In this worship gathering, we hear a message from Revelation 12 that helps us understand the cryptic nature of John’s vision of the dragon and the pregnant woman – and how we shouldn’t read contemporary ideas into an ancient text. The story parallels the exodus from the Old Testament, and we look at the importance of retreat as part of our defence against the devil. You can watch the message below, or the whole worship gathering below that.
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).
I’ve never read a book by Ruth Haley Barton that didn’t speak to my heart, and this is no exception. Being a teacher of and on retreats, and a regular retreatant myself, I was looking forward to reading this small but helpful guide to the how’s and why’s of making a retreat.
For many Christians, especially Protestants, retreats are foreign, something made by Roman Catholics or disguised as preaching or evangelistic events. Those are certainly legitimate and useful, but Barton’s subtitle, “The Gift and Necessity of Time Away with God” hits the nail on the head of what a retreat should be.
The book is divided into four sections, introducing the concept of true retreat, preparing ourselves for retreat, what to undertake during retreat, and how we move back into day-to-day living from retreat. Each of the twelve chapters offers practical assistance to the retreatant in terms of preparation and execution of the retreat. Two appendices are offered for guidelines for fixed-hour prayers and planning a retreat.
For the person considering a retreat but not sure where to start, this book is a good place to start. It helps us know ourselves as individual followers of Jesus as well as giving us tools for introspection when gearing up for a retreat and actually being away. Among the key learnings, of which there are many, is to understand oneself as being able to be off-limits to anyone but God during that time, that none of us is indispensable. Needing to be connected, 24/7, is often one of the biggest hurdles to an effective retreat, and Barton reminds the reader that such disordered attachments are not helpful to connecting fully with God.
Retreat is one of the main gateways to true spiritual freedom. This book is a helpful guide in aiding us to achieve the true spiritual freedom the Lord seeks for us.
Ruth Haley Barton, Invitation to Retreat: The Gift and Necessity of Time Away With God (IVP, 2018), ISBN 978-0-8308-4646-7. I am grateful to Martin at Parasource for the desk copy he provided for me. The book is available at most Christian retail outlets, including the Tyndale Bookstore in Toronto.