. I could reflect.
So many times I would be in an airport terminal or at the store or at the movies, and I would be the only one not looking at my phone!
Did you know that on average, we grab our cell phone 80 times per day. That’s once every 12 minutes!
“The heaviest smartphone users click, tap or swipe on their phone 5,427 times a day, according to researcher Dscout. That’s the top 10 percent of phone users, so one would expect it to be excessive. However, the rest of us still touch the addictive things 2,617 times a day on average. No small number.”
You know what else I discovered going offline for a few weeks?
- I read the Bible from Job to Malachi (except the Psalms) That’s 21 books in the Bible. I read The Voice, a new version so it would be a fresh rather than familiar experience.
- I read a book on strengthening the soul of a leader
- 3 books on the new heavens and new earth
- a book on how King Edward (the one who abdicated the British throne to marry the American Wallis Simpson) may have been conspiring with the Nazis to regain his crown had Hitler won the Battle of Britain
- a book on the last three revolutions in China
- plus parts of books on the Enneagram
- understanding the Hebrew prophets
- and how Gandhi led the people of India towards independence.
I replaced our window AC unit. I went to physical therapy after injuring my back replacing the window AC unit.
We registered both our cars, renewed our passports, got one of our teenagers registered for college and the other one her drivers license, took two family vacations, went to the dentist, and I started learning a foreign language – ASL.
Going on sabbatical and going offline also helped me to experience
We slept in. We ate out at new restaurants. We watched some of the World Cup. We watched some movies. We just slowed down and enjoyed each other.
Spending Time with God
I want to share with you how I spent time with God each day to help you in your journey.
Each day, my primary ways for spending time with God included reading the Scriptures and praying by journaling.
Before reading the Bible, I pray: “God, show me who you are and who you want me to be.”
I used a new translation of the Bible called The Voice for a fresh experience. Sometimes we miss the fascinating because it’s so familiar.
I have been journaling since I was 15. I started journaling because I was forgetting what was happening. It was more of a day to day report, but it has turned into a way to stay focused when praying. My mind doesn’t wander as much when I am writing.
Here’s what I wrote in my journal just before my sabbatical:
“So I wait for the Eternal—my soul awaits rescue— and I put my hope in His transforming word. – Psalm 130:5
Of one thing I am certain: my soul has become calm, quiet, and contented in You. – Psalm 131:2
May this be true of me and this break!”
And yet I struggled to get off the phone for that first week!
Why is it so hard to rest?!
No phone meant I was thinking about the phone, the news, trades in the NBA, Facebook, and on and on.
No phone led to moments where I felt anxious. I found my mind wandering towards dark thoughts.
I began to realize that often I had been using my phone to stay on the superficial level of life so as not to let my mind go so dark.
I wrote the following in my journal about a particular dark thought I had which was the fear of losing my family:
“Forgive me for my superstitious tendency to fear giving You my family for fear of losing them. Forgive me for assuming closeness to You only comes through suffering. Instead may I pursue You with intensity and intentionality because I want you and not because I need You (though I do).”
Then I started reading Psalm 144, and it was exactly what I needed!
11 Rescue me, and save me from the grasp of these enemies who speak only lies and don’t have truth in their deeds. 12 May our sons be like healthy plants as they grow and mature, and may our daughters be like the corner pillars that decorate a palace. 13 May our storehouses be full with abundant supplies of every crop, and may the flocks of our fields multiply into thousands and tens of thousands! 14 May our cattle be strong and productive, without miscarriage, without loss, and may there be no riots or protests in our streets! 15 Happy are the people for whom all this is true; happy are the people whose God is the Eternal! – Psalm 144:11-15
This happened several times during my trip. I would journal about something bothering me and then I would read the Scriptures, and it was exactly what I needed.
Now, I spent a lot more time in the Scriptures than I normally do. Instead of just a few verses, I took the time to read several chapters. In doing so, I created the space to hear more directly from God about what I was needing. It was like a treasure hunt every day to discover what God had for me!
A Human Doing
In my June 8 journal entry I wrote:
“This morning as I sought to hear Your Voice, these verses kept coming to mind.
“Peace be still” – Mark 8:39 (This is what Jesus said to calm the storm).
“Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10 (Sometimes we fail to know God and experience God because we refuse to remain still).
I struggle with being. I’m more of a human doing. My mind is constantly filling with ministry ideas – people to call or text or email or events to do…. Help me to rest like never before and to gain your presence and revelation like never before.”
After writing out that prayer, I started reading where I left off last in Isaiah, and look what I discovered:
“This is the way: here is rest for the weary. I am showing you rest. But they wouldn’t listen to Him.” – Isaiah 28:12
God was showing me the way, I just wasn’t listening!
Here’s the thing: many of us were raised in a religiou environment. Religion tends to perpetuate the idea of doing good things to get God to love us. It makes us lean into the idea of a human doing.
Before you ever did a thing for God, He did everything for you!
