By Dr. Stephen Phinney
What Is a Sabbatical?
A sabbatical usually refers to a full-time minister entering an extended leave or career pause of at least two months. In general, ministers use it to complete work, such as research or writing. In my case, this isn’t the case. There are two types of gardens for sabbaticals.
1. The Garden of the Sabbath – place of rest
2. The Garden of Gethsemane – oil press or crushing
The type of sabbatical I have been called into is the Garden of Gethsemane. This is the place where Jesus was called. Within this torturous garden, Jesus was faced with sleeping disciples, betrayal of his closest confidants and the fronting of Satan himself. A place where the following words came forth from our Savior’s mouth:
"Sit here while I go over there and pray."
"My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me."
"My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will."
"So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."
"My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done."
"Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going; behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand!"
While it is true that Jesus is the only One who is called to suffer the measurement of pain and betrayal He experienced in this garden, all indwelt believers are called to join Him in His sufferings. This is a place my soul has refused to enter. This garden is a place millions of indwelt believers have been called to enter throughout the generations. Could it be that when Jesus said, “You will suffer as I have suffered,” this is the place we are called to enter? Well, I am about to find out.
Sabbatical actually started as a biblical term from ancient Hebrew culture, which decreed that every seventh day should be a day of rest, and every seventh year should be a year of rest, to forgive debts, free those in bondage and servitude, and let the land fallow (rest). Sabbatical comes from the word Sabbath, which literally means “rest.”
When Jesus entered the garden of Gethsemane, He certainly didn’t expect a time of rest. Although, it was one of His final requirements to enter rest, as well as to provide a solution of rest for His Bride, the Church – His Body. But first, He must grieve to the point of sweating blood.
“And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.” (Luke 22:44)
I asked the Lord, “What does this mean?” Honestly, all I got was, “I am about to show you.” Where is my comfort? It was in this statement.
“Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him.” (Luke 22:43)
I conducted a study on the science of “sweating blood.” I found that it is a rare phenomenon in the human body. It’s called, Hematidrosis - a condition in which capillary blood vessels that feed the sweat glands rupture, causing them to exude blood, occurring under conditions of extreme physical or emotional stress. This study gave me a deep understanding as to the amount of stress the Father allowed His Son to endure. Stress that no other human could identify. And why did such a traumatic event occur on the Sabbath? The answer to this question is where I found the two types of Sabbaticals.
In all my years in ministry, I have never taken a sabbatical, let alone a sabbatical within the garden of Gethsemane. The honest reason is, I was afraid. Recently, after looking into the face of our circumstances, I realized that it was time to pause, enter, and reflect on the crushing elements of this dark place.
While my soul certainly needs rest, my intentional pause does not hold such a luxury. This is not a place of rest but rather the place that will lead me to rest.
Both Jane and I have come to the conclusion that most family members, friends, and the masses tend to think, “Oh, they’ll be OK, God always takes care of them.” While this is a true statement, as was the case with Jesus, it doesn’t negate the emotional grief we experience – such grief, it challenges us to the core of our beliefs.
One of the key rejective experiences Jesus faced in the garden, outside of the face-off with Satan, was the “sleeping” disciples. How was it that the closest confidants of Jesus couldn’t remain alert in His greatest time of need? That was a question that Jesus Himself was mystified. This single act of Jesus fronting and rebuking his disciples' struck at the core of my heartache.
The blunt reality was, the disciples were NOT indwelt by the Holy Spirit, which resulted in betrayal in one fashion or another. There was no “alarm” clock within them to keep them alert. As most of us know, each of the disciples would not experience this internal alarm/awakening until the day of Pentecost. But still, Jesus expected them to remain alert.
My gifting requires of me to see details within Scriptures that at times causes me grief. Jesus literally checked on the disciples three separate times. Each time finding them “sleeping.” Why would the Son of God do this? Why didn’t He blow them off after the first time? Well, reader, the Lord revealed the answer to me. The importance of His disciples supporting & sustaining Him in prayer was just as important as to the mission the Father had for His Son in the garden that day. Even though the disciples failed on every point, Jesus was successful in establishing the modality of all future leaders and their disciples.
This brings me to my core confession!
My greatest struggle in ministry is by way of the silence of the people. As Jesus expected the disciples to remain alert, pray with Him, and support & sustain the work of His ministry, I too have come to the same mystery of, “Why are the authentic believers sleeping?” I can come up with a host of reasons, from the digital age causing Tardive Dyskinesia (TD) to navel-gazing but the fact is, most authentic believers are silent in supporting and sustaining ministries that advance the indwelling Life of Christ. The leaders of these ministries are left to themselves – each lacking prayerful, financial, and personal care. This is my grief.
I have been told more times than I can remember that our ministry is proclaiming the most important message of our day. While I agree with these postings, I am mystified as to why those same people do not step up to the plate, remain alert, in caring for the vessel distributing the message.
One of the ministries we love and admire recently established a coffee company. This was a curious thing to me. Being my inquisitive self, I wanted to know the reason. From what I read, this ministry made the connection that believers will buy a cup of coffee while allowing ministries to suffer financially. Therefore they opened a coffee company to sustain their ministry. What were the results? A sustained ministry.
There seems to be something wrong with that picture. Jesus said, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:34)
I am not speaking only for our ministry but for all those ministries the Lord has established worldwide. We need to support and sustain authentic ministries that advance the indwelling Life of Christ – not just with our money but with our prayers and personal encouragements. Most of these Christ-as-Life workers lay down their lives for what they do. Many of those have learned to remain in the garden of Gethsemane, pleading before the Lord over what is being required of them, while constantly checking on the “sleeping” disciples.
Behold, the hour is at hand. This is not the time for sleeping!