The next four entries are for a self-directed retreat/interlude I’m creating for the midway point of Lay It Down, the Book. I’m trying to build it for both individuals and small groups; this is the individual version. Enjoy. (P.S. I’m also going to post the general notes and introduction in the comments, if y’r interested in actually doing this.)
In our next session, we’re going to focus specifically on listening to God and what He has to say to us right now. But it’s hard to listen when your mind, heart, and spirit, and so cluttered with everything but Jesus. This session, therefore, is about starting to clear the decks and begin preparing your heart so you can hear.
Be patient with yourself during this process, but be willing to deal honestly and thoroughly with the things that have come between you and Christ—even if you haven’t realized them just yet.
Read Luke 10:38-42. Then read it again. Once more. Write down your immediate impressions in your journal.
Then, think about and write down your answers to the following questions, spending at least five minutes on each bullet-point group of questions:
• If you’re a Martha: If you had (or have) a Mary in your life, what would your complaint(s) about her be? What do your complaints reveal about your own priorities? How do those priorities line up with Jesus’ priorities, especially in light of what you’ve studied these past several weeks?
• If you’re a Mary: How do you react to the Marthas in your life? How guilty or anxious do you feel about all the things that aren’t done—or at least about how it’s making the Marthas in your life feel? What legitimate points do your Marthas have? How does all this distract you from sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening?
• Why is it so hard to stop and listen to Jesus? What do you think you’re giving up by doing so?
Now, read Revelation 2:1-7. Again, read it a few times and write down your impressions before moving on.
Reflect on and write down your answers to the following questions, again spending at least five minutes on each bullet point:
• What do you think—or at least hope—Jesus will commend you for? Be honest—this is an opportunity to invite Jesus into your struggles, and the things you take even legitimate pride in are part of that struggle.
• Recall when you first came to know Jesus. (You hopefully did this in “Lay Down Your Relationships”—but we can never remember enough.) What’s different now? How have you forgotten, or at least neglected, your first love?
• What attitudes or activities have quenched your first love—complacency, opposition, inattention, busyness, something else? Name each of them now. Be specific; add some detail.
• How do you get back to where you once were “and do the things you did at first”? (Note: If your answer is “I don’t know,” don’t panic. You’re just starting this retreat. Just begin trying to process. Give Jesus time to respond to, and shape, the desires of your heart.)
Part of the answer to your last question can be found in your answers to the previous question, and in verse 5. We’ve considered how far we’ve fallen, and acknowledged our need “do the things [we] did at first.” There’s one word between those two phrases, though, that we’re going to deal with now: Repent.
Review your list of attitudes or activities that have quenched your first love. You’ve named them; now spend time in prayer lifting each of these things up to God and repenting of them. To repent means to turn around, and by turning around we begin heading in the direction Jesus first pointed us in—and toward the destinations, both on this earth and beyond, He’s intended for us.
When you’re done, spend some more time remembering your first love in Jesus. Remember the joy you experienced in “do[ing] the things you did at first.” Then close your first session in prayer and thanksgiving—both for what Jesus has already done in your life and what He’s going to do as you lay down your life to Him.
During this retreat—this interlude—we’re going to, in the words of Thomas Merton, “waste time with God.” As we lay down our time and just immerse ourselves in being with God, hopefully we’ll more deeply realize that no time with God is wasted. We’ll begin to convert into experience an idea we’ll be exploring for the rest of the book—that eternal life starts now. As we learn to give more of our time to God, and encounter His infinitude, we are very consciously and deliberately preparing ourselves us for eternity.
In each of these retreat sessions, we’ll not only prepare our hearts but begin using practices that we can integrate into our daily lives—and that we’ll get to practice more in the weeks to come. They’re commonly known as spiritual disciplines, but don’t let that phrase intimidate you. We’re going to take some tiny steps during this interlude, and trust God to move us forward from here.
We’re not approach the disciplines as a way to “manipulate God,” but in the same way we should approach God in every part of our lives—with a sensitive and repentant heart. In a sense, through the disciplines we preach God’s goodness to ourselves, even when we’re unable to feel it. We acknowledge that our hearts grow cold all too easily; but by dedicating time to focus on God’s presence, we also acknowledge our desire to truly know God better and to allow Him to transform our hearts. From that position of weakness, God can make us truly strong. So let’s begin.
