The setting could not have been more perfect.

I flew to Boston last week to speak at a weekend retreat for the women from The Fellowship, a terrific South Shore church. The theme they chose was “Let Your Light Shine” from Matthew 5:16 and the event was held at the Nantasket Beach Hotel in Hull. From my corner room on the third-floor I could watch the waves rolling in a stone’s throw away, and a lighthouse just up the coast blinked both welcome and warning.

I spent hours in prayer and study between the teaching sessions and found myself mesmerized by the beacon of that lighthouse and everything it symbolized. Our first president placed the building of lighthouses before the construction of roads in the newly formed United States. Highways got 19th century Americans from place to place, but it was the lighthouses that saved their lives – at least those of the thousands who made their living at sea.

During the retreat we reflected on the role of lighthouse keepers – those who lit the lamps at dusk, replenished the oil at midnight, and polished the lamps in the mornings to keep the beacon burning brightly. American women became lighthouse-keepers when their husbands left home to battle the British during the Revolutionary War. Lighthouses are all automated these days, but women still keep the lights burning in countless ways.

In preparation for the weekend I spent a lot of time thinking about the way we use the gifts God has given us as well as the ways we abuse them. When we exhaust ourselves in service, we risk damaging our physical bodies – the very containers God has given us to reflect His light. Most Christ-followers are familiar with the caution carried in 1 Corinthians 6: “Don’t you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you? You are not your own – honor God with your body.”

We usually assume this instruction applies to purity and holy living, and it certainly does. It also applies to caring for our personal “containers” through a healthy diet and exercise. But last Saturday afternoon, a new thought came to me.

 During our free time, I caught a Harbor Express ferry from Quincy into Long Wharf in Boston, and as we entered Boston harbor I found myself staring at the containers being loaded onto a cargo ship. For the ship to operate at maximum efficiency, the crew had to correctly calculate the capacity each container was capable of containing.

Busted! I thought to myself. Why do I so often miscalculate my own capacity to carry certain loads? I operate most of the time like an overloaded cargo ship when sometimes God may have only intended me to be a little skiff, carrying just what He himself assigned to me and not all the other flotsam I insist on toting around.

 Every ship’s captain carries a bill of lading that itemizes his cargo. That’s what Jesus meant, I thought, when he said “Come to me, you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”  If we carry more cargo than the Master Boat Builder intends at certain seasons in our life, we can sink under the burden. It we carry too little, we’re not operating as we were designed to.

Seven weeks from tonight, Mike and I will be boarding a 747 for Istanbul, Turkey, and the start of our pastoral sabbatical – the first in over 30 years of full-time pastoral ministry. For 90 days this summer, our Designer is changing our bill of lading to a much lighter load.

 No, we weren’t heading for the rocks – far from it. We are in an extraordinarily joyful time of life and ministry. But by offloading for a short time  the cargo of full-time ministry, we will be able to pick up insights, experiences, and spiritual lessons we could otherwise never afford to take on board.