I’m in the middle of my three-month sabbatical and have already been able to experience some amazing things. My wife and I have been to Israel and Greece and walked in the footsteps of Jesus and Paul. I’m sure I’ll have more podcasts about that soon
But most recently I had the chance to take a few days for a solitary retreat with a spiritual director. I would love to share some thoughts with you about my time and its impact on my spiritual life.
Here are three key ways I learned to go deeper with the Lord.
#1 Slow Down
During my spiritual retreat, I literally had nothing to do except spend time with God. Nothing. I had nowhere to be. I had no cell service or internet. I had no one to talk to the majority of the time. However, I found myself walking briskly from one place to another at the retreat center.
I was asking myself, why am I in a hurry? I have absolutely no reason to walk so fast. So, I started to slow down my pace.
I also told myself to “relax my shoulders.” If you take a moment right now and relax your shoulders you are going to realize how tense you actually are. Try it. Relax your shoulders. Take a deep breath and then relax them some more.
Why are we so tensed up all the time? I’m sure there are a ton of answers to that question but the truth is that whatever they are, you need to realize that God does not want you to be so tense. God does not want you to be so hurried.
When we intentionally relax and slow down then we are able to listen and engage God in deeper ways.
#2 Find your Focus
I imagine that you have a lot going on in your life. You are busy and your mind is going in a thousand different directions just to try and keep up. And more than likely there is an area or two in your heart that you and the Lord need to work on. It may be a fear that you have, it might be a sin you are struggling with, it could be some emotional instability that is getting you down. Whatever it is you need to courageously seek it out and begin to discuss it with the Lord.
One of the exercises my spiritual director had me do was to read the story about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead in John 11. After Jesus calls Lazarus from the tomb, he is still wrapped in his grave clothes and Jesus tells those who were there to take off the grave clothes. Lazarus was alive, he had been made new again but he was still hindered by the grave clothes. So the question I needed to answer was, “What are the grave clothes that I need to have removed?”
I thought long and hard and spent time thinking this through with the Lord. A couple of things that are hindering me are lack of self-confidence and scarcity. I don’t have time to go into all of what that means for me but basically, I think less of myself than God does. I often forget that I am a child of God, that Jesus holds me dearly and will meet all of my needs, exceeding, abundantly above all that I could ever ask or imagine.
What is your focus? What do you need to discuss with the Lord and find His sufficient grace for?
#3 Listen to the Scriptures and to Nature
The retreat center where I was staying had no activities going on and there was nothing available to do other than walk the trails through the woods and sit in comfortable environments for quiet and solitude. This was a good thing for me because I can get easily distracted and find it very difficult to sit in silence and contemplation.
Afterwards, some people asked me, “What did you do?” And my answer was simple, “I sat in silence with the Lord, occasionally picking up my Bible and journal.” I was trying to focus on listening to the Lord through the Scriptures. But even then I spend most of my time in Psalm 33 and a few passages in Luke. I was not trying to read large portions of the Bible, but rather spend time in just a few verses.
One thing that struck me was a passage in Luke 17 where Jesus heals 10 lepers. The lepers are at a distance from Jesus and yell over to him, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” What struck me was the word “mercy”. Why did they ask for mercy and not for healing? They obviously wanted healing but they chose a different word. Thankfully I did not have access to the internet or I would have spent the rest of the day trying to find out. I was stuck just sitting with the Lord and the Scriptures to meditate on this particular scene in the life of Jesus.
But I really believe that if I had not been intentionally reading slowly, trying to take in each word, I would have missed this. Jesus wanted me to listen to these words and think deeply about them, not just blow through them and checking off my Bible reading for the day.
I also had time to sit and listen to what was going on around me outside. Nature is obviously God’ creation and I believe He wants us to listen and experience what He has created. It also did not get by me that the name of the retreat center was called St. Francis Springs Prayer Center. St. Francis was known to have a heart for the animals.
One of the things I was focused on listening to were the birds. I remember growing up and camping a lot and hearing the bobwhites and the whippoorwills early in the morning. I loved being awakened by those sounds.
I think creation can draw us into a deeper sense of knowing who God is and how much He cares for us and the world. Jesus often used examples of birds and sheep, mountains and streams, trees and rocks. So it makes sense for us to pay attention to the creation that surrounds us.
So, that’s just a few things that struck me on my spiritual retreat and led me into a deeper walk with the Lord. These practices are not always easy and they require time, focus and sometimes a place to be alone. But I think the effort is worth it, I hope you do too.
Slowing down, finding the focus that God is working on inside of you and listening to the Scriptures and creation can all help us engage the gospel in deeper ways and we all know, it’s the gospel that changes everything!