I was fortunate enough to be asked again to lead worship at the Friends International staff conference last weekend at The Hayes in Derbyshire. It’s always a really enouraging time for me – people are so appreciative and affirming and encouraging and the Bible ministry is always excellent and challenging.
At the start of the conference a staff worker from Edinburgh challenged us to expect to hear from God, and she had done last year – attending several seminars which didn’t seem that relevant at the time, but which as it turned out prepared her well for things God was doing in her work through the year that followed. I prayed that God would do the same for me, and for all of us that weekend.
And so, I believe, it proved, at least for me. It was wonderful to hear Desi Maxwell preach 3 times on the same passage – the end of Matthew 11
Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 ESV)
Drawing on his enthusiasm for Jewish teaching he set the words of Jesus in wonderful context. Talking to him over lunch he recommended the writings of one of the foremost Jewish scholars Abraham Heschel and I am looking forward to reading two of his books, The Sabbath and The Prophets.
But thinking back, what has struck me most as very applicable to this Sabbatical I am taking are the words “Learn from me” and how they relate to a couple of Ccriptures.
One is Psalm 131 – a verse that God brought to my attention a few months ago in the middle of a lot of struggle which finally led to this period of rest I am currently enjoying:
O LORD, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvellous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. (Psalm 131:1-2 ESV)
The idea of calming and quieting my soul was pretty appealing. But was my idea of study, of travelling to Cambridge “occupying myself with things to great and too marvellous for me”? It had seemed that as I had gone on reading and seeking God, I was understanding less and less.
Then a second famous passage spoke with new force and seemed to provide a way forward
[Martha]… had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:39-42 ESV)
I saw that Mary was not being passive. She was not simply doing nothing and sitting doe-eyed at Jesus feet. She was listening to his teaching. Learning from Him. Perhaps even talking, asking questions. We see in John 11 that she is quite prepared to challenge Jesus strongly – and that comes from a relationship which is far from passive.
So I think my Sabbatical is taking a new focus. Calming and quieting my soul. Taking some time away from being distracted with much serving. But also sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening, studying and above all “learning from Jesus”. Let’s see where that takes me. Ought to be pretty good.
 After posting this, I read Tom Wright about this passage from Luke for Everyone and he says this:
‘Sitting at someone’s feet’ doesn’t mean (as it might sound to us) a devoted, dog-like adoring posture, as though the teacher were a rock star or a sports idol. When Saul of Tarsus ‘sat at the feet of Gamaliel’ (Acts 22.3), he wasn’t gazing up adoringly and thinking how wonderful the great rabbi was; he was listening and learning, focusing on the teaching of his master and putting it together in his mind. To sit at someone’s feet meant, quite simply, to be their student. And to sit at the feet of a rabbi was what you did if you wanted to be a rabbi yourself. There is no thought here of learning for learning’s sake. Mary has quietly taken her place as a would-be teacher and preacher of the kingdom of God. Wright, N. T. (2004). Luke for everyone. London: SPCK. p.130