A true view of God will incite within us a simultaneous call to work and to rest, to activity and to stillness, to boldly move and to retreat.
A potential trap for all ministry leaders occurs when our personal retreating can look a lot like our working. When our own drawing near to God to be still, rest and to listen is overcome by a subtle and strong temptation to retreat so that we can give something of this time away to others. It is not hard to identify where this temptation comes from; so much of the ethos that pervades the church is about what we give. Our desire to always have something valuable to “give away to others” quickly overrides what is yet still deeper within all of us – a profound calling to wait and to receive from God for our own sake and our own sake alone! Does that last statement sound selfish or self-centered? Some may think so. I don’t believe it is, yet, I know that much in our experience of serving within the church may tell us something contrary.
Meaningful retreating, unlike our working (i.e. ministry) is not for others (at least, it is not yet for others), it is for ourselves!
For it to accomplish what is most needed within us, meaningful retreating requires a major shift in our focus. A shift from “with God for others” to “with God for me and me alone”…that I would wonderfully receive as I most need from God for my benefit!
In the early chapters of Luke’s gospel we have a picture of this. Jesus is found entering a new season of life and ministry – a time when a lot in the not so distant future would be required of him. We read: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left Jordan and was led into the wilderness…” (Luke 4: 1). In the wilderness Jesus faced deep human desires and want; he faced an enemy, and he faced temptation. The text goes on to describe that Jesus overcame! What brought Jesus through this time?
What is most instructive in this description is that it was from a place of fullness of the Holy Spirit that Jesus was both led and faced his most difficult moments. Fullness of the Holy Spirit is nothing more than the outcome or the fruit of our own real experiential communion/ communing with God. This is what Jesus knew and what he had as central to his life and ministry. This is central to all of life and work – and it is first for those called to minister.
Each of us can only give from what we are. If what we are is “full of God” or “being made full within God” or “filled up or full of the Holy Spirit” – this then naturally and wonderfully flows from our lives and into others’ lives. It is equally true that others will receive from this and ministry will take place. If though, what we are about is first trying to find or to discover something of value or of importance to give away, to the extent that we end up neglecting the deeper reality of this communion, then almost without any real notice on our part we will engage the time spent on retreat more like a commodity for exchange, rather than as a life-giving communion with God. Our own engaging the Living Word of God then is something meant for others, but can miss us – and the life restoring presence of God becomes something that can be artfully and powerfully described for others, but is not fully entered by me. This, over a lifetime, is deeply dangerous for ministry leaders.
Our wanting to give to others is not a bad thing, but we can miss what God wants to do in us and for us; and can I dare say again: “for us alone and our benefit” – that we would experience being full, full of God, full of the Holy Spirit and being led!
While on retreat we can study, plan, create, intercede, organize and strategize; unfortunately we don’t always actually retreat to a place within God. – If we don’t fully rest and draw near to God for our sake and our sake alone, then we never fully allow God to do what God alone can do for us. We then discover when our time in retreat is wrapping up there remains still within us a powerful longing for still more. The deeper penetration of God’s Spirit into us and for us was subtly hijacked by having found something meaningful we could give away but did not fully receive and cherish. We long for more of God’s intimate presence, for God to take us still further – further into repentance, restoration and re-visioning our own life within God…and that this was all truly missed.
At Gracebridge Alliance we believe that longevity and our faithfulness in ministry is a reflection of what is received in our times of solitude and retreating (being in communion with God). If you are interested in exploring how a retreat of solitude can be of benefit to you or the members of your team please contact us…we would welcome the opportunity to be of assistance in planning a time of genuine retreat and solitude for drawing near to God. Click here to be connected to our contact us page.