Almost two months into the sabbatical

trekking the Bukit Timah hillListening to my body

Almost two months have passed. Physically, I have rested well. This April and May has been months when I listened closely to my body. Whenever I felt tired, I laid in bed and napped or slept. Most mornings I do not force myself to wake up. So it has been usually 8.30am or 9am when I have my breakfast. They say this is the best way to know how much sleep you need. My tentative conclusion is that I need about 8-9 hours of sleep each day.

Though I began with walking and jogging at the Chinese Garden, my preferred form of exercise and recreation is still trekking. So I have revived my Saturday trek with friends, and above that, during the weekdays I try to trek once or twice at Bukit Timah Hill or MacRitchie.  Such treks are gentle on the knees and on the heart. The air is great and the forest sounds and sights perk me up. Over the several weeks, I have been gradually trimming down and firming up.

Outside enrichment

The AGST MTh(Ed) modules were fun and the subjects and readings, lectures and interactions have been fruitful learning experiences for me. Forcing myself to research, reflect and write my papers have also been pleasantly smooth riding, despite my early anxiety.

Helping out as a facilitator once a month with the Focused Leaders Network (Church Resource Ministry Singapore) together with James Creasman, Bishop Moses Tay, and Rev. Walter Lim has been enjoyable. This is a platform for me to journey with pastors, in this instance, pastors from the Foursquare denomination in Singapore.

Spiritual refreshment

More time also meant more time for meditation, reading, reflection, prayer and journaling, and listening to sermons with my wife, mostly Paul White and Andrew Wommack. This last month I have been slowly nourishing my soul on Psalms 42 and taking time to pour out my heart or be quiet before Him.

Visiting churches as a layman is so nice, so nice. To be free from having to preach or minister and to fuss over program or people problems is like one prolonged sigh of relief. It was plain good, a cosy and relaxing change. It was pure indulgence: like peering into the horizon with sunglasses, and sipping watermelon juice at a beach, as white clouds quietly tiptoed by. And then being able to indulge my spiritual palate in different church services and sermons, like a wandering charismatic, has become a prolonged epicurean feast I hope I do not become addicted to.

Anxiety squashed by word

Even as the days passed, colourful as they were, with a Kuala Lumpur jaunt and a chest thumping week of witnessing the Singapore election, anxiety about whether the days were productively spent bugged me for a while. For a Singaporean, even resting and restoration is an objective to strain for. So as the days passed quickly you wondered if God will get everything done that I wanted Him to get done in me. Mercifully, some peace prevailed after the Lord gave me a status update, “Enjoy each day as a gift and trust Me to accomplish in you all that needs to be accomplished by the end of the sabbatical”. That is so assuring and going forward, I will rest on that word.

Google reader

Recently, I have also learned how to use the Google Reader. Transferred all the blogs and websites I usually read from my blogroll and Favourites and moved them all there for efficient access and pleasure. This has been available for some time, but I am usually a late adopter when it comes to such things. I am still not on Twitter.

Nestled in His arms, rested in His love

trusting loveMore sleep

Freed from regular work, I have given myself permission to sleep more than I have slept before. When I feel drowsy or tired, I would just go to bed and lie down for a nap. So in addition to my regular sleep I have been sleeping at any hour of the morning, or afternoon or evening. A pastor friend on long leave told me he slept at ten at night, and woke up at about ten every morning for several weeks. Another pastor friend on sabbatical dreamt of church work every night for several months. It’s like the ignition key was removed but the engine was still running….or slowly winding down.

More writing, more prayer

child thrown by fatherEvery morning I wake up and go straight to the laptop and power it on. Then its straight to the 4EverJournal, my online journal. Password. Click on the day and start writing and praying whatever comes to mind without censorship. It has been a pleasure to get into this habit. It doesn’t go beyond 500 words. At least not yet. It is peppered with prayers to Pa. Sometimes I would go to e-Sword and read a verse from Psalm 42 and meditate and then write my response in the notes. And then it is back to the journal.

Being like a little child trusting the Father’s love has been an experience that has been growing on me. Sometimes my sanctified imagination sees the Father swooping me up and throwing me into the air and catching me in his hug. Many squeals of delight later, I find myself nestled in His arms and rested in His love.

More trusting

The Lord has been guiding my paths and making each day so pleasant to the taste. To see His hand of love in the little detailing of life’s unfolding has been such a delight. Even the date due reading assignments seemed light and pleasant. The project work was done in a breeze. The Lord has been giving me some inspiration for Sunday’s message in the New Covenant Church.

Tomorrow I take a coach to Kuala Lumpur, and by God’s providence I take the same coach as pastor Mary Tham, my colleague, who is completing her Elijah House ministry journey. Lord you are so kind with the little details. It’s always nice to have good company.

On sabbatical finally

My sabbatical begins

The sabbatical has finally begun. First of April came and went without event. Lurking underneath was an anxiety that  the chairman of the Board would call me –Pastor, I am sorry but it was all an April Fool’s prank. Report to work tomorrow. But that did not happen, and I am still pinching myself.

The last time I had a sabbatical was for three months and it was about eleven years ago. At that time, I had served in the same church for close to 20 years. No complaints from me as there are pastors who have never had a sabbatical. And there are those who had a sabbatical every six years. Comparing my situation with other pastors will only make me glad or sad. I would rather not compare and be grateful and contented with what I am blessed with.

Eugene Peterson, well known pastor, lecturer and writer about spiritual formation and prayer, wrote in one of his books, that sabbatical is “the biblically based provision for restoration. When the farmer’s field is depleted, it is given a sabbatical – after years of planting and harvesting, it is left alone for a year so that the nutrients can build up in it. When people in ministry are depleted, they also are given a sabbatical – time apart for the recovery of spiritual and creative energies.” For some years now I have been feeling the need for spiritual replenishment. This morning, on the Lord’s day, I woke up praying- Lord heal whatever brokenness You find in me. I commit the whole six months to You and trust You to order my steps and restore me fully in spirit, soul and body.

