A Retreat With God

For those who may not know, I’m beginning a new journey with an awesome ministry called KidZ at Heart International. It’s a spiritual formation ministry aimed at kids and those who influence them. The timing of my on-boarding with KidZ is absolutely perfect. You see, the staff and board have established a regular rhythm of coming together for the purpose of retreat, and it happens to be this weekend!

I’m so excited to be with this team…I can’t hardly sleep. In fact, God woke me up to write down some thoughts that are stirring in my soul about retreat and I’m supposed to share them with you. So here we go!

Cease striving.

Psalm 46:10 (NIV) says “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Another translation says, “Cease striving…”

Think about those two words – cease and striving.

“Cease” means to stop, to come to an end, to finish whatever it is you’re doing.

“Striving” carries a picture of a great struggle, or to make great effort toward some end.

The invitation here is to bring an end to all our struggling and fighting to make things happen. We are invited to pull away from the urgent demands of our lives and our work in order to stop, rest, and once again remember that we are not the sum total of our achievements. We are not human doings – we are human beings. And we are in desperate need of restoration.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. (Psalm 23:1-3 NRSV)

Psalm 23 begins by painting a picture of God as a very good shepherd who provides for our needs, and that includes making us lie down in pleasant places, leading us along quiet brooks of refreshment, and restoring our souls.

Is it possible God knows what we need even more than we do?

We often don’t know how tired we are until we slow down to rest. And then we crash. We’re addicted to adrenaline, speed, achievement, efficiency and production. But we don’t know what our dogged-determination is costing us. We don’t take the time to pull out the dip-stick of our soul to look at what’s going on inside. Have we neglected caring for our souls to our own detriment?

Retreat is of utmost importance for the care of our souls. So important, in fact, that it’s a rhythm Jesus adopted for his own life and ministry. Through the regular rhythm of dis-engaging and getting away from the pressures and demands of the crowds, Jesus was able to re-focus his attention back on God as his Faithful Provider, Jehovah Jireh.

Many view retreat in a negative light, as if by pulling their foot off the gas pedal they are losing the edge, possibly even losing the race. But herein lies the counter-intuitive truth of retreat, that our work is far more effective for the long haul when we are rested and re-fueled.

Wayne Muller, in his book, “Sabbath,” writes, “There comes a moment in our striving when more effort actually becomes counterproductive, when our frantic busyness only muddies the waters of our wisdom and understanding. When we become still and allow our life to rest, we feel a renewal of energy and gradual clarity of perception.” (p. 26)

As I mentioned before, Jesus’ rhythm was one of worshipful work, then worshipful rest, then worshipful work, then worshipful rest. Luke 5:15-16 gives us an example: “But so much the more the report went abroad concerning him; and great multitudes gathered to hear and to be healed of their infirmities. But he withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.

Jesus retreated.

“Jesus did not wait until everyone had been properly cared for, until all who sought him were healed. He did not ask permission to go, nor did he leave anyone behind ‘on call,’ or even let his disciples know where he was going. Jesus obeyed a deeper rhythm…He would simply stop, retire to a quiet place, and pray…One translation of the biblical phrase ‘to pray’ is ‘to come to rest.’ When Jesus prayed he was at rest, nourished by the healing spirit that saturates those still, quiet places.” (Muller, Sabbath, p.25)

What is stirring in you as you contemplate the necessity of retreat in your own life? In what ways have you been “striving?” How are you receiving this as an invitation from God to be still and reconnect to the source of your life?

I want to tell you a personal story about retreat. When I was around 29 years old I went paint-balling for the first time in my life. A bunch of adults from my church went out to the desert to one of those paintball companies that provided all the gear and made sure everyone played by the rules. We were all good Christian people heading out to the desert for some good clean fun. I had nothing to worry about. Blessed are the merciful, right?

I wasn’t the first person out of the game, but let’s just say my time on the battle-front was cut way short. I took off like a crazy person, used up all my ammunition, realized I had no idea what I was doing, and found myself outflanked by a merciless enemy.

I was shot several times – direct hits – all on my back.

That’s right, I was shot in the act of retreat. My back was turned to the front line and I was high-tailing it out of there. A few quick bursts of paint and pain let me know I was done.

Your invitation to retreat doesn’t mean you are running for your life away from the battle – “outgunned, outmanned, outnumbered, outplanned.” You may be experiencing aspects of the battle that look and feel daunting. If so, please don’t deny the very real ways those feelings and life circumstances are looming large. But don’t feel that by spending time in retreat you are merely running away. In fact, you are running toward God.

Toward God is always the right direction.

In the context of promising the coming of the Holy Spirit, Jesus said “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27) He wanted us to know we weren’t being abandoned as orphans, left alone to face the challenges of life in our own strength.

Trust that in your time of retreat, God is coming toward you even as you are coming toward God.

In conclusion, hear these words of Jesus and let them serve as your personal invitation to come away, to rest, to cease striving, to experience the restoring love of God.  This, my friends, is the place where the truly important work happens – the place of abiding, the place of hearing and receiving, the place of trusting, the place of overflowing.

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, 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.” (Matt 11:28-30, NRSV)

May we all learn from Jesus the “unforced rhythms of grace,” as Eugene Peterson would say. May we receive the peace Jesus promised in John 14. Not a peace as the world gives, but a peace that comes from abiding in God – a peace that is given to us by the Spirit of Truth who is ever present to us, among us, and within us. May we experience rest for our souls in ever-deepening ways as we say “yes” to a retreat with God.

Grace and peace, my friends.

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