• For your convenience, I’m presenting this in both individual and small-group options. The basic material is the same, but the ways in which you debrief it will obviously be different in a group dynamic. Groups: If you feel it necessary to have a speaker or speakers, limit the messages to 15-20 minutes and do it before the recommended session. Speakers are fine—and are helpful if you’re thinking of making an event of this—but your focus and the bulk of your time should be spent listening to what God has to say.
• I’m also suggesting two basic length options here—an all-day retreat, and a three-day/two-night retreat. (Suggested schedules for each can be found at the end of this section.) I highly recommend the longer retreat if you can do it. It takes time to “detox” from the world; try to give yourself that time, if at all possible. However, if time, location, and/or finances don’t allow for this, at least take the full day. You can get a lot done, doing nothing with God for an entire day.
• If you do a three-day/two-night retreat, try to leave all of Day 1 open. If you have to come from work and start in the evening, that’s OK. However, you’ll be so much more ready to listen if you can take the whole day off, enjoy traveling to your location with your friends from group, and just relax and enjoy the day, rather than rush your way to retreat later on.
• Make sure you (and/or all group members) have a notebook or journal, and something to write with. You’re going with the expectancy that God will speak to your heart and your mind. Be ready to write down what He says.
• It would also be a good idea if you spent some time reviewing the notes you’ve already taken in your Lay It Down book during your time away. In fact, there are a few questions and exercises that reiterate things you’ve already worked through, so having your original answers available will be a plus. But don’t cheat; think them through fresh, in terms of what God’s doing in your life right now, then go back and see how far God’s already taken you.
• If at all possible, hold your retreat in an open scenic location, at least an hour away. A change of scenery—especially a change to some inspiring scenery—helps jerk out of “what we’re dealing with back home,” as well as helps us focus on the beauty of God’s creation. Again, if time, location, or finances prohibit you from being able to do this it’s OK. Do try to find a location that’s out of the ordinary. Don’t just meet at church, at least your church—perhaps another church in your town or denomination would be willing to open their doors to your group. Definitely find a place, however, where you have the opportunity to get totally quiet.
• Have worship music available to sing along to. Better yet: If someone’s musically gifted, let him/her lead your time together. For that matter, if you dare: Bring as many instruments as you can, and just worship deep into the evening as a group, after your session times. Spontaneous evening praise hootenannies are fun and cleansing.
However, if you or your group want to keep the entire retreat quiet and meditative, that’s fine. It’s your retreat. Do whatever you feel is most conducive to coming into and enjoying God’s presence.
• Plan your meal ahead, but keep it simple. Spend as little time preparing and eating as possible. (In other words: Don’t be a Martha.) Depending on your context and location, a barbecue could work, as one example. Don’t go out for a meal once your retreat’s begun, especially on Day 2. However, a shared meal before or after your retreat could be a good bonding time for your group.
Again, the following two schedules are suggested. Do whatever works, or has to work, for you. That said, I know this works, especially the three-day format—it gives you some “breathing” time between sessions while helping you maintain focus.
These schedules are geared more for the small-group dynamic. If you’re doing this on your own, you probably won’t need as much time. That said, allow yourself at least an hour and a half for Session 2, and an hour or so for the other sessions.
One more thing: Don’t be a time Nazi. If God’s doing something, don’t worry about sticking to the schedule. It’s more important to connect to God, and (if you’re with a group) to discover how He wants you to connect with those around you—and beyond. So do with these schedules what you will—and let God do with them what He will.
8-8:15 Praise and Worship (or, again—in all instances this appears—keep things quiet and start your session early)
8:15-9:45 Session 1: Lay Down… No, Seriously, Lay Down
10-12:30 Session 2: Lay Down and Listen
1:30-3:30 Free Time
3:30-5 Session 3: Lay It Down and Lay It Out
6-6:15 Praise and Worship
6:15-8:30 Session 4: Lay Down Your Love
(Again, if at all possible, take the entire day off. Begin to disconnect from the world. Enjoy the ride to your destination, and the company you’re with.)
7-7:30 Praise and Worship
7:30-9 Session 1: Lay Down… No, Seriously, Lay Down
8:30-8:45 Praise and Worship
8:45-11:30 Session 2: Lay Down and Listen
1-5 Free Time
6-6:15 Praise and Worship
6:15-8:30 Session 3: Lay It Down and Lay It Out
8:30-8:45 Praise and Worship
8:45-11:30 Session 4: Lay Down Your Love