Sabbatical Reflections about Christmas and Business Owners

By Greg Herring
Snowy mountain with blue skies

Recently, I took an eight-week sabbatical. Wow, what a great investment for my business, my family and me personally! More on that in a minute. 

Some years, I write a blog post for Christmas and this year is one of those years. In this post, I want to tie a famous Psalm in the Old Testament to the reason for the season, Jesus, and then reflect on how I have seen evidence of the Psalm in my life as a business owner.   

During my sabbatical, I memorized Psalm 23 and reflected on it each day. What follows are some of those reflections. 

Psalm 23 was written by David, the second king of Israel. He was also a great warrior and poet – an odd combination. The Bible describes David as a “man after God’s own heart.”

My Sabbatical Reflections on Psalm 23:

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. 

David explains that God is his shepherd; it is a choice that David made. He could choose to go his own way, or he could choose to accept God as his shepherd – the one who would lead him. 

With God as his shepherd, David saw God providing for his needs, just as a shepherd cares for his sheep. In other parts of the Bible, we see that David experienced God’s goodness, love, and physical provision in a variety of circumstances.   

Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd; I know My own and My own know me.” 

I asked Jesus to be my shepherd about 40 years ago. As I reflect on my experience in business, I see examples of His provision for exactly what I needed when I needed it. I saw it when a client gave me a glowing introduction to Aspire. I saw it in my first two clients. They took a big risk hiring me when I was relatively new to the industry. Those two clients taught me a lot. I saw it as I hired my first two employees. I didn’t know exactly what I needed in those employees, but Jesus did. (That’s not to say that hiring is always that easy and that every hire works out, but I will always be grateful for Jesus’ provision of those first two employees.)

He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. 

Green pastures are a source of food and quiet waters are essential for drinking without danger – more evidence of God’s provision.   

The “makes me” phrasing is interesting. When you are lying down, you are resting … and not eating.  Did you know that sheep can overeat? (I didn’t until I googled it.) God knows that we are prone to doing too much and that we need to rest. The same is true, maybe especially true, for business owners.   

I need to think about this more but perhaps in a business context, the green pastures are our customers and prospects. They provide the revenue that we need to make the business successful. But too much of a good thing, too much revenue or pursuing too much opportunity, can be detrimental to our business and ourselves. One of the things that I pray is that Jesus would provide clients that need what we have and that He would provide not too many and not too few, based on the capacity of our great employees. I have seen Him answer that prayer consistently for more than 20 years.

He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.

In this verse, David moves from the Lord’s physical provision to the Lord’s care for his soul. In a world dominated by a focus on the physical, the cravings of our soul are often ignored. 

David also says that God guides him on the right path; He shows him the way. David experienced this truth as he fought Goliath, navigated betrayal by King Saul, planned wars, and presided over the nation of Israel as king. 

As I navigated my career, started The Herring Group in 2001, and pivoted to the landscape industry in 2016, I sought the guidance of Jesus and can testify that David’s words are true. 

Jesus said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” When I feel overwhelmed, I pray these verses and ask Jesus to show me what I need to do differently. For example, when Pat and I had kids at home, I used to pray that when I needed to be busy with kids, I would not need to be busy at work and vice versa. He answered that prayer many times. 

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. 

The verses above speak to the power of God’s provision; this verse speaks to the power of God’s presence. I have never been good with abstract things; I like concrete things.   

Reading about the presence of God in this verse is abstract. Fortunately, both David and I would say that God’s presence in the lives of people who believe is concrete. Perhaps one could say it is like gravity; it is abstract until it is experienced. 

David, as a king in waiting and as a king, fought many battles — the story of David and Goliath being the most well-known. The opportunities for fear, uncertainty and doubt were a regular occurrence. But David knew God and His presence. He found God’s presence to be a powerful antidote. 

In my experience, sometimes it is a feeling, but it is always a fact. Here’s how this truth shows up for me as a business owner. 

I want to make sure that the values that Jesus promotes show up in my business. (To be clear, I am a hypocrite.) I want to make sure we are serving our clients well and providing real value; our employees have what they need to thrive; we are serving the industry with new ways of thinking; and our business model is viable for the long term. When I have done those things, then I tell myself there is nothing to fear because Jesus is my shepherd. I don’t need to worry about revenue, competition, new developments, or employees.   

What is interesting about this verse is that God doesn’t remove “the valley of the shadow death” — the opportunities for fear, uncertainty and doubt, even the failure of a business.   

David explains that God’s presence is sufficient in all circumstances. The rod and staff, tools of the shepherd, are a gentle reminder of this presence. 

Jesus began walking through His own valley of the shadow of death when He was an infant, and his family was warned by God to flee to Egypt to avoid being killed. He experienced a second valley when He was crucified. But His death was followed by His resurrection and grief was replaced by joy. 

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil;  My cup overflows. 

This verse is funny to me. It’s like football players doing a dance in the endzone after a touchdown – a kind of “in your face” demonstration of superiority. 

Think about it this way. You are in the middle of a war. And God prepares a big table and meal for your dinner. And your enemies can do nothing but watch. Their weapons just don’t work. 

In the Old Testament, anointing a head with oil signified that the person was set apart for God. The cup overflowing shows abundant blessing.   

Certainly, if God is preparing your dinner, He intends to protect and bless you. 

Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,  And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. 

What a great ending! In essence, when we choose Jesus to be our shepherd, there is no end. 

Despite continued war, David speaks of goodness and lovingkindess being with him every day. Then, he shifts to life after death — confident that he will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. 

Here are two quotes from Jesus that provide great hope: 

“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” 

“In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.”

One of the things I enjoyed most about the sabbatical was not being on a schedule. While we traveled during the sabbatical, we stayed places for a long time to minimize being on a schedule. I enjoyed being spontaneous and being able to spend more time reading and thinking as well as hiking.  I also enjoyed having time for photography. 

From a business perspective, planning the sabbatical took a full year and was a great exercise with lasting benefits. The planning forced me to make decisions about the people that I need to run and grow the business and to discern what role I need to play and what responsibilities I need to delegate. In many ways, the sabbatical was a trial run and helped me make progress in life margin. 

I hope you enjoy the holidays with family and friends. 


P.S. If you have an interest in planning your own sabbatical and want to talk about what I did to prepare, just send me an email.