He created you on purpose and with a purpose.
He came to walk among us. Living a perfect life, teaching with authority, driving away evil, healing illnesses, ultimately Jesus willingly gave His life taken on Himself all the evil of humanity, yet death and sin could not defeat Him as He rose from the dead!
We are loved and because of His love, out of gratitude we live a new life. We do the good that He has created us to do!
On June 14, I wrote a journal entry about not trusting my team. Now this is ridiculous because we have an amazing staff at Gateway South!
You see every morning, I would wake up and think of ideas to send to each person on our staff, but I knew I couldn’t contact them. So instead, I would pray that God would give the same ideas to them since I could not contact them!
Here’s what I wrote:
“I feel like I need to just pretend I’m not coming back and that you are more concerned with Gateway South than I am…. It’s yours and has been yours all along.”
After writing in my journal, I picked up where I left off in Isaiah and in the midst of all I read was this gem:
Listen! The Lord, the Eternal, the Holy One of Israel says, Eternal One: In returning and rest, you will be saved. In quietness and trust you will find strength.” – Isaiah 30:15
Again, God was reminding me to listen! To be quiet! To trust Him!
Even still, I was cheating. I would check my email once a day. Now, I felt good about myself because I wasn’t on my phone all day. I was just getting back to inbox zero with only about 3 to 5 minutes online. It was after a week or so of cheating like this that I received this email from Sulinda.
Now, I have to be honest. I did not immediately respond. I was enraged! I mean the word “respectfully” does not go along with “I will change your email password”? She cannot do that!
I had to work through the 12 steps several times before I was ready to respond. When I responded later, I said: “Thank you.” She was right. I was missing the opportunity to be completely offline which was a gift I was squandering!
This supernatural communication between me and God continued throughout my sabbatical. I would write a prayer and find the answer in the Bible.
As a result, I decided to try something similar with my kids. They are both teenagers and sometimes they aren’t in the mood to talk about some of the harder things I feel we should talk about, so I started a journal to both of them. I just shared my heart and my hopes and my prayers for them, and I invited them to respond with any questions they had or anything they might want to write about.
Then nothing happened. I started to wonder if they realized that I gave them a journal with so many pages because I wanted them to write back. I knew I was clear enough, so I kept waiting. Finally about three days later, Trevi wrote me back and left the journal on my pillow. We have continued to write to each other that way over the past year.
My 19 year old son finally wrote me back by simply writing: “Thanks.” So we have conversations in other ways. 🙂
As a parent I worry about my kids as we all tend to do. I wrote about some of my fears and concerns, and then I read this passage from Isaiah which really encouraged me – even as I saw God’s promise to work in their lives – to move them from the desert to fruitful.
So it will be until God pours out the Spirit from up above, and the land comes alive again—desert to fertile field, fertile field to forest. 16 Then justice and truth will settle in the desert places, and righteousness will infuse the fertile land. 17 Then righteousness will yield peace, and the quiet and confidence that attend righteousness will be present forever. 18 My people’s homes and hometowns will be filled with peace; they’ll relax, safe and secure. – Isaiah 32:15-18
Isn’t that amazing!? A home filled with peace!
Now, the word “relax” is like a threat in my family. Even since the days of ancient Scotland, Bryants are not known for being able to relax! Yet God was calling me to learn to do just that.
Understanding the Hebrew Scriptures
As a quick aside, it’s important to understand how to read and apply the Old Testament. Most of us spend more time in the New Testament which makes sense because we are reading letters written to believers on how to live in the way of Jesus. They are prescriptive whereas much of the Bible is more descriptive like the historical books in the Bible.
Some helpful keys to understanding the Bible include:
- The histories, prophecies, poetry, the apocalyptic literature and the law can be difficult to understand and apply, but we need to remember that the Bible is Hebrew meditation literature. To meditate means to “chew on” something. We are meant to discover the divine wisdom behind the stories in the Scriptures.
- Each person and each story is a case study from which we can learn what to do and what not to do.
- Now if a story or passage doesn’t make sense, it could be helpful to dive more into the context.
- It is also important to always interpret the Scripture with the Scripture.
So at one point I was on a trip in Wisconsin. On June 24 I wrote the following in my journal:
“My identity is wrapped up in being so productive and so efficient. What if I were to slow down and enjoy every moment? Rather than rush onto what’s next, allow You to speak to me and show me more than I’ve taken time to see in the past.”
A couple of weeks later, my prayer from June 24th was answered on my trip to Washington, D.C..
I was driving to D.C. from Richmond, Virginia after visiting some great friends from our Seattle days (Lee and Deneen Costic). I was driving with a huge water bottle so by the time I got to D.C., I was desperate to find the coffee shop I was looking for called Ebenezer’s. Unfortunately, I had not printed any maps to Ebenezer’s so I kept driving around town looking forward and then asking people for help finding it. Finally, I found it, but it was closed and not open until 8am!
