During this retreat—this interlude—we’re going to, in the famous words of Thomas Merton, “waste time with God.” As we lay down our time and just immerse ourselves in God’s presence, we’ll more deeply realize that no time with God is wasted. In addition, we’ll begin converting into experience an idea we’ll be exploring from here on out: Eternal life starts now. As we learn to give more of our time to God, and encounter his infinitude, we very consciously and deliberately prepare ourselves us for eternity with him.
In each of the following sessions, we’ll not only prepare our hearts but begin using practices 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 to approach the disciplines as a way to “manipulate God,” but as 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 choosing 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.
In our second session, we’ll focus specifically on listening to God and what he has to say to us right now. However, it’s hard to listen when your mind, heart, and spirit are so cluttered with everything but Jesus. This session, therefore, is about clearing the decks and beginning to prepare 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, and to give the Spirit permission to bring up those things.
Leaders: Before getting started, have your group forms smaller subgroups of three or four. Let everyone know that you’ll be working and discussing together in these subgroups often throughout this retreat. Once your subgroups have formed, tell everyone that for this first section, they’ll each need to find a place in their meeting area where they can think and write quietly. They can stay in their seats, if they want—as long as there’s plenty of space between them and others. Instruct them to work through the reading and questions for Luke 10 below, and to plan on coming back together in twenty minutes. It’s a good idea to give people notice before bringing them back together. After fifteen minutes, quietly say, “You have five minutes left.”
Read Luke 10:38–42. Then read it again. Once more. Write down your immediate impressions.
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? Be brutally honest with yourself here.
Leaders: Bring everyone back together and get them into their subgroups. Allow ten to fifteen minutes for subgroups to discuss insights from their reflection time. Afterward, gather everyone’s attention, and ask for a volunteer from each group to share their answers. Then, ask everyone to go back to their “quiet places” and spend thirty minutes working through the reading, questions, and activity for Revelation 2 (the remainder of this session). Again, give everyone a heads-up when your time is nearing a close.
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? Again, 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. 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 detail as you need to.
- How do you get back to where you once were “and do the works 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 the Spirit time to respond to, and shape, the desires of your heart.)
Part of the answer to the final question can be found in your answers to the previous question, and in Revelation 2:5. 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 them up to God and repenting of them. “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.
Leaders: Bring everyone back together after thirty minutes. Invite people to share how God spoke to them during this time, and invite prayer requests. If your group is ten people or less, close in prayer together for one another; if more than ten, have everyone get back in their subgroups to pray for one another and instruct them to stay or leave quietly as they finish.