Inwardly I moaned, “How can I add anything more to my life?” It was 1992 and I was on staff at a church on the outskirts of Chicago. The senior pastor had just lovingly instituted a day of personal retreat for all staff members—to be taken once a month. The idea was intriguing, yet overwhelming. I didn’t have that kind of free time.
This was my introduction to extended time alone with God in prayer. My initial reluctance gave way to a passionate pursuit of making personal retreats a priority in my life and, as time went on, encouraging others to embrace the blessings of such remarkable get-a-ways.
It’s no secret—time alone with the Lord revitalizes, renews and empowers God’s people. Extended time alone with God provides a perspective on life that isn’t easily captured in our daily devotion time. Moving away from the familiar, to be alone and quiet before the Lord, gives us a vantage point that reacquaints us with the face of God.
Prayer leaders can extend the blessings of personal encounters with God to the members of their prayer teams and worshiping communities by organizing a one-day prayer retreat designed to introduce believers to extended time alone with the Lord.
God meets with people wherever we are—whether on the top of a mountain, walking along a road or in the belly of a great big fish. Amazing things happen when we are alone in the presence of God. Although not mutually exclusive, typical retreats often focus on learning, loving, laughing and worship. A prayer retreat teaches us to listen.
Listening is not an activity we are inclined to cultivate. Our lives revolve around action. To do lists dictate the course of our day and do not often include time for quiet contemplation. Going away to meet alone with God turns our world upside down. Our meager existence against the backdrop of his majesty puts us in a place of great discomfort and abundant grace. Alone before the Almighty, I can do nothing. Give nothing. Offer nothing. I can only receive—without merit, might or pretense. In those set-a-side hours I have the unique opportunity to receive what he alone can give. It is often more than I can comprehend. I resist this kind of extravagant love, yet it is the basis of what transforms me.
If this is the case, why aren’t more Christians drawn to personal prayer retreats? We don’t go because we live with the expectation that extended time alone with God has to happen in isolation, as a solo experience. This inaccurate understanding has deprived countless believers from experiencing profound times of prayer in quiet, get-a-way places. Other faulty assumptions and fears abound when it comes to extended personal time of prayer.
Removing the Roadblocks
“You want me to do what?”.
It’s often the first reaction when believers are offered the opportunity to go away to a quiet place to be alone with God. The road leading to a personal retreat appears riddled with roadblocks. Here’s some ammunition to refute these faulty assumptions and fears.
“I don’t have the time.”
Although few people will carve out time for a personal retreat, most people will make time for a special event. Combining extended time alone with God with a group retreat allows for the best of both worlds.
“I’m not ‘spiritual’ enough to spend a whole day with God.”
Participating in a group prayer retreat levels the playing field. The blessings of extended quiet time with God is meant for all—new believers and seasoned Christians. There is no standard to be met. The Lord meets us where we are, knowing who we are—and His arms are opened wide.
“What would I do with that much quiet time?”
A one-day retreat contains healthy doses of group interaction and time for solitude. During the extended quiet time believers are encouraged to meet with God in ways that are varied, refreshing and comfortable. Sitting quietly is not the only way to meet with God. Many Christians enjoy intimate times of prayer while taking a walk, singing out loud, composing a psalm or enjoying God’s creation.
Planning For A Rendezvous With God
The next step for prayer leaders interested in taking their members to new heights is to whet the appetite for mountain air. Lead your group through a tour of some mountaintop encounters with God. In Exodus 3, spend time with Moses and the burning bush on Mount Horeb. Visit Mount Horeb again, this time with Elijah in I Kings 19. Travel with Peter, James and John in Matthew 17 as Jesus leads them up the mountainside where he is about to be transfigured. Ask your group or congregation to answer the question: What did these believers receive from the Lord as a result of their time alone with him? Once there is intrigue and a growing hunger, begin to clear a path to the mountain (rolling meadow, retreat center or city park) closest to your home.
Pick a place, date and time. Try to find a location for your retreat that has easy access to the outdoors. Creation connects us to our Creator in refreshing ways. If that’s not possible, remind yourself that attitude is more important than altitude. If you consider having your retreat on a Sunday afternoon, a retreat center might have a place for your group to meet. (Finding a retreat center on a Saturday may be more challenging due to weekend rental groups.)
Choose a theme and schedule. Chose a theme to guide your worship, Scripture study, reflection and prayer. The theme of rest and renewal or listening to God are good places to begin, but the field is wide open. Allow 30-40 minutes for an opening devotion and time of worship and singing. Set a part two to three hours for extended quiet time. Plan on gathering after this for a time of small group reflection sharing the challenges, joys and highlights of your extended quiet time. Make sure your group has the opportunity to pray with and for each other. If time allows, enjoy a meal together. Wrap up the retreat with a closing devotion and time of worship.
Create a short outline. Locate sections of Scripture that can be used by participants as a starting point for their extended quiet time. Remind your group that this outline may be tossed aside at any point—as God leads and directs each individual. Stress that this time is about meeting with God in a relaxed, intimate way. It’s not about finishing the material. Consider including the following suggestions.
A Time for Personal Praise and Adoration
Encourage your group to write, sing, pray or whisper their way through selected verses of praise. Utilize some of the following verses: Isaiah 12, I Chronicles 16, or Psalm 145 through 150.
A Time for Meditation, Study and Reflection
Provide a list of five to ten Scripture references and/or stories related to the theme. Remind everyone that they do not have to look up each prescribed section of verses, but to go where the Spirit leads.
A Time for Listening and Prayer
Encourage your group to listen long and hard—reminding each other to be gentle and patient with our meandering minds. Challenge yourselves to pray in unfamiliar ways, perhaps out loud or by writing the Lord a letter. Provide additional ideas for prayer, like praying through the Scriptural images of Psalm 23, going on a prayer walk or collecting nature items to guide your prayer time: a rock, a fallen leaf, a pine cone.
Create a small group experience. Consider providing a time for your group to reflect on the following questions in a small group experience.
What did you learn about yourself today? What did you learn about God?
How did God make himself known to you?
How did you experience stillness today? What did you like about it? What aspect was most challenging?
How did this extra measure of time and solitude affect your praying, your listening and your responsiveness?
How did you experience the power of God?
Make Plans For Coming Off The Mountain. Plan a closing devotion that allows your group to descend from the mountain with a peaceful heart. Share your favorite verses about God’s peace, provision and protection. Worship the Lord with grateful hearts.
It’s Only A Day Away
The blessings of personal prayer retreats are meant for all believers. One-day retreats provide prayer leaders with a vehicle for transporting their prayer team or church family to a mountaintop rendezvous with God.
“If it wasn’t for my small group Bible study I never would have come. I can’t believe I’ve lived my whole Christian life and never experienced such a remarkable time alone.”
“I needed this afternoon in more ways than I could have ever imagined. When can I come back?”
The advantage of meeting with our Lord together, yet alone, for a personalized time of prayer and reflection fills hearts, renews faith and keeps our ears attentive to the heartbeat of God. It’s only a day away.