Four years ago I instituted a semi-regular retreat day into my schedule for the purpose of prayer, fasting, and personal planning. Few things have grown and blessed my soul, my family, and my ministry like regularly withdrawing to engage with Jesus in this way. This practice started for me when I heard another pastor at a conference mention that he took a regular retreat day as one of his spiritual rhythms, so I decided to give it a shot. It was uncomfortable early on, as I didn't really know what I was doing and didn't have any real plan. Some of my retreat days were fruitful and some of them were, quite frankly, awful.
Through trial and error, I began to learn that the level of fruit my retreat day produced was directly tied to the quality of seed I was sowing before hand. The days that didn't go well were not well thought out, or poorly executed. By God's grace, I've identified five seeds I must sow in order to have a fruitful retreat day.
1. Develop a Clear Strategy
My early retreat days were basically me wandering around a forest preserve reading my Bible and wondering what I was doing. While God was gracious and met me in those times, He also began to focus my time and help me develop a strategy for these days. Now my retreat's are geared toward recalibrating three specific components of my life: my soul, my family, and my ministry. I write down issues I want to pray about, seek God's Word concerning, and think through in each of these areas and they serve as a map for my day.
- I begin with my own soul - confessing and repenting of sin, identifying heart idols, and meditating on Scripture, or reading through a book of the Bible in one sitting.
- I then evaluate the health of my marriage and my parenting. I take a fresh look at our family rhythms and plan for adjustment where necessary.
- Finally I examine areas of my ministry personally and for Redemption as a whole looking for areas in need of improvement.
2. Bring the Necessary Tools
Here's the three essential tools I recommend: Your Bible, something to write on, and something to write with...and that's it. Your goal is to talk with, listen to, and learn from the God who created you, saved you, and sustains you. You won't need your phone, you computer, your iPod, or any of that. Write down your strategy, open your Bible, and record everything God says to you about the issues you're seeking Him for.
A fruitful retreat day rises and falls on whether, or not you bring the necessary tools.
3. Locate a Place of Solitude
We see the need for solitude in the example of Jesus who would rise "very early in the morning" and depart "to a desolate place" so He could pray (Mark 1:35). Jesus didn't just throw His earbuds in and turn the volume up so that He would feel alone, He was actually intentional about getting alone with the Father.
I currently spend my retreat days at a Catholic seminary about 30 minutes from my house. It's open to the public, sits on a beautiful piece of land, and as far as I can tell, no one actually goes to this school, as I rarely see anyone else. I walk around the lake and pray, or sit in the library by myself, where I can read, think, and write.
This may be easier for some of us than others depending on where we live, but the quality of your retreat day is directly tied to your ability to locate a place of solitude.
4. Embrace the Awkward Silence
We live in a culture where we rarely ever experience true silence. As a result many of us work consciously and sub-consciously to further fill our lives with noise, avoiding silence because of how it makes us feel. But, something amazing happens when we shut out the noise and embrace the silence - we hear God speak! We become more sensitive to God's Spirit, we meditate more keenly on God's Word, and we drink more deeply of God's grace.
So don't put on your music and don't fill your day with noise. Find a quiet place and embrace the awkward silence.
5. Commit to Action Steps
I have never had a fruitful retreat day that did not include the Holy Spirit calling for some form of response from me - sin to repent of, attitudes to adjust, conversations to have, or patterns to break. In fact, repentance is by definition a grace-empowered change in heart, mind, and direction. There is never a time we come face to face with the will of God in the Word of God and walk away with no action to take. When the Holy Spirit lays these things on your heart it's important to capture them on paper and commit to act upon them. I walked away from my retreat yesterday with 8 separate action items written in my Moleskine.
When you make the commitment to get alone with Jesus, He will speak to you, call you to repentance, and by His grace you must commit to the action steps He calls you to.
My hope in all of this is that you would make the commitment to take a retreat day. This isn't just for pastors. This grace is for EVERYONE. Will you put aside the excuses about not having time and not knowing what to do? Will you develop a clear strategy, bring the necessary tools, locate a place of solitude, embrace the awkward silence, and commit to the action steps the Holy Spirit will call you to?
If you do, I promise it will be one of the most fruitful days with Jesus you've ever experienced.