Encouragement From The Word

The value of retreat

This Sunday at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, I will be talking about the value of retreat as part of the message (something one might find surprising to pull from Revelation 12!).  I thought I’d take a minute to say a bit more about its importance.

Followers of Jesus, like everybody else in this world, are bombarded by noise.  Often, we think of ‘noise’ as an unpleasant sound, like fingernails on a chalkboard, or that sound that grabs our attention when an amber alert shows up on the television.  But in this case, I’m referring to ‘noise’ as any sound – even a pleasant sound – that keeps us from hearing from God.

We love the sound of our preferred music.  We love the sounds of the voices of people we love.  We might even love the sound of the hustle and bustle of the city.  And it all has its place – but it can all serve like earplugs, keeping us from hearing God’s voice.

That’s why retreat is such an important part of the Christian life.

Lots of churches go away on retreat, taking time away from the normal environment for fellowship and teaching.  But not very often do those times include silence and solitude.

Those retreats end up just changing up the noise.  Don’t get me wrong:  it’s probably good noise!  But I maintain that time apart, in quiet, is important for balancing our relationship with the Lord.

Many times, in the Bible, we see stories of people who set themselves apart from the crowd, and the noise, to be with the Lord:  think of Moses, Elijah, even Jesus (who was, after all, already God!).  Yet, in our high-demand, high-energy world, we don’t usually make time to be apart from the crowd.  And when we do, we usually fill that time alone with sound – even good sound, like edifying music or podcasts or TV shows.

Here’s a challenge for you:  block out some time in your schedule to go away somewhere, with no agenda but to be with God.  Turn off your phone, and be somewhere as quiet as you can find.  It needn’t be far from home; I recommend that it not be at home, simply because the environment is so familiar, and the temptation exists to do something.

If that sounds daunting, start with 5 minutes.  Go into your bedroom, perhaps read a verse from Scripture that you love, and just sit with the Lord.  Some will find this difficult.  Others will find it exhilarating.  But try it.  And when you have success with 5 minutes, start ramping it up, until you are ready to go away for a weekend or a week with a goal of simply being with the Lord.

I call it “strategic withdrawal”.  And you might be amazed at the difference it makes in your life.

Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave” (1 Kings 19.11-13, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

The Sound of Silence

“The sound of silence.”

Some of us may think of the old Simon and Garfunkel song when we hear those words. That song may not give the most solid advertisement for the value of silence!

The reality, today, is that most of us do not know the sound of silence, because we hear so little of it.

For some, it’s simply a mindless habit: when we get up, we turn on the radio or the TV or a streaming device, and sound motivates the start (and maybe middle and end) of our day.

For others, it’s an intentional act to avoid silence because they fear what they will encounter in the silence.

Understand this:  silence is where God may want to reach you.  Silence may be where you have the best opportunity to hear from God.

Elijah learned this.  He had conquered the prophets of Baal, with God’s help, and was now running from Queen Jezebel.  He stopped to rest, basically parking under a broom tree saying that he’d had enough of life. God sent an angel to feed him and give him strength for the journey ahead (that he didn’t want to take).  God said he would speak to Elijah, so Elijah went into a cave at Mount Sinai, as if to hide.

God asked him what he was doing there.  Elijah offered an excuse.  God sent him to the edge of a mountain, and along came a windstorm, and then an earthquake, and then a fire.  But God was not in those phenomena.  We read in 1 Kings 19.12b-13 (NLT), “And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper.  When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.”

God spoke in the gentle whisper.  It was not the booming sounds of windstorm, earthquake or fire in which the voice of God was to be heard, but in the quiet.

When you spend time with God, do you set aside time in silence?  Who knows how the Lord might speak if you set aside all the noise of life even for a few minutes.

Biblical Messages

SONGS OF L(AM)ENT: Cleft For Me

What does it mean to be hiding in the cleft of the Rock?  In this message, I draw the parallels between the hymn “Rock of Ages” and the story of Elijah on Mount Sinai in 1 Kings 19.1-18.  Give a listen, or watch it on the church’s Facebook page (for which you don’t need a Facebook account).

Facebook video:  https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fjeff.loach%2Fvideos%2F10211851455978980%2F&show_text=0&width=560

Encouragement From The Word

What are you doing here?

What are you doing here?

That’s the question the Lord asked Elijah in 1 Kings 19 – twice:  in verses 9 and 13.

The prophet had just defeated the prophets of Baal and brought rain to a land of drought, and for his trouble, the king’s wife, Jezebel, wanted his head on a platter. He was sick of the race.  So he ran away, and this was God’s response:  “What are you doing here?”

It’s a good question for each of us to ask ourselves – perhaps not about the room we’re sitting in at this very moment, but about our stage in life.  And there are different ways we can ask it.

We can ask ourselves, “What are you doing here?”

“What are you doing here?”

“What are you doing here?”

“What are you doing here?”

Notice the different emphasis each time the question is asked.  There is an ancient Christian practice called the examen, where typically at the end of the day, we review the day in God’s presence and examine our conscience and consciousness.  Perhaps God’s question to Elijah, with these different emphases, might be one way to frame a review of the day.

Besides asking important questions about life, this practice also forces us to pause, which is not easy for all of us.  Give it a try today.

Elijah was sick of the race, but he knew he needed more of God.  So the Lord revealed himself to Elijah – not in the windstorm, not in the earthquake, not in the fire – but with the sound of a gentle whisper (1 Kings 19.12).

Pause long enough to hear that gentle whisper, be renewed, and know what you are doing here!

Encouragement From The Word returns on September 2.