Working from a Place of Rest: Retreat with Tony Horsfall at Drumalis

What does the word ‘retreat’ conjure up for you? Candles? Chanting? Cloisters? Silence? Stillness? Solitude?

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My experience this week encompassed most of these – but so much more.

We arrived on Friday morning at the beautiful Drumalis Retreat Centre in Larne – a place used for retreats and conferences of groups of all sizes. We were a group of about 42 people from different walks of life, united with the one aim of spending 2 days away from the hustle and bustle of our normal everyday lives in order to learn a bit more about what it means to Work from a Place of Rest.

Our speaker was Tony Horsfall, whose ministry Charis Training encompasses teaching at retreats and conferences as well as writing books, often around the theme of contemplative spirituality.


Session 1 – The journey we are on

Tony used John 4 as his text for the retreat, teaching from the story of the woman at the well and how Jesus met her and spoke into her life. In this first session, after speaking about how Jesus was on a journey (from Judea to Galilee), Tony encouraged us to take a look at our lives and locate ourselves within the stage of life we are at, the stage of our discipleship with the Lord and the stage of ministry we may be involved in. These journeys intertwine with each other and it is important to know where we are on our journey. As Tony puts it, ‘You cannot live the afternoon of life according to the programme of life’s morning’. There was a time of personal reflection after Tony’s first talk which gave us the opportunity to spend time alone, with God, thinking about our journey so far and locating ourselves according to these 3 categories.

Session 2 – Feeling tired on the journey?

Jesus sat down by the well because he was tired. It is normal to feel tired after work, but Tony quoted from research which demonstrates that many Christian leaders are suffering from burnout and depression because of overwork and many quote fatigue as their biggest spiritual challenge. ‘We have a theology of work but not of rest.’ 

Much that passes for Christian fervour is workaholism with a religious gloss. Pamela Evans

How is it that we as a church have bought into the culture around us which says that busyness is a good thing? We boast about our busyness and we are ashamed to admit it when we are not busy. Jesus lived within the limits of the humanity he had embraced – when he was tired, he sat down – and did nothing. How is that we always have to be doing something – and to be seen to be doing something? We need to know our load and our limits, to set healthy boundaries, to live with margins and to be kind to ourselves. ‘Radically eliminate from your life all hurry.’

If your output exceeds your input, the shortfall will be your downfall.

True to the theme of the retreat, rest times were part of the programme, when we were encouraged to spend time alone to rest: walking or sitting in the beautiful grounds of Drumalis, sitting inside in one of the nooks or crannies or even napping in our rooms.

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Session 3 – Stopping to rest on the journey

Tony talked about the discipline of stopping. I had never considered stopping to be a discipline before – but, when you consider the frenetic pace of our lives, you realise that perhaps indeed stopping is a discipline and one which many of us need to learn.

‘Stopping is…pausing for a few minutes, or a few hours, or a few days, to remember who I am, why I’m here, and to receive strength for the next part of the journey.’ Tony suggested that we need to build all of these into our lives on a regular basis, if we hope to lead healthy lifestyles and to sustain our lifestyles over the long haul. Of course the kind of stopping which we are most familiar with is a sabbath rest – however that might look in your context. Given that many present were Christian leaders, Sundays were not always a day of rest for them – but it is essential that all of us seek out that time to stop, to pause, to remember who we are, why we are here and to receive strength for the journey. That would ideally be a few minutes each day, a few hours each week/month and a few days perhaps once a year.

‘There is always enough time to do what God wants us to do.’ Do we believe that?

The bow that is seldom unstrung will quickly break. John Chrysotom

‘Our culture says Time is…….money. God says Time is……’ We need to redeem it back from the culture which says it is money and let God show us how to use it. The key thing in time management is to know what the will of the Lord is. And in order to know that, we need to hear the still small voice of God – which we will hear when we practise stillness and silence.

Session 4 – Finding refreshment on the journey

Jesus found refreshment at the well – physical water, which of course was a symbol of the water which only Jesus could give: ‘If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water’ (John 4:10).

