Even if you’re with a group, this session is about you and God spending time together. Just you and God. This might seem scary, or lead to unrealistic expectations, if you’re not used to “wasting time with God.” Don’t let it be. I’ve had profound, life-changing experiences with God during these some of these retreat times. Other times, I didn’t sense God’s presence at all, even when I really desired to hear his answers. Yet other times, it was something in between—I felt God’s presence, if only briefly, but didn’t come back with “the answer from the mountaintop.” But my time with God has always been a time to be refreshed and to regain some perspective. If you go in with any expectations at all, let it be that.
Leaders: Instruct everyone to come back in ninety minutes. Chances are several will come back early; others may not return on time. Again, if God’s talking, don’t circumvent that. Move on together as a group at the ninety-minute mark, and let those who straggle in later share as they’re led. If your meeting location has a lot of property, or is located near a park or natural area, add up to thirty minutes to this “alone time with God” piece. This will give people time to find (and return from) a nice, secluded spot, and will be even more conducive to their hanging out with God just a little bit longer.
Take at least ninety minutes for your “alone time with God.” Find a secluded (or at least private) area; bring your book, your journal, and something to write with. Once you’ve found your spot, spend some time in prayer, asking God to prepare your heart. If some things from Session 1 have bubbled to the surface, spend time talking to God about them as well before moving on. Don’t be surprised if distracting thoughts pop up during your prayer time or “alone time.” If it’s something that has some legitimacy—for example, something you need to remember to do when you get back home—just jot it down in your journal, then forget about it and move on.
Read 1 Kings 18:17–19:18, slowly. Then read through it again, before proceeding.
Note that God not only provides sustenance, but also provides fellowship and support. In the midst of Elijah’s turmoil and depression, God points him toward Elisha, his disciple and successor. In our next session, we’ll focus more on the power of prayer and on those God provides to support us. (If you’re with a group, some of those people might even be waiting for you when you get back.) But for now, think about this:
- When have you had an Elijah-type experience—where you’ve had a huge success, followed by an emotional/spiritual collapse? When have you wanted to (or did) say, “God, just kill me now?” How did God meet you during that time—or do you still wonder where he was or why he allowed it to happen?
Be brutally honest with this question. It’s not as if God doesn’t know the answers already, but maybe you need to acknowledge the pain you still feel—or properly express the joy of having experienced God’s provision and deliverance. Or both. Talk to God about that time right now before moving on. Spend more time in repentance, if you need to. Cry, scream, shout in praise, or be quiet and calm—respond to God as you need right now. Again, take as much time as you need to “clear the decks.” But also, even now, begin giving God the opportunity to respond.
When you’re done, take at least fifteen minutes to be totally silent before God. You may or may not hear God’s “still small voice” during that time, but give him the chance to speak to your heart, and your mind. If God does bring something to mind, and/or you realize there’s more you want to speak to him about, write it down. But don’t interrupt your time of silence; save your words for later.
Afterward, reflect on these questions. Again, write out your answers, and include details—try to think through the “why behind the why”:
- When have you found yourself expecting to hear God in the big circumstances—in the windstorms and earthquakes and fires—rather than in the calm that followed? When have you tried to “force” God to speak by creating a windstorm of your own?
- When have you felt alone and abandoned, as Elijah did? Or that everything you’d truly felt you’d done for God was worth nothing? How did that affect the other parts of your life?
- What might you have been expecting of God during those times that were more about what you wanted than what God wanted?
Again, when you’re done, take a couple more minutes to be silent. Deal with your feelings, and contrast them with God’s truth. Then, spend some more time talking things through with God before moving on.
When you’re ready, read through John 15—the entire chapter—at least once. Then, reflect on these questions, and respond to the corresponding prompts for prayer:
- At what point do you usually realize you’ve stopped “remaining”? Why then?
- Why is staying connected, rather than being connected in stops and starts, so critical to bearing fruit?
- Ask forgiveness for the times you’ve turned away from Jesus—again, be specific if there are instances you haven’t already prayed about during your retreat time—and for the strength to “stay remained” in him.
- How have you felt God pruning you over the last few months? What’s been the fruit of that process so far? Thank God for the growth he’s produced in your life—and even for the pain that might have occurred in order for that growth to happen.
- Conversely, how have you felt more connected to Jesus, or to other Christians, over the past few months? How can you strengthen those connections further? Ask God for wisdom and insight on how to proceed.
- What’s one way you need to remain in Jesus, in a way that you really haven’t? More specifically: What has God impressed upon you during this alone time, and what do you think he wants you to do about it? Who might he want you to do it with?
Close your alone time in prayer, thanking God for your time together, and asking for his strength and wisdom to live out those things he’s impressed upon you during your time together.
Leaders: Have a debriefing time together as a group to wrap up. Allow thirty to forty-five minutes for this time. It’s likely you’ll be amazed and blessed by what God has already shared with your group members. Start at the time you asked everyone to return, whether they’ve all returned yet or not. Open the floor up; invite people to share how they spent their time with God and what they heard. Chances are 1) they’ll have something to share, and 2) they won’t want to be the first ones to speak. Therefore, be ready to share your own story, to get the wheels rolling; then step back and watch what God does (and already has done).
Close your sharing time in prayer, thanking God for the opportunity to “waste time with him.” Thank him for what he’s revealed to each person in your group already, and ask him to help keep your eyes and ears open to his presence for the remainder of this retreat—and beyond. Then, enjoy your lunch together! Chances are, even more will get shared as you relax and enjoy your meal together.