In the church where I grew up, the phrase “hearing the Holy Spirit” was never really uttered. Well, maybe someone in a back hall said it, but it sure didn’t get mentioned enough where I could hear it. Therefore, I never really connected it in my young mind as being a “normal” part of the Christian life. For almost two decades as a Christian (ages 10-29), I did not pursue a relationship with the personhood of the Holy Spirit. Sure, He was with me at all times, and led and protected my steps in countless ways I’ll never know, but I never actively pursued to hear His voice or call Him by name.
I was 29 when I went on my first sabbatical, and in the couple of years leading up to that time I kept thinking that there had to be more to the Christian life than what my life had become. I had allowed myself to fall into the greatest trap in western Christianity: to become comfortable. To achieve “nice guy” status rather than becoming a reckless follower of Jesus Christ.
I take responsibility for falling into this trap. I do not blame this on the church.
How was I supposed to resist the trap of the safe and uninspired Christian life? I’m not fully there yet, but the best I can tell is that by faith, we are to hear and obey. Hear and obey.
When I went on my sabbatical, I started listening and I started hearing from God. I showed up to my retreat with a blank canvas for a heart and with really high expectations. I started to hear the whisper of the Holy Spirit each day. To my surprise, it was not in a weird way at all, but in a kind, loving and friendly way–like He wanted to be my Counselor and Comforter if I’d let Him. (Funny, that’s what the Bible says about Him, too.)
On a daily basis, I simply heard in my spirit–not in an audible way–exactly what to do each day. A certain book of the Bible would come to mind to read. A specific book I brought with me would stand out to read. Sometimes I could see the “theme” for the day right away and sometimes it would be closer to evening before I saw how the events of the day fit together. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was beginning to listen to the Holy Spirit on a daily basis for the first time in my life.
Like I mentioned in a previous post, my intent is not to offer some sort of step-by-step blanket plan for what a Christian sabbatical should be like. Everyone’s experience will look different.
For my sabbatical, each day had its own topic, and each day did have some structure to it:
- I would sleep in (until around 8 am each day) with no alarm clock.
- I would ask the Holy Spirit what to start reading/meditating on.
- Read, pray and journal until lunch. (I bought groceries beforehand, so I would never have a reason to go into town.)
- After lunch, I would go for a hike in the woods.
- When I returned, I would then pray and read and journal for a few hours.
- In the late afternoon, I would head out to the woods again for a hike.
- I would have dinner after the afternoon hike, then I’d have praise and worship after dinner. (Singing is not my thing, so this was really awkward for me to do by myself at first. I’ve done it in multiple sabbaticals since, and this personal worship time is now the highlight of my retreat.)
- After worship, I would pray, read, and journal again before bed.
Side note: I wish I was artistic and had brought some kind of activity to do with my hands when I got tired of reading and needed a break. (e.g. guitar, painting/drawing, craft of some sort, etc.) I’m a left-brained type, so I brought puzzles. It may sound cheesy, but I needed something to let my brain relax at different points throughout the day, since I was fasting from all forms of technology.
Surprisingly, not one day felt like it was dragging on. I woke up eagerly anticipating hearing from God each morning. I easily adapted to the slower pace, and I quickly saw the change in my contentment and joy as I started to realize what Scripture means when it says the Lord is “my daily bread.”
Next week, I’ll tell you about the really strange thing that happen on the last day when I came out of hiding and interacted with the public for the first time. Plus, I have to warn you about the shocking 60 days that followed.