We’re excited to have our good friend and author Doug Jones back with two special guests posts on the spiritual discipline of personal retreat. Be sure to check back next week as well for the second half entitled “Scheduling a Day Alone with God.” – Editor’s Note
The Need for Retreats
During the first week of work at my first “real” youth ministry job I received an invitation to join the Senior Pastor on a personal retreat. I accepted, with no reservations. The day came and it was a glorious time spent reading the introduction to Piper’s, Desiring God at Great Falls State Park on the cliffs overlooking the Potomac River. I got off to a great start in ministry, but it would be six years until I hit the point where I was in desperate need of time away with God.
Over the ensuing six years from that first personal retreat, I became increasingly busy with a wide range of spiritual and religious activities – youth ministry events, church wide programs, leading a youth network, and a variety of denominational obligations filled my schedule. I was in a perpetual cycle of preparation and delivering of sermons, executing programs and meeting agendas. It wasn’t that I was neglecting my spiritual development – for I was reading about God, talking about God, writing about God, singing songs and praying to God; but there was no time where I simply broke away to be with God.
“With God” in the sense that I was aware, alert and attentive to God’s presence in the present moment.
The “rpm’s” in my life were revving so high that it was nearly impossible for me to be still and to be quiet that I might be ale to know God’s promptings and hear God’s voice. My life was well described by T.S. Elliot who wrote, “we are distracted from our distractions by more distractions.” A life of such busyness – is a life of so many stressors, obligations, deadlines, and distractions keeping us from being able to attend to necessary things like listening to our life, our heart, our emotions and our God.
Many of us become satisfied with praying on the go, 5 minutes of quiet devotions, listening to Christian music and a hearing a sermon a week – convincing ourselves we are keeping connected with God. If we are honest with ourselves, down deep we fear we are far from abiding and being with God.
This lack of abiding and being at home with God in the realized presence of God is the reason most of us need to fill the prescription of taking a personal retreat. Daring to make the leap of setting aside a day or two to go away from our routines and regular schedules and devote time to being with God. A retreat like this allows for us to find a wholeness, a focus, a re-prioritization, turning our complete and undivided attention to following our Maker and our Molder, the God of the Universe.
What’s the Plan?
If youth ministry has a tendency to ramp up the RPM’s in our life, then a personal retreat is a way to ramp down so that we can return to a place of greater awareness, alertness and attentiveness to God’s presence. Breaking out of our routine and busyness is crucial to our personal Christian formation helping us to simply be with God. Equally important from breaking our daily patterns is having a plan and clear intentions guiding what we do while on retreat.
What do you do on a personal retreat?
- Solitude: a personal retreat is just that – time for us to be alone with God. (Luke 5:16)
- Listening: prolonged period of turning the “ears of our heart” to listen for God’s voice. It often takes breaking through numerous distractions of focusing on the past or the future to “tune in” and listen for God in the present moment. (John 10:1-4)
- Waiting: trusting in God can be demonstrated by resisting action and waiting on God’s direction, prompting, provision or answer. Waiting on God is too often neglected in our everyday lives. (Psalm 27:13-14)
- Praying: slowly or leisurely addressing our Maker and Molder. Taking time to write out our prayers and read them back to God or use a prayer book can help us approach God engaging our head, heart and hands to submit to God’s will. (Luke 22:42)
- Resting: take time to relax – sit in the woods and watch the birds, watch the sun rise or the sun set, take a nap in a hammock or on a porch swing, etc. Rest. (Mark 6:31)
- Enjoying: worship God and enjoy his presence, goodness, care and greatness. Engage in an act of worship. (Psalm 37:4)
- Reflecting: look back at the various impressions, words, and promptings that have come up throughout your time. Reflect on what God might be showing you through this time on retreat.
More from Doug Jones
Check out Doug’s book Dawn to Dark: A Book of Christian Prayer published by Barefoot Ministries.
Check out Doug’s previous series here at Project Renovation:
About the writer: Doug Jones
R Douglas Jones has spent the past 25 years as a volunteer, part-time and full-time youth worker in the local church and as a retreat leader. He has earned a Master of Arts degree in Youth Ministry from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Doug lives in Western Pennsylvania with his wife, Lawren, and daughter, Amelia, along with many dogs, 2 cats, 2 horses and a pony.