Tag Archives: spiritual

Retreat Is Not Surrender

stressed

The phone is ringing constantly, I am being overrun by e-mail, my diary is full to bursting, I am stressed and, to my horror, on looking ahead in my diary I see that the entry for the next day is blocked between 10am and 3pm as a spiritual retreat with my wife (not that spending time with my wife is a bad thing!).  I instinctively wonder where on God’s green earth do I have the time for that!?! I begin frantically to think of excuses so that I can cancel this and keep my nose to the grindstone, enabling me to do God’s work for the church he has placed me in.

Yes, I get to that place all too often within my schedule when I’m generally too busy to pray, read the bible, spend time with my family, eat well and actually relax – or indeed any of the aforementioned in a way that is satisfying.

It doesn’t even seem to matter that a few weeks ago my body tried to teach me a lesson and took matters into its own hands! It was as though my body had decided upon an intervention to make me stop. It collected a nasty flu bug, breathed it in deeply and nagged me over the following week that if I didn’t rest I was done for – and indeed I was! By Thursday evening of that week, after I got back from my second funeral that day, I only had only one option, which was climb into bed and stay there for a few days. I cancelled my services and appointments, rested and wasn’t really myself until the following week.

But back to this retreat in the diary… what was I to do? Well, do you know, I didn’t cancel and went on it – just me and my lovely wife.  We talked, prayed, ate snacks and looked at the beautiful view. We even did an entry in our couple’s devotional bible that we have been doing sporadically for our 13 years of marriage; we are in Nehemiah! We both experienced God’s peace, his holding, realigning our perspective to his, a reduction in stress and a reorientation to the path the Lord is leading us on.

My workload hadn’t diminished, but somehow taking that space and time to focus on who I work for rather than on what my denomination demands of me made the jobs and the need for inspiration a little easier, putting life more in perspective. The gospel of Matthew reminds us in chapter 6, verses 28-34 to live first seeking the Kingdom of God.

Sometimes the last place we go to is the place where we should start. I encourage you to make time for a retreat, not out of weakness but because of the need to seek God.  Lean on him, trust in him, deepen your walk with the only one who sees the whole picture and for whom the present storm that you’re experiencing is already history.  Then step out in faith, not leaving God behind but lifting your head to look at what is coming, together with the one who loves you more completely now than he has ever loved you.

 

rocky beach “And why do you worry about clothes?  See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin.  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?  So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own”.

 

There’s A Cure

I’ve never had food poisoning or been bitten by a snake but understand it’s pretty grim. The victim needs to get rid of the poison as quickly as possible for them to recover. But there is another kind of poison that can affect us all. 

Hidden in the narrative that surrounds us, are words that can poison a persons heart, and spirit, these words deliver a payload that can tear apart your life, manifest itself in many things and in many ways. You only have to look at how the young are effected by the narrative of a so called perfect body type, leading to depression, mental health issues and tragically in some cases suicide.

But I believe that there is hope, I believe that there is a cure, an antidote to this kind of poison. from my experience I offer this two stage process: 

Step one, recognition. Taking a long hard look at yourself as it were, highlighting in  you those attitudes that have landed you in trouble or a deep dissatisfaction of your current situation. Kneeling in prayer before the Lord ask a question. Lord how have I ended up here, what and who have I been listening to or acting on that has brought me here to my knees. Take as long as you need to discern and reflect.

Step two, forgiveness, there is a deep need to be forgiven, both to forgive myself for getting duped by a particular narrative and allowing it to twist my actions and words. It was important to know that God didn’t hold it against me. Thirdly in no particular order is to seek forgiveness from people. In the owning of my behaviour I sort to apologise. I dithered about this final part of the cure but found grace and acceptance from most people and ultimately healing. 

From a place of recognition and forgiveness, we can recognise this kind of poison and defend ourselves and continue on the road to where the lord needs us to be, rather than tangled up in the snares and traps of poisonous narratives or as paul puts it in Ephesians chapter 4 the cunningness of mankind.

Does this mean there wont be other struggles, of course not, but its perhaps a starting place to walking deeper with a God who loves us and sends the Holy Spirit as our helper, counsellor and guide.

May he guide you through the traps of life, may the peace of healing be brought into your life and may you experience grace and renewal, from the one who knows all our weaknesses and struggles, and holds out a helping hand.

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A Good Life For who? Prime Minister

During the election campaign we were told that the Conservative party would provide us the good life. Part of me is seduced by the election promise of wealth and materialistic ideals. Indeed our prime minister declared on election day that he will provide for us  “the good life“, of personal wealth, jobs, a funded NHS and so much more.

