Newsletter 18 July 2020, Episode 55

Why you need to retreat

I was very privileged this week to have the time and space to go away for two nights on spiritual retreat. I found some very quiet accommodation outside a tiny village somewhere south of Salisbury. Near Stonehenge for those of you don’t know that part of the world. Wherever I can and to whomever I can I unashamedly bang the drum for the significance of spiritual disciplines in general, sabbath days as one of the jewels in the crown of spiritual disciplines, and overnight retreats.

I have not taken an overnight retreat for some time. More’s the pity. But a combination of global and local events pushed me out of my usual routine and sent me away to be with Father, Son and Spirit in a gloriously focused, intimate and relaxed way.

We know that Jesus spent time alone with his Father. He “was led by the Spirit into the wilderness,” (Luke 4:1), “often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16), “went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” (Mark 1:35). Some of those times were overnight.

If there is no other reason, the best reason to take an overnight retreat is simply because Jesus did. However, I believe there are many other good reasons for going away alone. There is something about stepping away from the usual routine that helps us to get better perspective on what’s going on in life. On what God is doing. Sleeping in a different place, eating at a different table, praying with a different view all help to refresh our thinking.

Let me share with you some of what I did this time.

  1. Review. I took with me the notes of my first spiritual retreat in 2003. I dug them out of the depths of my computer and compared my thinking from 17 years ago with today. Without going into the details, what stood out to me was God’s faithfulness to me. Of the many things I was concerned about then, and prayed about, I can see, looking back, that God has either answered them or provide me with the peace and ability to handle the fact that some have not yet been answered.
  2. Reading. I read and/or re-read parts of two books while I was away. One Dallas Willard called “Life without lack” based on Psalm 23 and another called “The ruthless elimination of hurry” by John Mark Comer. Both were tremendously helpful to me. I find having a book to read helps centre me. Of course a Bible book also helps!
  3. Walking. Perhaps you can walk, perhaps you cannot, but the key thing for me is finding new places to pray that stimulate me. Generally speaking, at times like this I find either mountains or the seaside especially conducive to creative prayer. On this occasion I was able to drive to the south coast as you can see in the picture above, walk up to some cliffs and pray there.
  4. Psalms. I generally find that using a Psalm as a core passage of Scripture for my prayers is very helpful. This time I focused on Psalm 18 which was the focus also of my first spiritual retreat 17 years ago. It was a wonderful experience to revisit that Psalm, and pray through it considering what God has been doing over the last 17 years. Of course, this time different parts of it stood out to me compared to last time. I used that Psalm whilst on the cliffs meditating on it, praying through it and thinking about its themes.

Before heading home on the Tuesday afternoon I made a visit to the historic city of Salisbury. The reason I went there was because as a boy chorister I sang in the cathedral back in the mid-70s. It was a trip down memory lane. I could not get into the cathedral because of COVID-19 restrictions, but walking around the grounds reminded me, once again, of the faithfulness of God over a long period of time. It’s over four decades since I was that youngster in the cathedral all dressed up in robes and singing church music.

The journey, or more accurately the adventure of life has been rough at times, rarely dull, and sometimes filled with joy. But the key reminder for me was that God has been with me every step of the way, whether I was aware of him or not. Perhaps this is the greatest benefit of taking an overnight retreat. The rest of our troubles fade into the background as God comes into the foreground.

The place I stayed had rubbish Wi-Fi, the television didn’t work, and there was no mobile phone signal. All of which would normally be a frustration, but on this occasion was a blessing! I needed to get unplugged so that I could get re-plugged into the resources that truly matter.

I know not everybody reading this has the flexibility I do, but I would encourage everyone to plan an overnight retreat of some kind if you possibly can. If you get creative it’s amazing what becomes possible.

Until the next time, I hope and pray that you would find that God is available to you whenever wherever you are.

God bless, Malcolm