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