Tony suggested that we learn to see ministry as collaboration. Working from a place of rest includes spiritual rest – the awareness that it is God’s work and that he will accomplish his purpose through us. He is the Senior Partner and we get to collaborate with him. That takes the pressure off us – it is HIS work, not ours. We are working with him.

We need to learn to drink of the living water, then we can give out; then we rest and drink again, then we can give out again. This is a rhythm of grace. The spring of water within us will flow out to others if we guard our inner lives. Stillness, silence and solitude bring us closer to the life of God and we become centred rather than fragmented.

‘Everything comes to us gift-wrapped in Jesus. God is the Giver and we are the receivers.’

We begin by grace and we live by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9).

In his final session, Tony looked further at how we learn from seeing how Jesus ministered:

Session 5 – Watching God at work on the journey

The woman who came to the well was thirsty for intimacy, as demonstrated in her life experiences up to that point. Our deepest need to is to know and to be known, to love and to be loved – but only God can fully meet that need for any of us because all of us come to relationship with one another with our own needs. God meets that need and we enter into relationship with him as the beloved child of God. Living out of that identity, we can love others. God is looking for worshippers (John 4) – not workers!

‘Work that does not flow from worship is not spiritual work.’

Jesus was led by the Spirit to go through Samaria – there was a sense of divine constraint. The Spirit had nudged him and he had responded – but as he found himself on that journey, he was tired and sat down by the well. There, as he sat, doing nothing, he was in the right place and the right time to meet this woman who needed a divine encounter.

‘Ministry is what happens when you’re doing something else.’

Alert and alive to the movement of God, Jesus ministered to the woman and met her greatest need. He talked to her without prejudice, with gentleness and respect and was able to lead her into relationship with himself. He wasn’t too busy to notice her; neither was his resting time too inflexible for him to minister to her. He was completely in tune with the Spirit.

That is how we want to live!


If you have the chance to go on a retreat like this, I would thoroughly recommend it.

Tony has also written several books which I would recommend to you:

Rhythms of Grace

Working from a Place of Rest

Mentoring for Spiritual Growth

The Servant Heart


Retreat: luxury or necessity?

Sometimes body, soul and spirit just need some rest, recreation and relaxation – I had my own mini retreat this weekend.

I began on Friday evening with a dose of Downton Abbey – a great way to unwind after the busyness of the week!


On Saturday morning I listened to part of  Tony Horsfall’s ministry  on ‘Behold my Servant’. Based on Isaiah 42, it deals with servant-leadership as exemplified by Jesus.  Tony talks about the calling of the servant (to bring justice to the nations); the character of the servant (the danger of pride, the temptation of power and the challenge of pain); and the confidence of the servant (it is the Lord who calls us, who takes us by the hand and who keeps us).

Tony often talks about our need to stop, to slow down and listen to what God is saying.

‘What needs to be guarded is the life of the Spirit within us. Especially we who want to witness to the presence of God’s Spirit in the world need to tend the fire within with utmost care…Our first and foremost task is faithfully to care for the inward fire so that when it is really needed it can offer warmth and light to lost travelers.’ Henri Nouwen.

Later in the day, I read part of David Adam’s book ‘Occasions for Alleluia’, where I was once again reminded of the need to refocus or re-centre my life on God, this time by a quotation from ‘The Practice of the Presence of God’ by Brother Lawrence:

‘Remember, I pray you, what I have often recommended to you, which is, to often think on God, by day, by night, in your business and even in your diversions. He is always near and with you: leave Him not alone. You would think it rude to leave a friend alone who had cone to visit you: why then must God be neglected? Do not then forget Him, think often of Him, adore him unceasingly, live and die with Him: this is the glorious employment of a Christian, in a word it is our profession; if we do not know it, we must learn it.’




By this time, the sun had come out so I went out for a brisk walk, enjoying the spring flowers in spite of the cold wind. When I got back, I warmed up with a drink of hot chocolate in the conservatory.



The evening was spent enjoying a meal with my sister-in-law – sharing one’s heart with a good friend is such an encouragement. ‘As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.’ Proverbs 27:17.

