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Time To Listen: Why You Need A Prayer Retreat More Than Ever!

Prayer_2 You've probably heard it a thousand times before, but it remains as true as ever:

We live in an extraordinarily fast-paced society, obsessed with the multiplicity of choices, instant access to just about everything, and the freedom to multi-task 'til our heart's delight.  Our time, our schedules, and our stress levels are frequently close to "overloading," yet we do relatively little to remedy the imbalance. 

Even as "people of faith", we frequently busy ourselves with a wide range of spritual and religious activities: we read about God, we talk about God, we write about God; we may even sing songs and pray prayers to God, but how often do we break away and simply be with God? Yes, there is a sense in which we are always with God.  I am not calling his immanence into question here, or in any way wanting to trivialize the sacredness to be seen in all of life.  However, just as it is possible for you and I to be with a person without really being with them, so it is that many of us are commoused to being with God without really being with him.

Most of us rarely slow down long enough for our internal RPM's to drop down far enough for us to reach "idle" -- that place where we are still and quiet enough to not only be with God, but able to clearly hear God and then move on to be renewed and transformed.

I am convinced that most of us want to spend more time with God, but end up not doing so for one reason above all others:

Distractions. Our lives are filled with them.  In fact, T.S. Elliot once said something like: "we are distracted from our distractions by more distractions!"  What might some of these distractions look like?  Well, for starters, how about one's relationships, finances, health, and career; shopping lists, to-do lists, and honey-do lists.  And then, what about unexpected phone calls, IM chats, and visitors; concert appearances, sporting events, and movie premieres; cable TV, cells phones, and -- of course -- the internet?  And we're distracted by other things as well -- like not getting enough sleep, not knowing how to say "no", and confusing our "wants" with our "needs."

But that's not all.  We're also distracted by our cherished 5-minute devotions, our favorite 45-minute teaching programs, and by hours of listening to our Christian music collections. Like the pastor whose devotional life consists of little more than his or her weekly sermon preparation, many of us view our various "Christian" activities as satisfying our need to stay connected with God. We've trained ourselves on how to be with God without ever really being with God.  We try convincing ourselves that we're like Brother Lawrence, continually "practicing the presence of God," when if truth be known, it's just a clever excuse we've concocted to make ourselves look more spiritual to others and avoid embarassment.

And yet, we live in an age fed-up with religious hypocrisy while becoming increasingly hungry for genuine spiritual experiences.  If ever there were a time to move our faith from out of our heads and into our hearts, it's now.

So let's drop our fancy excuses and just start spending more time with Jesus. Instead of simply claiming his presence, let's start experiencing it -- more frequently, and for longer periods of time.

I have long been moved by the thoughts of Anne Morrow Lindbergh:

It is a difficult

     lesson to learn today,

to leave one's friends

     and family and deliberately

practice the art of solitude

     for an hour or a day

          or a week.

     For me, the break

is most difficult...

And yet, once it is done,

     I find there is a quality

to being alone that is

     incredibly precious.

     Life rushed back into the void,


               more vivid,

                    fuller than before!

Despite our need, precious few people actually seem to make the effort necessary to break away for a day or two or more for the purpose of exclusively giving God their time, their attention, and their receptive hearts.  And even fewer make an effort to mentor others in "how" to get away for something as simple and as transforming as a personal prayer retreat. Because of this, I periodically hear people who are interested in going on a prayer retreat ask:  where should I go? what should I do? and what should I expect to happen?

Unfortunately, many folks convince themselves they don't have the time to abandon their busy schedules and important responsibilities in order to get away for a prayer retreat.  They may well consider prayer retreats as a waste of time -- especially in light of the fact that they can talk to God anywhere and anytime they choose.  And that's exactly how I used to think... until, with a few close friends, I went on my first prayer retreat.  That's when I discovered the difference between being with God and really being with God.

"I have no home, until I am in the realized presence of God.  This holy presence is my inward home, and, until I experience it, I am a homeless wanderer, a straying sheep in a waste howling wilderness." (Annonymous, 1841)

You don't have to visit a monastery, join a neo-monastic community, or secure a spiritual director in order to begin setting aside a day or two at a time to go on a personal prayer retreat.  All you need is the desire, the commitment, and a good resource.  I frequently recommend: Rueben P. Job and Norman Shawchuck's, A Guide To Prayer For Ministers & Other Servants, Nashville: The Upper Room, 1983 (in addition to excellent daily prayer guides, it includes twelve retreat models that are powerful and transforming).

Never has there been an age more in need of genuine, life-changing spirituality.  And never has the need been greater for disciples of Jesus to regularly give their complete and undivided attention to the one they claim to follow.  The time has come for us to break away more frequently, listen to Christ more intensely, and then live for him more passionately.

May God bless every such endeavor.


Photo credit: Google Images


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Thnaks, Chris, for the reminder and the challenge. And thanks for the resource recommendation, too!

Thanks, Chris. Such times as you describe are lifelines and all too rare. Thank God for monastery guest houses, where I've found the most refreshment on personal retreats.

For starters, Chris is my pastor and I am very blessed to have him as my teacher. I have taken him up on a personal prayer retreat just recently and I cannot tell you what an incredible experience it was. It is a time of really looking within yourself.

I have decided to book a retreat every quarter and really do some soul searching.

"Be still and know that I am God"



I love those times away too. Sometimes I need that kick in the arse to get to one. What I find invaluable in the in between time is having a private place to just sit with God. I have tried every faddish devotional out there and they all seem to drop off after a few months - but regardless of the content I end up gravitating to a coffee shop or food court where I can sit, read, meditate, pray and just recognize God's presence. These spots work all year round and are usually plentiful. If I miss a few days I really notice it. It is always worth the price of the coffee.

I think I'm overdue for a serious retreat though - thanks for the kick Chris.

Gina, I'm not sure if Pavel has previously mentioned it to you or not, but we have a Coptic monastery very close by. I've yet to take up their invitation to retreat there, but I'm looking forward to it. It's amazing how many places are, in fact, available if one takes a little time to investigate. Blessings.

Thanks, Michelle. Your experience has encouraged me greatly.

LOL! Just in case any of you misunderstood, Michelle didn't take me up on a retreat, she took me up on my suggestion to take a private retreat. Just clarifying. LOL!

Frank, I liked what you said:

"What I find invaluable in the in between time is having a private place to just sit with God."

Apart from my closet study (which actually is a closet), I love hiking up into the hills behind my home. My "prayer hikes" are very valuable to me, in the way I think you've pointed out.

Chris, I like what you are saying here. This is such a true post for me. I was in youth ministry for five years before I took a prayer retreat. I ended up tucked away, completely alone in the mountains of was beautiful and perfect. I stayed there for five days and four nights.

I would encourage anyone who is involved in ministry to do this at least once every six months. You never know how drained you are til you stop. Also, if you are not in ministry you still treat yourself to this endeavor. I know you won't be disappointed. Shalom.

Thank you, Chris.

Thats good stuff. Very refreshing to hear the authentic call to solitude. How quickly and easily we forget to actually spend time WITH God. It has potential to make a world of a difference in our everyday lives.


i definitely needed to hear these words. thanks chris.


Chris, yes we've talked about that monastery and I really would like Pavel to have some time there. I would be able to visit but not stay, but I've looked into other Orthodox monasteries in California. So far not sure where might be a possibility.

It's a lot harder to think about getting away now that I'm at a "desk job"- I used to be able to take such weekends as part of my ministry responsibilities.

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