Personal Retreat of Solitude With Jesus…
October 21-25, 2007
Desiring Jesus. For at least eighteen months now I have been desiring Jesus: desiring to know Him, to be with Him, to meet with Him, to rest in Him, to learn from Him, to worship Him, to enjoy Him, to trust Him, to love Him, to bask in His love for me…and to have Him be with me, meet with me, comfort me, and enjoy me.
Sounds like a good deal, right?
I have been blessed in the last seven-plus years to learn much about the LORD—through Scripture, Bible studies, sermons, books, college courses, seminary courses, conferences, movies, music, prayer, thinking, and discussions with many different people. During this time I have learned some important facts about Jesus, facts that are as important to fully knowing Him as accurate descriptions and directions are important to enjoying the beach. Accurate descriptions get you excited about the beach, and accurate directions get you to the beach. Both are important steps. But neither compares to or replaces the experience of actually finding the beach, of personally being at the beach, of really enjoying the beach in reality, first hand. Neither descriptions about the beach nor directions to the beach can compare to
-feeling the course and shifting sand beneath your feet,
-tasting the salty brine on your lips,
-basking in the hot sun as it warms your shoulders,
-contemplating the power of the waves as it effortlessly lifts hundred-thousand ton barges,
-imagining the immensity of the deep as it covers mountains larger and taller than Everest,
-hearing the splash of the gentle water as you enter the surf,
-riding the waves as they softly cradle and toss you in their foamy arms,
-finding intricate and unique shells along the shoreline,
-anticipating the joys of inevitable discovery as you dig deeply with plastic shovels,
-enjoying the temporary yet timeless thrill of building a sandy castle on the shore, and
-relaxing in the awesome wonder of the sunset as it scatters its multi-hued jewels against the glassy surface of the sea.
Those are the experiences that draw a large portion of society to the beach each summer, and those are the same experiences that beckon others—fewer still—to set up permanent residence along the shore…
This is the difference between reading about Winston Churchill in an encyclopedia and having spent the weekend with him; the difference between reading a biography of Princess Diana and having toured on a mine-clearing service mission with her; the reason some people who have paid $20 for Warren Buffet’s autobiography pay another $300,000 simply to have a one hour lunch with him. To be at the beach personally is always better to simply reading about the beach secondhand; similarly, to be with someone is always better than simply reading about him or her. Many of us recognize this, and God does too. This is precisely why Jesus invites us to be with Him, to learn from Him, and to rest in Him.
Jesus asks us,
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to Me. Get away with Me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest, Walk with Me and work with Me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with Me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message).
Jesus invites us to be with Him, in addition to learning about Him. He is a Person (who also happens to be God!), not an idea, force, concept, or philosophy. He is life (and He is alive and active today, believe it or not!), and He became flesh and blood that we might receive and experience real and eternal life, which Jesus Himself defined as follows:
“And this is the real and eternal life: That they know you, the one and only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:2-3, The Message).
Real life is knowing Jesus…personally, as a wife knows her husband, as best friends know each other, as a glove knows its hand, as a pot knows the expert, shaping, and constant touch of the potter. And it is for this reason alone that I took advantage of the blessing and difficulty of spending four days alone with Jesus in the autumn woods of southern Wisconsin.
Now, we don’t have to retreat to the woods to enjoy Jesus; He is the treat, and we can enjoy Him anywhere again and again (re-treat J). In fact, Jesus advises that we simply go into our bedrooms and close the door when we want to be with the Father (Matthew 6:18). But the solitude and quiet that this verse implies in the “closing of the door” is often difficult to find amidst the marvelous motions and boisterous blessings of our families, careers, and amusement. In other words, sometimes the only way to really “close the door” and be alone with Jesus is to get away, leave our beautiful loved ones in the Hands of the One who loves them more than we do, un-leash ourselves from the duties we are convinced define the necessity of ourselves, pack a small bag, leave man’s new best friend—technology—behind to recharge (even IPods get tired), and venture forth into the deafening roar of silence with nothing but Jesus, His Word, and a present but shaky faith in Him that isn’t sure if such a retreat is really going to accomplish anything.
And that is what I did. I retreated (or re-deployed, as some generals stated during the American Civil War). I retreated, but
-not into the arms of Club Med,
-not into an extended period of hobby enjoyment (I left the golf clubs behind!),
-not into a time of study, lesson preparation, or strategic planning (a.k.a more work),
-not into a time of travel, and
-certainly not into a time of catching up on all the books I’ve been meaning to read.