My own personal mini-retreat has had physical and spiritual components in it. I feel refreshed and refocused. It’s been such a privilege to have had the opportunity to do this. I realise not everyone can take time out. There are mothers of young children and other full-time care-givers who cannot imagine the luxury of this. Yet I would encourage everyone to see if they cannot carve out even a little time to refocus and to re-centre, especially those who give out a lot in their own daily lives – whether as mothers or care-givers, pastors or ministers, health workers or social workers, nurturers of other kinds and people whose work involves a lot of giving. It isn’t always easy to find the time or the space but it is important – perhaps even vital – if we are to be healthy, to stay sane and to keep going.

And if you would like to go away for your retreat, take a look here – I’ve been to Ken and Eva Needhams’ place in the Mournes and it is ideal for this kind of thing.


Quiet place, quiet space

Yesterday I had a Quiet Day in the Mourne mountains, Co. Down.

I went with 3 friends to The Herrons, which is part of the ministry of the Quiet Garden Movement – ‘A simple ministry of hospitality and prayer’.

Run by Eva Needham, it is a delightful house set in the beautiful countryside of the Mourne mountains, with views such as this all around.


When we arrived at 10am, we were graciously welcomed by Eva and her husband Ken and treated to coffee and tea while we relaxed in their lounge in front of a cosy fire. Eva allocated each of us to a different room, which would be ours for the day. Then, encouraging us to relax and quieten ourselves, she read from Mark 6:30-32:

The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told Him all that they had done and taught.

He said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place by yourselves and rest awhile’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.

And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.

Then we each dispersed to our own solitary space, where we were free to read, pray, reflect, meditate or even sleep. Each of us had been given our own mug for the day, which we could fill with tea or coffee when we wanted, and at 12.30 there was a lovely lunch of soup, breads, cheeses, salad and fruit which we helped ourselves to and ate at any table we chose, while remaining quiet.

We were also free to roam around the house and sit in different places, as well as walk in the beautiful gardens or explore the countryside around us.

At 1.30pm, we met up again in the cosy lounge, where Eva once again read to us, this time from Psalm 37, before sending us off again on our own for another two hours. At the end of that time, we came together, some of us shared a little of how we had found the day, and we concluded with a simple time of sharing communion together.

It was a wonderful privilege to be able to spend a day just being quiet before the Lord, with no deadlines to worry about, no agenda pressing in on us, just space and quiet and time to be – to be with God.

I personally began the day thinking about the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:

Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

I thought about the privilege of coming away from all the things which distract me – and of being able to choose ‘the good portion’ for the day – sitting at Jesus’ feet. Rather than bringing him the long list of things which were on my mind, I decided to just wait for Him to say what He wanted to say. I thought about the privilege of sitting at His feet – and my eyes fell on a foot cushion. The sun was shining through the window, where there was a glass cross hanging, and the sun was casting the shadow of the cross on to the cushion.

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This is where it is our privilege to live – in the shadow of the cross. It is that shadow which shows us the love of Jesus, and also which shows us the love of the Father.

My ESV Study Bible for the above passage directed me to Luke 12:

 And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.

I thought of all the things which so easily distract me, the things which make me anxious, and I brought each one to the Lord, releasing them up to Him. Why are we not to worry, according to this passage?

(a) because there are more important things to think about in life.

(b) because just as surely as the Creator of the birds and flowers looks after them, He will look after us.

(c) because worry will not accomplish a thing.

(d) because our Father knows what we need.

That last phrase had a powerful impact on me as I sat quietly and reflected: Your Father knows.  Your Father knows all your hopes and dreams. Your Father knows all your disappointments and heartaches. Your Father knows.

Beside me on the bookshelf was a statue of a little child nestling in the palm of a hand.


That’s where I am – in the palm of my Father’s hand.

I will keep you safe in the palm of my hand. Isaiah 51:16.

As I sat quietly, I had been moved to tears – and my tears seemed to mirror the rain which was now pelting down on the window panes as a storm moved across the landscape. Through my tears, I looked through the window, through the rain – and saw a light, a faint light flickering in the distance but then growing stronger and stronger. It was the light of a lighthouse on the other side of the bay.

And it seemed to me that my Father was saying to me, ‘I’ll see you home’.

Don’t worry about a thing. Your Father knows. And He will see you home.