When Personal Retreat Plans Go Wrong

One of the most fascinating aspects of Personal Retreats is the way the originally planned location does not work out only to reveal a better location. I wrote about this to some degree in a post several years ago entitled, “Sanctifying the Place,” but let me give another example from today.

The Santa Rita Mountains and Madera Canyon are about 20 miles from our home in Southern Arizona. My daughter wanted to a partial day Personal Retreat at Madera Canyon today and came to our house early in order to, theoretically, beat the crowds, given it’s 106 degrees here and about 20 degrees cooler up there. But at 9 AM we found every last parking place in the canyon occupied. Disappointment, right? Well, usually at times like this there’s something better.

We decided to instead go to 8553′ Mt. Hopkins, also in the Santa Rita’s, famous for the Smithsonian Institute Observatory at the top. One can’t actually go to the top where the observatory is, but can get somewhat near the top into much cooler temperatures than the valley below, albeit via a long, narrow gravel road. We found a nice shady place with a short trail through the woods at the 7081′ level, just before the gate to the observatories. It also had a great view of Mt. Wrightson (9495′), the highest point in the Santa Ritas. It was a delightful place that we’ll return to.

Our plan was to be at 5450′ Madera Canyon in the midst of scores of noisy people that would have probably spoiled the retreat time. God’s plan was to take us 1500′ higher (and therefore to a cool 79 degrees) where there was mostly silence. Trust God to lead you to his chosen place for your Personal Retreats.   –Monte Kline

Mt Wrightson from Hopkins

Mt. Wrightson from Retreat Location

How Thirsty Are You?

For those who deeply desire an intimate relationship with Christ, looking at their local church can be discouraging.  How many people are satisfied with just coming to a Sunday morning service, going through a couple superficial greetings and leaving, having done their “spiritual” thing for the week? Far too many, I fear. On the other hand, there is a smaller group that attends classes, Bible studies, seminars and whatever else is offered to deepen their faith, plus home groups to penetrate the superficiality and actually connect and share needs with a small group of fellow believers.

I wonder why these two groups are the way they are? Isn’t it really a matter of thirst? That’s why I made the first chapter of Face to Face: Meeting God in the Quiet Places to deal with that foundational topic. Thirsty Christians will pursue classes, Bible studies, home groups and the like because they crave the refreshment offered. But if you’re not thirsty, who cares?

Being an “unthirsty” Christian comes from two sources:  (1) lack of suffering, and (2) having your thirst quenched by something other than God. The “salt” of suffering creates thirst, so if you have the “blessing” or perhaps the curse of prosperity, it’s easy to be satisfied with so little in the way of spiritual input. But if you’re pursuing the “broken cisterns” Jeremiah speaks of for satisfying your thirst (materialism, money, power, fame, sex or whatever) an hour on Sunday morning will be all you want.

Personal Retreats work the same way. Most Christians aren’t thirsty enough to go away for a day or two or three to just be alone with God and hear his voice. So if you lack the motivation to enjoy the benefits of a Personal Retreat, ask yourself why you aren’t thirsty.

— Monte Kline

Meeting with God 101

Do you have a quiet time? Is it working?

Hearing God Speak

A morning devotional today by Dallas Willard gives some excellent insight to my frequent topic of hearing God speak. Here it is:

We learn voices by experience. We are at least as smart as sheep. They learn to identify the voices of their masters by experience. That is one of the images the scriptures use over and over to emphasize the learning of the voice. In time, you learn the different in the spirit, the tone, and the content of the thoughts that come to mind. You can get pretty good at recognizing whether a thought has come to you from God. For one thing, God will never nag or whine at you. By contrast, I have found that there is always a quality of nervousness, of tininess, about one’s own thoughts.

If you wish to know the voice of God as it comes to you individually, simply allow yourself to trust God to lead you into that. Ask God to speak to you and then wait attentively. He will probably speak to you clearly. But you have to understand and believe that this is even possible. Otherwise your faith will not rise to it, and you will not have the opportunity to learn. The reason I emphasize this here is because, when your friend asks about your relationship with God and the reason for your hope, you don’t want to be in the position of saying, “Well, he never speaks to me, but he speaks to lots of other people.”

Excerpted from The Allure of Gentleness: Defending the Faith in the Manner of Jesus by Dallas Willard.

Do Short Personal Retreats Work?

One of the big deterrents for many people in doing a Personal Retreat is the concern that they just don’t have enough time to do a several day retreat. Usually when you think that way, that’s when you most need to prioritize the retreat, but let’s leave that discussion for another day. The fact of the matter is that a one-day, or even partial day, Personal Retreat can be very meaningful. Don’t let the inability to do the ideal prevent you from entering into the retreat experience at all.

Many times I have done the half to one day Personal Retreats and always been refreshed by the experience. Sometimes you just need to get out of your personal rat race and get away for a few hours. The advantage of a short retreat is that it takes next to no planning — I can just grab my Bible, my journal, my coat and hat and take off. The disadvantage is the depth of the experience. Though you may get some really profound insights on a short retreat, usually longer retreats produce the most fruit.

Sanctifying the Place

A recent three day Personal Retreat in the Fremont National Forest in South Central Oregon gave me a new understanding of what I call “sanctifying the place.”

As mentioned in Face to Face, I often go to a place I haven’t been before as kind of an explorer.  My plan was to go to one of two lakes just north of the Gearhart Mountain Wilderness Area, both of which had National Forest campgrounds.  The photos online and on my old Forest Service map looked inviting.

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Discovering the “One Thing”

One of the most interesting things that happens on a Personal Retreat I call “the one thing.”  In the original City Slickers movie, Billy Crystal asks Curly what the secret to life is.  Curly holds up his index finger and says the secret is “one thing.” When asked what the “one thing” is, Curly tells him, “That’s for you to figure out.”

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3 Retreats Per Year with God

Recently my pastor pointed out a passage from Deuteronomy that models the concept of Personal Retreats:

Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose:  at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the feast of Booths. — Deuteronomy 16:16

I’ve read that passage many times never realizing that it contains the basic principles of Personal Retreats, particularly when you delete the three specific feasts that have or will be fulfilled in Christ.

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