And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. Mark 1:35
• Charles Spurgeon: “Of course the preacher is above all distinguished as a man of prayer. He prays as an ordinary Christian, else he were a hypocrite. He prays more than ordinary Christians, else he were disqualified for the office he has undertaken.”
• William Carey: “Prayer—secret, fervent, believing prayer—lies at the root of all personal godliness.”
• Martin Luther: “I have so much business I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer.” “He that has prayed well has studied well.”[i]
• William Penn, describing George Fox: “Above all he excelled in prayer. . . . The most awful, living, reverent frame I ever felt or beheld, I must say was in his prayer.”
One of the disciplines I challenge students to practice involves spending an extended time in prayer and spiritual focus via a personal retreat. In my personal live I am returning to the practice of regular 2-3 hours of extended prayer and Bible study, and occasional 4-8 hour long retreats. I do this not because I am spiritual, but because I am not yet as close to Christ as I desire. If our Lord regularly set aside other things to spend much time with His Father, how much more must I? So, the following guide offers suggestions for spending 3-8 hours with Jesus. I highly recommend every believer do this periodically. A personal retreat means just what it says: a personal, alone time to get away with your Creator, Redeemer, and Lord. We live in a hectic world that sometimes makes us think being busy is a mark of being godly. But Jesus often went away to spend time alone (Mark 1:35). We too need times to get off the Ferris wheel of life and have a season with our Lord. Think about where you like to go when you simply want to have a refreshing time with God: most envision either the mountains or the beach or some form of outdoor location, away from civilization. Sometimes we just need to get away. In fact, I once had a class of church planters take a retreat like this. One wrote me later to tell me that day saved his ministry as he had become so discouraged he wanted to walk away. Regardless of where you are, we all need a time to get away.
Read the following before you go on your retreat. You may want to use all this material. Or none of it. Or some. It is YOUR time with God, but I have learned many need to have some sort of guideline for a time like this. The following is an attempt to help you, but it is not a formula to follow slavishly.
Before you embark on your retreat, establish the time and place you want to be. Make sure it is a secure place, but also a place where you can have solitude.
Determine how long you want to be on this retreat. I suggest a minimum of three hours. Take a bottle of water, a notebook (if you keep a personal, spiritual journal take that), your Bible (on this one, not an electronic version, but a paper copy — too many distractions otherwise), and a couple of pens. Unless you have health issues (diabetes, etc) and/or you are going on a much longer time, don’t bring anything else. You can have your cell for emergencies but please for the 3 hours at least, turn the thing off. The only exception I would add is this: if you are going on an extended retreat of 4-8 hours you may want a book or two challenging you to godliness, like Paul Tripp’s Dangerous Calling, but I would not touch such a book for at least the first several hours. The Word of God is the one book you need.
This is not a time to prepare a lesson on the Bible, though some ideas may pop into your head and you may certainly jot those down. This is a time to draw close to God.
If you have never done this, three hours can seem like an eternity, and you may find yourself praying for everything you can imagine and discovering only 30 minutes has passed! We hurry through so much of life. This is not a time to do that. This is a time to rest, to reflect, to give thanks to God. Sit at the table with the Lord and dine.
I. Beginning: A time of spiritual preparation and cleansing. Begin your time by considering the following questions. But first, a few points:
Rest in the gospel. Your time with God today does not earn favor with God. Rejoice in the fact that you have already been accepted by God through Christ’s work on your behalf. Spend this day reflecting on the great love of God, and in response to His great love seek to know Him more intimately, serve Him more faithfully, and hate sin more completely. Think much of the beauty of the world God has created, of your sin and its evil, of the grace of Christ in the gospel, and of the hope of the restoration.
Pray the prayer of the psalmist: “Search me, O God, and know my heart: Try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23,24).
Be totally honest as you answer each question.
Agree with God about each need He reveals in your life. Confess each sin, with the willingness to make it right.
Repent from sin! Turn from every sin the Lord reveals in your heart and forsake it.
Praise God for His cleansing and forgiveness.
Now, as you begin your time formally of “retreating,” ask yourself these questions:
Genuine Salvation (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Was there ever a time in my life that I placed all my trust in Jesus Christ alone to save me?
Do I thank God regularly for His great salvation?
Do I live to read and meditate on the Word of God?
Are my personal devotions consistent and meaningful?
Do I practically apply God’s Word to my everyday life?
Am I quick to recognize and agree with God in confession when I have sinned?
Am I quick to admit to others when I am wrong?
Do I rejoice when others are praised and recognized, and my accomplishments go unnoticed by men? (Romans 12:15)
Do I esteem all others better than myself? (Phil. 2:3-4)
Do I consistently obey what I know God wants me to do? (James 1:21-25)
Do I consistently obey the human authorities God has placed over my life?
Do I confess my sins by name?
Do I keep “short sin accounts” with God (confess and forsake as He convicts)?
Am I willing to give up all sin for God?
Do I consistently seek forgiveness from those I wrong or offend?
Is my conscience clear with every man? (Can I honestly say, “There is no one I have wronged or offended in any way and not gone back to them and sought their forgiveness and made it right”)
Does my schedule reveal that God is first in my life?
Does my checkbook reveal that God is first in my life?
Next to my relationship with God, is my relationship with my family my highest priority?
Do I love what God loves and hate what God hates?
Do I value highly the things that please God (e.g., giving, witnessing to lost souls, studying his Word and prayer)?
Are my affections and goals fixed on eternal values?
