This week I have been away on our annual clergy retreat. At the beginning of a new year I look forward to this time to unplug, rest in the Lord, and spend time in God’s Word. Such retreats are necessary, as the Psalmist writes, for us to be still and know that He is God. It places the activities of our lives in perspective, renews relationship with the Lord, and affords an opportunity to wait upon and listen to God.
The late great Anglican priest, John Stott, was once asked toward the end of his ministry how he kept going in service to the Lord for so many decades. He replied that it was his discipline to spend an hour a day, a day a week, a week a month, and a month a year in retreat with the Lord. Now, I’ll be the first to admit I have a long way to go in achieving such a routine. However, it is a goal, because in order to be effective followers of Jesus we need to have intentional times planned closer to Him.
If I am honest, the annual clergy retreat is an easy time to get away, because it is required of us as clergy by the bishop. What is more challenging is taking times throughout the rest of the year to be renewed. It requires discipline, amidst all of life’s other commitments. And it differs from a day off. For retreating with the Lord is different than a movie day, day on the golf course, or enjoying one’s favorite hobby. It is time to spend in worship, in Scripture, working through a spiritual classic, and most importantly in prayer. And such retreats take time, because we are not accustomed to unwinding. It takes nearly a day for most of us to truly let go of all the stuff that fills our minds about the week ahead, next month, emails and phone calls, in order to be still. But such days and weekends are so needful in our lives.
I would urge you to prayerfully make a retreat this year. As followers of Jesus, we are all in ministry. We minister to our families, those at work, our spouses, and in various roles at church. And in order to be effective, to grow in those roles, or even take on new ones, we need times of renewal and retreat. We need to receive from the Lord in order to have more to give. We need intentional times set aside to grow in the character of Christ as His followers.
Retreats and quiet days require planning and intentionality, but they are so vital to our spiritual growth. Through them we are reminded of God’s great love toward us, His plans for our lives, and His desire to call us closer to Himself. Life is often frantic. We need such moments to pause to see that many of our mountains are molehills and to be further transformed by the Holy Spirit so that we may carry on in the ministries and vocations God has called us to.