Sunday worship had some revealing moments for me. Since I was not preaching I was a bit more at ease and thus able to be more attentive to my own spiritual needs. This, by the way, is another benefit of taking a sabbatical). It is really hard for me to simply worship when I am preaching. It may be mostly my issue, and maybe other preachers experience it differently, but for me if I am preaching it is really hard to kick back and pay attention to my own soul during worship. Over time this takes its toll, and so sabbatical gives me a chance just to worship. (I will blog later about our worship plans.)
At early service this past week, one of the hymns we sang was "When Peace Like a River." This hymn has played a significant role in my spiritual life for a long time. You know how its, some songs carry special meaning for us. The third verse of that hymn goes like this: "Redeemed! Oh the bliss of this glorious thought, my sin--not in part but the whole--was nailed to his cross and I bear it no more. Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul." I still remember the time when while singing this hymn, the Lord impressed on me the wondrous, glorious, mysterious truth of the thought expressed in that verse. And ever since, whenever we sing this song, that verse touches my soul in a sweet way.
Every time, that is, except this week. I sang the hymn as I always do, focusing on the words, and coming to this verse, remembering the thrill my soul feels at this glorious thought, anticipating--and nothing. I felt nothing at all. I got out my journal and made a note of this, wondering what it meant. It is not that I do not believe it any more--I do, actually more than ever. It is just that it did not stir my soul. And that scared me. It became a not-so-glorious thought.
I did not have much time to contemplate the meaning of this at the time. At second service one of the songs was "Filled with Glory." It says, at one place, "would You hear our cry, we want to see You glorified." Then the chorus repeats "Glorify Your name...we want to see You glorified." My mind went right to John 17 where Jesus prays and thanks God that he would soon be retuning to his place in heaven and would receive back the full glory that was rightfully his. He then says that he has given us his glory and prays that we would glorify him. Wow, that is my heart--to bring God glory. Why then do I feel this dryness of my soul?
Another song followed--a more contemporary rendition of Amazing Grace with includes a chorus that says "my chains are gone, I've been set free. My God, my Savior, has ransomed me. And like a flood his mercy reigns. Unending love. Amazing grace." There are some chains that need to be shed from my heart.
Each of these songs, combined with my empty feeling from first service, coalesced to help me see more clearly the tired state of my soul. Unless I am stirred by the mystery of God and his redemptive work among us, I am in no position to preach it. I think it is as simple as that. Often, in the past, while preaching, my heart would sing and my soul stir as I unpacked the truths of God. Recently, it has just been hard work.
So that said and recognized, it is just another way of me realizing how much I need this sabbatical. I want to be careful not to put too much pressure on myself nor to lay too many expectations on God, or we might all end up being disappointed. However, I remain expectant as to what God wants to do in my life during this time, and I cherish the opportunity to drop back from the constant demand of output, and to have time for Him to put some things back into my life. I am very grateful for this opportunity. The leadership of the church has been gracious and I have received many words of encouragement from people in the congregation. God is at work within both of us.