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Sermon illustrations

Retreat

Am I Fighting the Right Battle?

In her book Invitation to Retreat, Ruth Haley Barton shares some of the many insights she has had since she began intentionally taking inattentional retreats to re-connect with God and her own desires. In this passage she describes an encounter with a pastor:

I will never forget one pastor’s comment after taking some time to reflect on the military aspects of the invitation to retreat. After emerging from solitude he commented ruefully, “In the silence, I realized that I’m not even sure I’m fighting the right battle. I just want to know I’m fighting the right battle.”

Taken from Invitation to Retreat: The Gift and Necessity of Time Away with God by Ruth Haley Barton Copyright (c) 2018 by Ruth Haley Barton. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

A Day Away

One rare but powerful item of discipline is the requirement that the recruit of the company undertake a personal experience of solitude at least once a month. This is patterned consciously on the experience of Christ who periodically went alone, even at the price of temporary separation from the needs of His fellows.

The justification of aloneness is not that of refined self-indulgence, but rather a consequent enrichment of one’s subsequent contribution. A person who is always available is not worth enough when he is available.

Everyone engaged in public life will realize the extreme difficulty to getting away each month for a period of five or six hours, but the difficulty is not a good reason for rejecting the discipline. It is the men and women who find it hardest to get away who need the redemptive solitude most sorely.

Elton Trueblood, The Company of the Committed (New York: Harper & Row, 1961), pp. 43-44.

Motivations for Retreat

Another one of the great ironies of retreat is that overachievers tend to approach retreat as a place to get something done. I cannot tell you how many times I have gone on retreat seriously intending to be on retreat but also secretly hoping that I would accomplish something—everything from writing thank you notes to getting books checked off my reading list, to finishing a major book project!

I’m hoping I can get two for the price of one—get a retreat and get something done. But it just doesn’t work that way; when we fool ourselves into attempting to be productive on retreat, we leave more exhausted than when we came. Even if we are able to set aside our obsession with productivity in the outer world, we might be tempted to watch ourselves while on retreat to see if anything is happening and to evaluate whether we are “making progress” spiritually. If this happens, we need to shut it down right away.

Dallas Willard offers this wisdom: Even lay down your ideas as to what solitude and silence are supposed to accomplish in your spiritual growth. You will discover incredibly good things. One is that you have a soul. Another, that God is near and the universe is brimming with goodness. Another, that others aren’t as bad as you often think. But don’t try to discover these or you won’t. You’ll just be busy and find more of your own business.

The cure for too-much-to-do is solitude and silence, for there you find you are safely more than what you do…You will know this finding of your soul and God is happening by an increased sense of who you are and a lessening of the feeling that you have to do this, that, or the other thing. That harassing, hovering feeling of “have to” largely comes from the vacuum in your soul, where you ought to be at home with your Father in his kingdom. As the vacuum is rightly filled, you will increasingly know that you do not have to do those things—not even those things you want to do.

Taken from Invitation to Retreat: The Gift and Necessity of Time Away with God by Ruth Haley Barton Copyright (c) 2018 by Ruth Haley Barton. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

The Pressures of Modern Life (Written Almost a Century Ago)

The problem we face today needs very little time for its statement. Our lives in a modern city grow too complex and overcrowded. Even the necessary obligations which we feel we must meet grow overnight, like Jack’s beanstalk, and before we know it we are bowed down with burdens, crushed under committees, strained, breathless, and hurried, panting through never-ending program of appointments. We are too busy to be good wives to our husbands, good homemakers, good companions of our children, good friends to our friends, and with no time at all to be friends to the friendless.

But if we withdraw from public engagements and interests, in order to spend quiet hours with the family, the guilty calls of citizenship whisper disquieting claims in our ears. Our children’s schools should receive our interest, the civic problems of our community need our attention, the wirier issues of the nation and of the world are heavy upon us.

Our professional status, our social obligations, our membership in this or that very important organization, put claims upon us. And in frantic fidelity we try to meet at least the necessary minimum of calls upon us.

But were weary and breathless. And we know and regret that our life is slipping away, with our having tasted so little of the peace and joy and serenity we are persuaded it should yield to a soul of wide caliber. The times for the deeps of the silences of the heart seem so few. And in guilty regret we must postpone till next week that deeper life of unshaken composure in the holy Presence, where we sincerely know our true home is, for this week is much too full.

Thomas Kelly, A Testament of Devotion, Harper & Bros., 1941.

Strategic Withdrawal

In her book Invitation to Retreat, Ruth Haley Barton shares some of the many insights she has had since she began intentionally taking intentional retreats to re-connect with God and her own desires. In this passage she contrasts the idea of “retreat” vs. “strategic withdrawal”:

When we hear the word retreat many of us think of the military use of the word, which refers to the tactic troops use when they are losing too much ground, when they are tired and ineffective, and when there have been too many casualties or the current strategy is not working.

When any of these scenarios are in play, the commander might instruct the troops to pull back and put some distance between themselves and the battle line. We often see this as a negative thing; however, military retreat can also be a wise tactic—an opportunity to rest the troops and tend to their wounds, to stop the enemy’s momentum, or to step back to get a panoramic view of what’s going and set new strategies.

In fact, the military is now using a more positive term—strategic withdrawal—to describe retreat, and I like it! Strategic withdrawal captures the more positive connotations of the word retreat, namely, that there are times when the better part of wisdom in combat is to withdraw for good reasons—which can apply to us as well.

Taken from Invitation to Retreat: The Gift and Necessity of Time Away with God by Ruth Haley Barton Copyright (c) 2018 by Ruth Haley Barton. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

See also Illustrations on SilenceSolitude