Now, I was desperate. I was facing a bladder emergency! I looked on my map and saw I was very close to Gallaudet University, one of the largest universities for the deaf community in the world. It is also the school where several of my friends from our Gateway South Deaf Network graduated. I drove onto campus to see it and to find a bathroom! Even though there were two baseball teams up early warming up on the baseball field, I could not find a bathroom!
I went to the campus police station hoping someone would be there and could direct me. An officer came to the door and I explained my situation. It was then I realized that he was deaf. Then it quickly dawned on me! I had learned some ASL! So in my broken ASL, I told him I needed to go to the bathroom so he led me into the police station and to the bathroom. It was such a relief that it was as if I had learned enough ASL just for that moment!
As I was driving away, I felt prompted by God to go up the hill rather than exit the campus. At the top of the hill, I prayed asking God to speak to me. My first thought from God was the following:
“You have been deaf and blind to what I have for you.”
I asked for forgiveness and asked for help being more intentional about listening to what He has for me and seeing what He has for me.
As I drove away from the top of the hill, I felt prompted to go to the right rather than to the left which was the same direction I had come up the hill. Just a few minutes later, I slammed on my brakes!
There to my right was the Kellogg Conference Center and Hotel! I had a map to find that later because that was the hotel priceline.com had put me in for my four days in D.C.! I had found my hotel without using a map but by following God’s promptings.
It was not lost on me that to make the point further, I was staying on the campus of a deaf university and the next day I lost my glasses.
Even still, I want to be willing to listen to God and respond, to see what He has and obey.
So how can we grow in our faith?
How can we see what God wants us to see and hear what He wants us to hear?
Time with God
+ Serving Others with Others
+ Authentic Community
Time with God
Sabbath – taking one day a week to rest, reflect, and relax. Put away your phone. Sabbaticals don’t come often, but a Sabbath day can come once a week.
Solitude – spending time alone with God.
Silence – getting away from the noise. Contemplate. Meditate on the Scriptures (Hebrew meditation means filling your mind with what is true rather than emptying your mind). Pray.
Prayer – If you have trouble with staying focused or even falling asleep, try praying outloud in your car or writing in a journal, or taking prayer walks. Praying is speaking and listening to God’s “still small voice.” We can tell the difference between our thoughts, dark thoughts and God’s thoughts because God’s thoughts are selfless, require courage, and consistent with His character.
The Scriptures – Hebrew meditation literature.
“God, show me who you are and who you want me to be.”
In other words, the Bible is filled with case studies to show us who God is and how we can apply His Word to our lives. The Bible is not about getting more information but about personal transformation. This requires applying the Scriptures to our lives.
Sunday gatherings – Every Sunday come and pray:
“God, what do you have for me and what do you want from me?”
Every Sunday you come to Gateway, ask God: “What do you have for me and what do you want from me?”
In other words, teach me something and show me someone I can serve.
God has something for you to learn every single Sunday
It could be a conversation in the lobby, a lyric in a song, a passage of Scripture read, an illustration from the message, a prayer prayed with the prayer team, a thought in the midst of singing, or a conversation on the way home
God has something for you to do every single Sunday.
It could be looking for people to meet (those who may be alone or uncomfortable – be wise and kind about this!), praying for people, encouraging others, giving financially, serving others with others, investing in our children, serving as a greeter or on the production team.
Stay connected to God’s love with a heart for being in God’s presence.
Another critical part of our own growth is becoming less self-focused. We cannot grow to become all God created us to be without shifting our focus from ourselves towards others which leads to the next part of our spiritual growth formula.
Serving Others with Others
Serving on Sundays – serving our kids, becoming part of our guest services team, or serving with the production team are easy ways to get involved.
Serving in the city – consider jumping into a network that is focused on serving those who are experiencing homelessness or focused on an affinity group or neighborhood
Serving overseas – our Go Teams do a lot of good and often those who go to serve are transformed more than those they are serving.
Sharing your life and spending time in the Scriptures together.
Most of the New Testament books are letters written to local churches. They would read it outloud together. They would then talk about how to apply the lessons shared.
Often God speaks to us through others in our lives.
The natural result of spending time with God, serving others with others, and authentic community is transformation.
First, you grow!
You grow to experience more of the fruit of the Spirit.
You begin to change how you live your life.
Because God is holy, you want to be holy! “Holy” means set apart in how we live our life. We don’t just live the way everyone else lives.
We are willing to make sacrifices because of our love for God knowing He has set us apart for a special purpose.
By living differently, we are prepared for different opportunities we may not have if we just lived the same way as everyone does.
Second, others find faith
They see a difference in you.
You care for your neighbors, co-workers, family, and friends in a new way.
You want to hear more about their life. You want to serve them in the midst of their difficult times.
You want them to find the peace and joy that you have!
So in this season, what is your next step?
Setting aside time each day to spend time with God?
Stepping into serving others with others?
Being intentional about developing authentic community?
Loving or serving a neighbor, co-worker, family member, or friend?