No, I didn’t retreat into the arms of activity;
I retreated into the arms of Jesus, constantly overriding a human will reliant on and addicted to the five senses that debated whether or not He would actually show up (or whether or not I would even notice Him if He did). I even left other books on Christian living behind. Not because they aren’t helpful, but the Bible is still the only book in history that is actually alive (Hebrews 4:12). I needed to be in the presence of the LORD and listen to His Living Word, not the well meaning but ultimately inadequate words of other pilgrims like myself…
And so I sat (and walked). Day after day, in the glorious, serene, colorful, fragrant, active, and still woods and country roads of southern Wisconsin, I sat, walked, thought about, spoke to, listened for, and waited on God.
While nothing mystical really happened,
while I didn’t see a “burning bush miracle” or
hear the booming Britishly-accented voice of God
speaking audibly to me,
I met with Jesus,
I heard Him,
I saw Him,
I learned from Him,
I enjoyed His amazing creativity and power in creation, and
I allowed myself to be refreshed & recalibrated by Him who knows me better than even I do.
I met with Jesus through the following practical ways:
-through thinking about Him constantly (though this is admittedly difficult to do at first!),
-through speaking with Him constantly,
-through not thinking about work, school, and the myriad of items that bring blessing & anxiety,
-through really looking at the beauty in nature around me and praising Him for His wisdom, power, and creativity,
-through reading Scripture (not to do it as duty but to do it to get to know Jesus better), and
-through the Scripture verses that He brought to my mind.
And through all of this I required constant prayer, both from myself and friends back home, because it is simply difficult for most of us to really focus on Jesus alone, to invite Him into the fortresses of our hearts and minds and to firmly ask everyone else to leave!
Here are the main lessons I learned during this fulfilling and sometimes frustrating retreat:
1. “Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:31 NIV).
2. “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10 NIV).
3. “Now this is real and eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3 NIV).
4. I also learned how much I adore and miss my wife and daughters when I am away, how much I love autumn and being in the outdoors, and how little I really need television, the internet, and professional athletics.
So what will you do now?
Will you ask God to help you retreat with Him in small ways each day, perhaps
while you’re washing the dishes,
falling asleep in bed,
driving to an errand,
riding the train,
folding the clothes, or
walking the dog?
Will you seek Him through silence,
through speaking to Him,
through listening to Him,
through reading the Bible,
through honest journaling,
through asking God and wise people deep questions about who He is, who we are, and why God made the choice to create us rascals in the first place?
Will you seek Him, trusting His promise to you in Jeremiah 29:13-14 (The Message):
“When you come looking for me, you’ll find me. ‘Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed.’ God’s Decree…You can count on it.”
I’m still desiring Jesus. Even after a phenomenal four day retreat, I’m still desiring Jesus. For the hunger to know the Bright Morning Star, to taste the Bread of Life, and to drink deeply His Living Water does not get satisfied and disappear, only to reappear again, as our hunger for physical food does. No, the desire for Jesus is different. The desire to know Jesus does not diminish as it is fed but grows as it is fed (kind of like teenage guys), just as the volume of a lake rises and grows as the clouds rain into it until eventually the water overflows its inadequate banks and nourishes the surrounding countryside. Likewise, may the LORD continue to reign over us, in us, through us, and into us, and may we continue to remain in the life-giving waters of the pond, eagerly anticipating the next deluge of divine raindrops and faithfully swimming where His current leads, regardless of the soiled banks of the sandy bowl.
For however long He allows us to continue living on earth, I pray that we will continue to be desiring Jesus: desiring to know Him, to be with Him, to meet with Him, to rest in Him, to learn from Him, to worship Him, to enjoy Him, to trust Him, to love Him, to bask in His love for each one of us…and to have Him be with us, meet with us, comfort us, and enjoy us.
(Side note: have you ever thought that God enjoys us? Certainly not all the time, certainly not when we hurt each other. But what a difference it would make in the quality and dreams of our lives if we truly believed that God delights in us, takes pleasure in us, and enjoys us. Do you want to make Jesus laugh for joy? Do you believe that you can? (I do, and with His help, we will!)
And out of that spiritual knowledge—the Truth that He has revealed through the Bible and the ways that He sprinkles that Truth throughout our experiences, senses, intellect, feelings, and emotions—may we serve Him, obey Him, and follow Him by showing each person of the world how much He loves them. Knowing Him, you see, is the source from which all obedience, love, and devotion springs. Jesus is the fuel, and the practice of knowing Him better is the engine revving, churning, and firing on all of its twelve powerful cylinders; service and good works are the natural and beautiful exhaust and the invigorating deep growl of such furious God-knowing, an exhaust which glowingly passes all standards of purity & cleanliness and a beautifully resonant growl against which no muffler dares to silence.
(Do you dare?)
Desire…prepare to meet thy truest Satisfaction…
Determined Travels to You All~