Ever noticed that time just doesn’t stop or slow down? And so often, we don’t either. We move at break-neck speeds and before long, we can end up out of ministry, bitter, empty and jaded. One of the best practices I have found is scheduling regular time to stop, evaluate and reflect on my life. I called these times retreats of silence but you can call them whatever you like. These are “retreats” when I can talk with God over an extended period with intention and concerted focus. I don’t always “get away” somewhere but simply close my door, turn off the phone and computer and sit with the Lord. These retreats have proven invaluable. For people who want to finish strong, I cannot recommend anything more strongly than this practice to be scheduled into your normal rhythm of life.
If you don’t schedule it, it won’t happen!
Why is this so important? Because I found that I was living my life for so many things and it just felt like I wasn’t getting where I needed to be. I loved the Lord but just didn’t feel like I could do enough. Then I just forced myself to stop. It’s not the stuff we do for Him…it’s being with Him. I have begun to realize the greater and deeper importance of keeping and protecting time with Jesus so as to make sure my life counts. Many years ago a friend of mine said “God made us Human Beings…Not Human Doings”. This requires being with Jesus. It means that I have to stop what I am doing from time-to-time and simply rest in Him, hearing his voice and basking in His love and holiness. My life will only count because of Jesus and apart from Him I can do nothing. Therefore spending time with the Lord is vital in finishing strong.
Finishing strong means that I actually get to finish. Taking time to become what God wants me to be helps ensure that I do just that. It is easy to underestimate the value of spending a whole day or weekend in prayer or silence and study. With so many activities, events, services, people etc. that need my attention, it can be hard and even cause feelings of guilt by stepping away to be so “selfish”. However, I have found that I have nothing to give if I am not seriously focusing “me” time with the Lord. Christ expects us to serve Him and others out of an overflow…not scraping the bottom of the barrel! Far too many leaders are running on near-empty, operating on mere fumes…it’s time to get some time with the Lord! It’s more important that you finish strong than to “burn-out” for Jesus!
How to have a Retreat of Silence
Determine when, where and how long. Notify people of your retreat and that you will be unavailable. Block off the time and don’t let anything interfere. With careful planning and deliberate intention, you can take the time and schedule things so that you won’t miss other meaningful events in your family’s life. Schedule your time to include prayer and Bible reading. Set aside time to sleep and rest well. Take walks and periods of time to sit and dream again. As you move through your retreat make sure you ask questions of God and yourself. Don’t push for answers but let the questions reveal your heart and lead you to God and what He may be asking of you.
Don’t rush anything especially prayer and reading scripture. The hardest thing to do is sit still, be quiet, and wait. I always want to try and find something that God is saying or make something “spiritual” happen. Just wait. Slowing ourselves is a great challenge and it may take a couple of hours to even a day for your mind to slow and become comfortable enough to listen. Allow yourself the time and space to hear from God. Read the WORD and pray…and don’t rush the conversation.
Do different things for worship. Try writing, reading, painting, photography, listening to some music as part of your worship experience. Basically, let God stretch you and speak to you in different ways than you would normally do at home or in ordinary life. Expand your worship expressions and seek to notice God in the simplicity around you that is missed while “working” and being busy. Join the rest of creation and authentically be the person God made you.
Document your discoveries. I’ve personally kept a journal for the last 26 years. They are invaluable to me! They contain prayers and longings that I have carried deep within my soul. Using a journal to document the things God reveals to you can help you finish strong because you will have it in written form. We’re forgetful people and sometimes we just need to write it down for things to stick. Keeping a journal also helps in seeing how God answers prayers and can be a great tool in sharing testimonies and passing on legacies to those after you.
Routinely setting aside time to be still before the Lord and scheduling time for retreats of silence and reflection have been great practices for me. I have found them to be not only rewarding and full of discovery but great times of regaining strength, focus and motivation. I cannot recommend anything more highly for people who want to have longevity in ministry than to take deliberate time for retreats of silence. It’s one way to help ensure that you will finish strong!