Am I willing to sacrifice whatever is necessary to see God move in my life and church (time, convenience, comfort, reputation, pleasure, ect.)?
Is my life characterized by genuine sacrifice for the cause of Christ?
Am I allowing Jesus to be Lord of every area of my life?
Am I allowing the Holy Spirit to fill (control) my life each day?
Is there consistent evidence of the “fruit of the Sprit” being produced in my life?
Am I as much in love with Jesus as I have ever been?
Am I thrilled with Jesus, filled with His joy and peace, and making Him the continual object of my love?
Am I more concerned about what God thinks about my life than about what others think?
Would I pray, read my Bible, give, and serve as much if nobody but God ever noticed?
Am I more concerned about pleasing God than I am about being accepted and appreciated by men?
Do I keep my mind free from books, magazines, movies or other entertainment that could stimulate fantasizing or thoughts that are not morally pure?
Are my conversation and behavior pure and above reproach?
Do I seek to resolve conflicts in relationships as soon as possible?
Am I quick to forgive those who wrong me or hurt me?
Am I sensitive to the conviction and promptings of God’s Spirit?
Am I quick to respond in humility and obedience to the conviction and promptings of God’s Spirit?
Do I have a burden for lost souls?
Do I consistently witness for Christ?
Am I faithful in praying for the needs of others?
Do I pray specifically, fervently, and faithfully for revival in my life, my church, our nation, and the world.
Spend some extended time reading Scripture. Suggestions: Read Psalm 119. Read the entire books of Ephesians, Philippians, or I Thessalonians. Or read them all. Just the other day I observed a three hour retreat, reading Hebrews in its entirety with great encouragement. Spend lengths of time in the Word. Write down what you see: insights, reminders, promises, questions. It may be that the bulk of your time is spend here.
You may want to take time to write out Scripture—a chapter like Romans 8 for instance, written out word for word to focus on the truths you read. Or, you may set aside time for Scripture memory. We Evangelicals are better at being activists than at being contemplative, but here is a great time to sit back and reflect on the passages you read.
III. Season of Prayer:
Here is a suggestion for a lengthy season of prayer. Take time to go through each of the following:
1. Praise–This is our response to the person of God. We praise him for who he is. Take time to rehearse the greatness of God, His character, His sttributes.
2. Thanksgiving–This is our response to the goodness of God. Thank him for what he has done. “Enter His gates with thanksgiving” (Ps 100:4). “In everything give thanks” (1 Thess 5:18). An attitude of gratitude should permeate our lives.
3. Confession–Confession is our response to the holiness of God. Our sins will hinder our praying (see Ps 66:18). As we pray, we can ask the Holy Spirit to reveal each sin in our lives. Then we can confess the sin (see 1 John 1:9). When broken relationships are involved, we should seek to make them right as well. Ask this question: what is the ONE THING that keeps me from following Christ with everything in my being?
4. Intercession–This is our response to the love of God. When we ask of God, Foster reminds us, we are not “trying to manipulate God and tell Him what to do. Quite the opposite. We are asking God to tell us what to do. God is the ground of our beseeching . . . Our prayer is to be like a reflex action to God’s prior initiative on the heart.”
Take time to pray for family, friends, coworkers, your church’s leaders, political leaders, the lost for whom you are burdened. Pray for the spiritual, emotional, physical, and relational aspects of their lives.
5. Petition–Petition is our response to the love of God for us. It is appropriate and necessary for us to ask God to meet our needs. However, in our consumer-driven culture, we can learn from this prayer of petition from an anonymous soldier:
I asked God for strength that I might achieve;
I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked God for health that I might do greater things;
I was given infirmity that I might do better things.
I asked for riches that I might be happy;
I was given poverty that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men;
I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life;
I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for—
but everything I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am among all men most richly blessed.
6. Listening–There is another aspect about prayer that must not be missed: listening to God. You may not be aware of it, but wherever you are as you take time for this retreat, noises are all around you. Rock-and-roll music is all around you. Rap tunes are playing. People are discussing various topics from sports to finance. The only thing you need to hear these voices is the proper receiver. A radio will suddenly usher into your presence a bevy of sounds.
Prayer operates the same way. God is constantly speaking to us, teaching us, leading us. The question is not whether God is speaking but if we are listening. God consistently speaks to us through his Word, but do we hear him? He occasionally speaks to us through circumstances and other people. He also speaks at times through the still, small voice of his Spirit. Are we listening?
7. Consecration–Consecration is a prayer of commitment to God. Often in Scripture believers made specific, fresh acts of consecration: Jonah in the whale’s stomach (Jonah 2:1–10); David, following his sin with Bathsheba (Ps 51); Paul, our Lord, and others. In our times of prayer, we are often confronted with the need to make a fresh, new commitment to God.
(NOTE: The section on prayer is adapted from Alvin Reid, Evangelism Handbook: Biblical, Spiritual, Intentional, Missional, B&H, 2009)
Take time to write in your notebook/journal. Write at any time along the way, but especially near the end write: lessons from Scripture, prayer requests, things you should do you believe the Lord is telling you, hopes and dreams, people to talk with, etc.
CONCLUSION: Regardless of how much or how little of the above information you use, do this simple exercise at the end of your time to make this more than a one time event, but part of your ongoing sanctification: ask God to show you ONE THING you should do differently because of your time. Remember: salvation costs you nothing, but discipleship costs you everything.
“What a man is on his knees, that he is, and nothing more.” John Owen