I have a nagging doubt however that the good life promised for most might come to actually look like the 1970s TV show of the same name, The Good Life! For those that don’t remember, the show centres around two families, Tom has become disenfranchised and disillusioned with his job as a draughtsman and decides to live self-sufficiently so that he can make ends meet. His wife Barbara is fully supportive of this. Their neighbours and good friends Margo and Jerry are a little horrified by what their neighbours and friends I doing! Tom and his wife turn their garden into a small holding, with pigs and chickens and enough methane to generate electricity!

The Good Life is of course a comedy, the good life offered in a recent general election is not comical that serious. More than likely David Cameron will bring the good life for some, for others of us we might need to learn to be more self-sufficient growing our own food so we don’t go hungry, making our own clothes, growing and slaughtering our own chickens, pigs and so on. contrastively for others like Jerry and Margo in the sitcom, the good life will be about financial independence, and live unaware of the cost of the so-called good life has on the many not just financially but psychology.

There is hope however, in the one that can calm the storm, who doesn’t make grandiose statements about a good life for all, but instead willingly goes to across, and steps out of the tomb, that the good life might be redefined, rather than based on economics, materialism and self-sufficiency. Instead built on the foundation of the kingdom of God that is timeless, where lost sheep are found, the sick healed, the bruised traveller is rescued, the widow finds her lost coin,  the farmer his treasure, were all people are valued because all people are made in the image of God.  

Jesus redefines our image of a good life, so the rather than being disappointed and perpetually disillusioned. There is a realism about the current state of things, and optimism that with Gods help and in his strength things can change. Because our focus rather than being on a good life for me we focus on a good life for others, that builds up, affirms, where all can reach there potential in God. 

Finally Mr Cameron’s Conservatives may only succeed setting up a tiered good life for all. Remember that wherever you are in life Jesus turns up regardless, whatever, wherever and however we are. Jesus offers us a different life one based on truth, integrity and love and thats a good life I can take hold of regardless of my financial, and materialistic position, after all is our spirituality that matters in the life after, not our wardrobe or bank balance.

Looking Back & Seeing Jesus!

When you go on a journey with someone, there are points along that journey that hold special significance, there will be moments of beginnings and endings and a range of celebrations and commiserations in between.

One such Journey, has been my journey as someone trying to follow Jesus. I can remember listening, to a preacher a number of years ago now, tell me that he had been a christian for 25 years. I can remember, being hugely impressed that someone had followed Jesus for that long!

I wondered inwardly, what that would look like for me. So as I cross the line of my 25th year, I wonder if I have learnt anything? I wonder what truths have held me, shaped me, and lead me? Do I exhibit more of the fruit of the spirit than when I first began, those long years ago in my mid-teens.

25 years is a huge period of time, there has been more change in the last 25 years than probably will be in my next. Over this period of time I’ve have been busy growing up, and maturing to greater or lesser degrees, and finding out who I am. As well as leaving home, I have finished School and three colleges, and got qualifications I needed, also had various jobs, got married had two children and of course adopted a beautiful cocker spaniel called George.

One particular enduring truth, is that God is present. He has been present, in the darker moments, of depression, and self-loathing. He has been present when I truly believed I was unloved and alone in the world. He was present, in good company, laughter, new experiences, on my wedding day, and in so many other moments.

I have found that looking through the lens of time, some truths are moulded, whilst I believe in the fundamentals of my faith the death and resurrection of Jesus to name one. I have become less fervent about being right, and less quick to condemn others without first picking out the spec’s of prejudice and notions of exclusivity and superiority in my own life. I hope this has led me to be more gracious, and loving.

Another truth I have learnt is that through the ebb and flow of time, there are periods of doubt, spiritual isolation, and ultimately and eventually but deeper a walk with Jesus, that has been seasoned, and tested, as the song refiners fire says produces gold.

It is that gold that I seek above all, the spiritual gold that does not decay, but rather is a priceless gift that I keep giving away, that others, might see all that God is doing through us, the church of Jesus Christ.

I spent some time on retreat last week thinking about these things, discovering what truths I might have learned on my journey so far, and what God might be calling me too next. Sadly too often, I have found that the church has not always discipled me in a coherent and consistent way, and perhaps worse, is that if my faith was rooted entirely in the church I would’ve left long ago!

God however has scattered across my timeline so far, moments for spiritual growth, which have included worship events, friendships that have left their mark in profoundly wonderful ways upon my life. All these and other moments, have helped to grow me, into the person, into the man, I am today. And perhaps also define the ministry I feel called to, within the church, though less than perfect, but which I call home.

Finally during my retreat I stood within a cathedral which has of course stood for centuries, I became aware that my tiny grain of sand of faithful existence, was put into a correct and timeless context, of Gods eternity in which christ prepares a room for you and I.

This of course doesn’t mean we should stop working hard at building Gods Kingdom, far from it, but we can also know we can trust and rest in a God, that is bigger than our vision of what His kingdom should be. A God who will outlive all our attempts at trying to build his temple.

