Jon Davis

The Way of Jesus and the Ancient Art of Retreat

[Jesus] said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” —Mark 6:31, NIV

The pace of life is faster, more hectic, and more intense than ever before. For many of us, the demands on our time and the pressures we face are incredible. In recent years, we have added an ever-present torrent of distraction: smartphone screens, news that comes in marked, character-numbered snippets, and a constant flurry of electronic data. We have all become screen-agers!

I sense among many of my friends and colleagues a felt loss. If we are not careful, our activity and distractions keep us from what is really important, life-giving, and eternal. I think the ancient art of retreat is all the more needed today in our hectic and distracted world. We desperately need to get away from our normal routines, finding time to be quiet and still, to reflect, and to reconnect with God through silence and prayer.

Centered Work

Jesus modeled this ancient discipline for us, regularly pulling away from the activity of the crowds and the disciples to be by himself. He was not just by himself, of course: Jesus sought solitude to spend time with his Father in heaven. In the sixth chapter of Mark, Jesus invites his disciples to do the same. After the brisk pace of ministry, they were feeling somewhat harassed and hurried, maybe a little tattered around the edges. Jesus wanted to lead them to something we all need: time away in quiet reflection; time to rest and be with God. This is especially true for those involved in active ministry, which is invigorating and fulfilling, yet draining at the same time.

Jesus invites us today to follow him in this discipline, by making regular spiritual retreats. How often do you see people do this? When was the last time you got away to be still? The Psalms teach us to Be still, and know that I am God (Ps. 46:10). I have found in my life that if I am not still, I will not know God. But knowing God is what this earthly pilgrimage is all about (Phil. 3:7-14).

I do not mean to say that our daily work is unimportant, or that we cannot find God in our everyday callings. The Christian life is multifaceted. There are many tasks set before us: evangelism, discipleship, stewardship, missions, justice, and repentance. On top of that there’s paying bills, grocery shopping, getting the car repaired, and school functions. All of this work is important, even essential. The kingdom of God grows from work. But it is crucial to ask: Is our work centered in a heart that’s in communion with the Lord? Does it flow from that center?

Postures

I find that our work can be done in three postures:

Rushing: We are often so busy, running from work to school and shuttling our families to activities. It can be frantic and we get lost in the process. We handle a variety of media streams that invade our lives with stress and distraction. We are often running so fast that we miss the more valuable moments of eternal import.

Rusting: We get stuck in the same routine, going through the motions day after day. It feels like movement, but we are getting nowhere. Life becomes monotonous, an endless routine leaving us empty and without purpose. We get stuck in a cycle, not aware that decades have gone by and we have not grown in our faith, relationships, and understanding.

Resting: From a position of rest, we become more keenly focused and are able to navigate life with a sense of calling and trust. Jesus never ran anywhere. He walked. Yes, he grew weary at times, but because he knew the art of retreat he would find moments of silence and solitude in each day. When we function from a posture of rest, we can work with greater efficiency and make progress in things that really matter.

Jesus never ran anywhere. He walked. Click To Tweet

Reconnecting

How can we find this posture of rest in our everyday working lives? After more than 35 years of vocational ministry, I have learned the importance of filling the core of my being with the restfulness that comes only from taking time to be with the Lord. You have probably heard sayings like “You cannot give away what you do not have,” or “You cannot lead people to a place you have not been,” or (my favorite) “You teach what you know but you reproduce what you are.” The sayings are true! If I want to see my family, my workplace, and my community growing in their knowledge of the Lord, it means I need to have that at the center of my piety. To pray, read, study, focus, and be still, entering a time of solitude when I’m filled with the fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit, is how I become a better priest, pastor, husband, father, and friend.

That is why twice a year for a week, I pull away into a hermitage on retreat. I’ve been doing this for the past 20 years. When I go on retreat, I learn again a new rhythm and pattern of life. I hear a new cadence, and in doing so I tune myself into my relationship with God. His voice becomes clearer, his presence sweeter, and my faith is fanned into a greater flame. It’s a little like turning the lens on a blurry camera, bringing life back into proper focus. Retreat for me is a time of gathering spiritual fuel for every day. It brings me into a posture of rest, in which I can trust in God’s work and fret less about my work.

Doing this “away” moment regularly allows me to carry back into the everyday this posture of stillness. Knowing the hermitage journey I am able to replicate the experience in a fifteen minute walk, an hour long sit and be still. I can here the melody of retreat and it bids to me to slow down and listen.   Whether at the hermitage or at my home I can sing the familiar tune of Almighty God beckoning me deeper into His felt presence.

A friend told me about a conversation with a member of his congregation. This woman had a dream. She was in heaven with Jesus, and as she looked around she saw what looked like our planet at a distance. It was covered with black dots moving hurriedly all over, looking like ants swarming about. She asked Jesus, “What is that?” Jesus replied, “It’s my people doing all the things I never asked them to do.”

I believe the busyness and distraction of our culture has put us in danger of losing what is truly important. We need to reconnect with what will bring comprehensive healing and wholeness to our broken, distracted, and unfocused lives; to reunite body, soul, mind and strength, in God.

The busyness and distraction of our culture has put us in danger of losing what is truly important. Click To Tweet

I invite you to discover the power of personal retreat. I challenge you to find a place. Maybe it’s a retreat center or a hermitage, or just a swing in your backyard, an open church chapel or a city park where you can spend an hour in prayer and reflection. Wherever you find it, learn the art of retreat, of being still and entering into solitude and prayer. In doing so, you will gain the posture of restful trust that you need for taking on the work and the challenges of everyday life, with a renewed vigor and passion and a deepened knowledge and love of the Lord.

 

The Rev. Jon Davis PhD is on staff with Fresh Expressions and lives on a little farm in Oviedo, Florida with his wife Beth, a couple of horses, a number of cats, chickens, English Bulldogs and other critters.

Jon Davis

Jon Davis

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