I’m thankful that I was able to retreat for two days this week. I try to take at least one two-day spiritual retreat per year. In the past I’ve done it at a retreat centre. This time, I spent some time at a local camp, which was more convenient for my family. So, what happened on my retreat? On one hand, nothing. That is, one of the main purposes of a spiritual retreat is to slow things down enough in your life, so you can more readily listen to God—to do “nothing” in his presence. And I’m pleased to report that this happened. Spending time alone with the Lord in solitude and silence, I was able to spend considerable time listening to him through Scripture, and then respond in prayer. I meditated on the following Bible passages: Psalm 46; Matthew 5-7; the book of Jonah; Paul’s Letter to the Galatians; and Romans 8. Through these texts, the Lord called me to “be still and know that He is God.” He also called me to trust in him for all my needs. And to abide in Him, so I remain fruitful and faithful. I also read a book by Eugene Peterson, a long-time mentor in writing. Rev. Peterson called me to remain faithful to my calling as pastor, even when challenges come—and they will come! And to spend considerable time nurturing my soul as pastor through the holy habits of common worship, praying the Psalms daily, and praying simple prayers throughout the day. I’m grateful for the chance to nurture my soul on retreat, so I can more effectively nurture the souls of my people. The best gift a pastor can give to his congregation is his transformed self.
Usually at least once a year I will take a private spiritual retreat. So, why would I do such a thing? For many reasons, but first and foremost because Jesus did it. In Mark 6 we read how the apostles were so busy in ministry that they didn’t even have a chance to eat. So Jesus took them aside to a quiet place to get some rest. Then after resting for a time in solitude, they were able to minister to the crowds when they came their way. Then in that same chapter, after feeding the five thousand people, Jesus went off alone again–this time without the disciples. Jesus models a balanced life of ministry and solitude. There’s no doubt that Jesus worked hard and was fruitful in ministry. So, how did he do it? In part because he spent considerable time with his Father in solitude and silence. And that is what I seek to do on my spiritual retreat. To get away from the crowds–even my family!–for a few hours over the course of two days, so I can sit quietly with God in a quiet room, soaking in His Word and responding to it in prayer. And then after resting in His presence, I trust I’ll have the spiritual strength to carry on as a Follower of Christ and pastor. It can be hard to carve out the time for a spiritual retreat. But it can be done, and it is worth all the effort. In fact, I have found it the best way to experience Jesus’s words from Matthew 11: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Amen!