My Spiritual Desert

As I walked into the desert, there was nothing but sand beneath my feet and few trees, and nothing but a loud silence! To be away from the noise and bustle of life felt good, and I hadn’t even taken my phone with me! The worry did cross my mind however, that no one knew where I was, and if I was to get lost this could be problematic.

Along time before that desert experience, I had, had another, it was not dissimilar. There was what felt to be a large expanse, and there was a silence, deep and penetrating.

This was not a physical desert, there was no sand beneath my feet or hard rock. There were no trees or anything to speak off. For this desert was spiritual, internal, truly lonely. You could be in a crowd and yet alone. What was worse, was that I could not see, hear or feel God. It felt like he was distant, absent, uncaring.

When God is gone from your life it’s like there is a limb missing, another dimension to your life ceases to be. So you carry on the best you can, going through the motion of life, the rituals or church. Looking at others who seem to have it altogether in terms of their spiritual life, and wondering why you have been left behind. Or perhaps asking the question what have I done wrong?

I read various books about people in similar experiences, I read the book of Job in the bible, and discovered that he knew the similar isolation. That even though there were others like me, it didn’t ease my sense of spiritual isolation, because  for no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t get back to where I was with God. I didn’t know how to, I had lost my way, I had taken a wrong turn and now found myself lost without a compass.

From my reading, I learnt that sometimes people go through these experiences of isolation. Jesus did in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights when he was tempted in every way, Job as a whole book written about his spiritual desert. Yet for these and so many others they kept believing, hoping, trusting in God. They didn’t walk away, they didn’t give up.

I’m not sure at what point things started to change for me? But the burden of the desert began to become lighter, and slowly I became more aware once again of Gods presence around me and within. I even during prayer near the end of this time received a picture of Jesus standing waiting for me on the desert edge.

The first desert I spoke of at the beginning of this post is one in Australia in the outback of New South Wales, is the tradition for the aborigines to go walkabout, to go into the desert for a period of self-discovery. Perhaps my desert was mine, perhaps God was testing me, testing my metal, my perseverance, my trust in him.

Sometimes it is only through silence we make such discoveries, sometimes it’s only through personal loss we discover who our friends are, sometimes it’s through our brokenness we discover the quality of the Christian community that’s surrounds us.

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Over the coming few weeks of Lent, these posts are going to be focused on personal experiences of God and my journey with him, the joys and sorrows leading us to the wonder of Resurrection day. Hope you enjoy them feel free to comment and or click the like button.

Retreat Is Not Surrender

stressedThe phone is ringing constantly, I am being overrun by emails, my diary is full to bursting, I am stressed and to my horror I look ahead in my diary to see, that the entry for the next day, is blocked between 10am and 3pm as a spiritual retreat with my wife (not that spending time with my wife is a bad thing!) I instinctively wonder where on Gods green earth do I have the time for that!?! I begin to frantically think of excuses, so I can cancel it and keep my nose to the grind stone, and do Gods work for the church he has placed me in.

Yes I get to that place all to often with my schedule. When I’m generally too busy to pray, read the bible, spend time with my family, eat well, and actually relax in any meaningful way or indeed any of the aforementioned in a way that is satisfying.

It doesn’t even seem to matter that a few weeks ago, my body tried to teach me a lesson and took matters into its own hands! It was as though my body had decided to club together for an intervention to make me stop. It collected a nasty flu bug,  breathed it in deeply and nagged me over the preceding  week that if I didn’t rest I was done for and indeed I was! By thursday evening of that week, after I got back from  my second funeral that day I only had only one option, which was climb into bed and stay there for a few days. I cancelled my services and appointments and rested and wasn’t myself really until the following week.

But back to this retreat in the diary, what was I to do? Well, do you know, I didn’t cancel it and went on it just me and my lovely wife, we talked, prayed, ate snacks and looked at the beautiful view. We even did an entry in our couples devotional bible that we have been doing sporadically for our 13 years of marriage, we are in Nehemiah! We both experienced Gods peace, his holding, realigning our perspective to his, a reduction in stress and a reorientation to the path the Lord is leading us on.

My work load hadn’t diminished, but somehow taking that space and time, to centre on who I work for rather on what my denomination demands of me, made the jobs, the need for inspiration a little easier and life became more in perspective. Just as the gospel of Matthew 6 :28-34 reminds us to live  first seeking the kingdom of God.

Sometimes the last place we go, is the place we should start. I encourage you to retreat, not out of weakness but the need to seek God, lean on him, trust in him, deepen our walk with the only one who sees the whole picture and for whom the present you’re experiencing storm is already history. Then step out in faith not leaving God behind, but lifting your head up looking ahead at what is coming together with the one who loves you more completely now than he can ever love you.

1900031_10153932473690111_2012419033_n “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

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