I don’t know about you, but daily prayer and Scripture reading don’t really do it for me—by which I mean they don’t constantly nurture my relationship with God. That’s not to say that they aren’t a valuable or even indispensable part of the life of a follower of Jesus.
It’s just that my most meaningful times of connection with God don’t take place in the midst of such daily rhythms.
I’ve always felt kind of guilty about this. I’ve never been very good at “daily quiet time,” yet the concept is the most common answer I’ve received in my life about how to nurture my relationship with God.
Earl Creps eased my guilt a bit, however, by pointing out several dilemmas with the traditional duo of daily prayer and Bible study in his book Off-Road Disciplines (p. xv):
- Scarcity: they aren’t practiced enough
- Practicality: they often operate in isolation from real life, like the national anthem before a ball game
- Performance: they aren’t easily correlated to ministry “success”— “unspiritual” people often accomplish a lot more than “more spiritual” people
- Character: there are lots of bad people who pray and read their Bibles rigorously yet remain unchanged
- Mission: there are lots of people committed to prayer and Scripture who have no concern for mission or even resist the changes it requires
Earl goes on to say that “on-road” practices of prayer and Scripture reading should be supplemented by other encounters with God that happen unexpectedly—“off-road” experiences. It’s these experiences that are often the formative ones for people.
Failure, for example, could be a legitimate “off-road discipline” to the extent it has the potential to be used by God to form our hearts to look more like the heart of Jesus.
For me, personal retreats are by far the most formative time for me spiritually—times when I break away for the purpose of doing nothing other than spending some time in reflection before God. I journal. I read Scripture. I pray. I prioritize a list of things to reflect on in God’s presence (that’s my type-A), and then reflect on as many of them as I have time.
I leave those times more in tune with God than I’ve ever left a morning quiet time. Certainly prayer and Scripture are involved, but in a different, “less rushed” way.
I’m not sure if retreating is an “off-road discipline” of the kind Earl describes. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s not, looking at the table of contents. But it is, for me, a way of getting off the road of life for a while for the sake reorienting myself to God.
Today was one of those days. Thanks to a fellow church planter friend, Les McDaniel, I discovered a Carmelite Retreat Center about 6 miles from my house. It sits on about 30 acres and has private rooms for prayer and reflection. I spent the better part of the day there today and it was awesome. If you live in the Dallas area, you should definitely check it out: www.mountcarmelcenter.org.
Today I was reminded by Paul’s Pastoral Letters (1/2 Timothy, Titus), and then through the words of Earl Creps, that “my best practice must be me.” In other words, the foundation of my leadership and ability to bless other people is my own personal spiritual formation.
As a result, I’ve recommitted myself to retreat like this on a monthly basis. My own spiritual vitality requires it, at least for now.
Maybe it’s not retreating for you. Maybe it is daily quiet time—that’s great. Maybe it’s something else. Maybe, like me for a long time, you haven’t yet discovered what it is.
What ways do you nurture your relationship with God?