Many, if not most, leaders I have coached, worked with, or worked for are task oriented and results focused. They tend to work hard and find it difficult to take sufficient time for the things that fall into the important, but not necessarily urgent, category. One of these important things is taking personal retreats.
I have come to the conclusion that doing this is the overlooked habit of fruitful leaders that I have known and read about.
Jesus himself often slipped away to be alone with the Father. If he needed this, how much more do we?
I just finished reading a great book by Alan Fadling, An Unhurried Life. I hope to have a “Book Note” on it up by the end of next week.
Alan calls these personal Retreats EPC or "Extended Personal Communion with God."
He says, "What if I learned to work from a place of unhurried abiding? Isn't that what Jesus did? We find no evidence that Jesus was ever in a rush. In fact, there is more evidence that at times Jesus frustrated his followers because of his lack of hurry. Jesus lived an unhurried and fruitful life."
It turns out that Alan lives within 10 minutes of my home and we have calendared a time to meet as I want to learn more from him.
When I was on staff with The Navigators, our then-President, Lorne Sanny, wrote a booklet titled How To Spend A Day In Prayer. It can still be ordered and was what got me started spending extended time alone with the Lord.
Through the years I have made it a regular habit of disappearing for a full day, or part of a day, to quiet my mind and heart so as to hear from God.
1. Why Take Such Extended Time?
We go at such a fast pace that we often don’t take time to listen to the Lord.
We need this spiritual Sabbath to help us balance out the varied demands we face and to know what to prioritize.
It offers a time to just be in God’s presence without an agenda or something that we need to do. It is so refreshing to have time to just sit and listen, allowing my mind and heart to be attentive and open to whatever He wants to tell me or show me.
2. When To Take Such An Extended Time?
I would suggest at least quarterly but, ideally, monthly. For many years I would leave home around 5p one day and return at 5p the next day. I would go to a hotel or a retreat center (often they will allow you to stay for free if you don’t eat and you bring your own sleeping bag.)
In recent years, I have been disappearing monthly for about six hours or so. I calendar in these times so as to protect them, as there is always something that comes up which threatens this time I so desperately need.
3. What To Do During Your Extended Time?
Find a quiet place where you can be undistracted. Make sure you disconnect yourself from your electronic devices so as to be able to focus without being interrupted.
Use this time to:
- Sit quietly and listen for the still small voice of the Lord. For some of you it might have been quite a while since you experienced silence for any amount of time.
- Spend a more lengthy time in prayer: Confession, Adoration and Thanksgiving
- Go boldly before the throne for those in your world whom you pray for and spend extra, unhurried time praying for them. What is God showing you or teaching you about how to pray for them?
- Read a book of the Bible (my favorite for years has been Philippians) slowly as you mark and pray over what stands out to you.
- If you journal, read over your journal entries for the last month or so.
- If you memorize Scripture, take extra time to meditate on and pray over some or all of these verses/passages.
- Review any goals you have created asking yourself how you are doing, and pray for wisdom in how to continue to pursue them or make necessary adjustments
- Take along a book dealing with spiritual formation, worship or about Jesus and do some reading and note taking. A book about your walk with Him not about ministry ideas.
- Spend some time in joyful and heartfelt worship.
- Make a list of things that God brings to mind for future focus--things He wants you to do, things He wants you to trust Him with, things He wants you to pray about, dreams He wants you to pursue.
Naturally you don't have to do all of these things, I'm just giving you some ideas from which you can pick. The key is to spend unhurried time with Him & hear from Him.
Lorne says this in the booklet,
"The result of your day in prayer should be answers to the two questions Paul asked the Lord on the Damascus road (Acts 22:6-10). Paul's first question was, 'Who are you, Lord?' The Lord replied, 'I am Jesus.' You will be seeking to know Him, to find out who He is.
“The second question Paul asked was, 'What shall I do, Lord?' The Lord answered him specifically. This should be answered or reconfirmed for you in that part of the day when you unhurriedly seek His will for you."
It's not too late to take some extended time with the Lord during January and then calendar in regular times with him for the remainder of 2014. It could well be the best decision you make all year!