Community of Praise Baptist Church English service

Visit to church nearby my home

This was my first Sunday. Community of Praise Baptist Church is nearby my home and  their worship service starts at 10am. My wife came with me as we had to hurry off to Yip’s 50th birthday lunch in Sentosa. The worship hall was gorgeous. The decor was tastefully done and I could see that they were willing to spare little expense to do the hall up. It looked like it had a seating capacity of about 500. The songs were familiar and I asked the Lord to minister and speak to me. A song touched me, encouraging me to trust Him to accomplish His purposes in me through this sabbatical. That was a good start, to start receiving at the first service of the sabbatical.

A few faces were familiar to me. I saw Jackie and pastor Bernie – both of whom I am acquainted with from a prayer retreat I attended last November. And there was Dave Tang who sits on the CRMS board and the senior pastor Rev George Butron who together with other pastors were attending a Focused Leaders Network facilitated by the CRMS founder James Creasman, former Anglican Archbishop Moses Tay, pastor Walter Lim of Grace II and myself.

The congregation were mainly folks in their 40’s and 50’s, as their young people, the Mandarin speaking and the children were worshipping simultaneously in other halls nearby. There were quite a number of Caucasians in the congregation and a surprisingly wonderful mix of different races. The Chinese formed the majority but there were quite a number of Indians, Filippinos and other folks too. It reminded me of Pentecost at Azusa Street. The Spirit brings people of all races and status and marks it with His kind of love.

George Butron’s sermon

George Butron taught from Nehemiah chapter one, the beginning of a series of messages. Detailing the historical and cultural background without boring the audience, he taught the Word, reading often from the text. It was obvious he loved the Word and that shone through. Near the end, he got on fire and the temperature in the congregation went up. From informing the mind earlier, he was now warming our hearts as he poured out his heartfelt convictions about what he saw God doing in the church and what he believed God was about to do. You could say he started with teaching and ended up prophesying. Black preachers call it celebration.

The insight I took home was about how Nehemiah mirrored the Holy Spirit’s ministry in our lives.  Just as Nehemiah rebuilt the broken walls of Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit wants to rebuild our lives on the inside. That was the pivot on which the sermon’s effectiveness rested on. It resonated with me because of what I prayed in the morning. At the end of the sermon, I whispered to the Lord – I trust You to rebuild the broken walls during the sabbatical.

Long walks resume

My wife and I resumed the long walks and the usual Saturday treks. These have been laid off for quite a few months. So while the early morning Saturday trek up Bukit Timah Hill was cancelled because it rained, my wife and I went with Linda Teo, Tan and Christine in the evening. The hills are alive with the sound of music, and I do hear them when I trek. And it always feels good, yes priceless, when after an hour and a half of trekking up stairs and slopes, you walk down the tar and cement main road to the rangers’ station at the foot. There are other places I would like to trek during my sabbatical: Pulau Ubin, Sungei Buloh, Sentosa, MacRitchie, some parts of the city, and some hills like Belumut in Kluang.

Off to Kuala Lumpur

This Friday, I ride First Coach from Novena at 9.30am and will be in Kuala Lumpur for about ten days. Do my MTh(Ed) module under Perry Shaw whose lectures are about “Building Formative Faith Communities”- it may not appeal to you but just the title makes me salivate.  Of course “ lim kopi” with some New Covenant Church friends like Pastor Peter and Simon and whoever is free. Preach there on Sunday morning. Possibly a peek at Stillhaventfound’s girlfriend. Maybe he’ll change his blog name now that he has found. Maybe attend Roger Sapp’s healing seminar. Quite a few maybes. And finally, a visit to an old friend, Mrs Ang, as we affectionately call her, who had ministered many times to our church in the past. Looking forward to this trip.

The value of a sabbatical

low battery chargeThe church board of elders granted me a 6 months sabbatical and I felt grateful and relieved. Grateful because they knew I needed it even though the timing was not perfect. There never is a perfect time in church life for sabbatical. Wait for the perfect time and it will never come. Relieved because I am like a mobile with only one bar left in its battery. So beginning 1 January 2011 and ending in 30 June I will come apart from church work and routines and seek the Lord for healing, focus and restoration.

Healing because along the way of service there have been scrapes, ambiguity, guilt, bad decisions, hurts that needs to be surfaced by silence, meditation and the illumination of the Spirit of God. Journaling, silence, reflection and prayer have a way of opening me up to experience healing grace, peace and reconciliation. Having a ten day silent retreat under direction, at Seven Fountains retreat center in Chiangmai, would be a good kick-off to this process.

Ministry gradually degenerate into fragments with its mobs of demands, distractions and drainers. The sabbatical will give me time to reflect on the past to gain sightings of how God has been at work in my life, and where the finger of God is pointing. Invitations will then turn into convictions and specific callings, and if not, at least faith to take the next step in the midst of uncertainty.

Emotionally and mentally and physically I need fresh input and restoration. I do get frayed and enter a mode where I’m not fully living and tasting the whole range of life and relationships. My senses get blunted as I hurry, rush and hurry. The sabbatical will slow me down and heighten my senses and help me to be fully present to God, to life, to people, to loved ones, to the hurts of the stranger.

Read this NY Times article on “Taking a Break from the Lord’s Work

Even corporate people are appreciating the need for time off. As I started planning for the sabbatical and did some research online I came across this interesting video of Stefan Sagmeister sharing how time-off made him productive and creative for his design company.