A guide to retreat

June 28th, 2014

The house of my soul is too narrow for Thee to come in; let it bee enlarged by Thee. It is in ruins. Do Thou restore it. —Augustine

I have observed and practiced ministry for more than forty years and believe that persons in professional ministry today experience an agony of soul unlike that of any recent generation of Christian leaders. The need and opportunity for ministry multiplied, but the demands and expectations placed on ministry have grown exponentially. There was a time when the culture in this country seemed to anticipate the values and leadership embodied in the pastor and professional religious worker. That has all been changed and the current Christian worker is more like an alien in a foreign land or at least like a missionary in a mission station without adequate support.

In such an environment, pastors and other religious professionals in the church often experience disillusionment, disappointment, and depression. The contradiction between their value system, world view, and expectations and those of their environment takes a heavy toll on the satisfaction and effectiveness of ministry for many.

To sustain effective and satisfying ministry in such an environment requires an intentional effort to stay in touch with the "rivers of living water" (John 7:38) that refresh, renew, and sustain. Regular personal retreats are an important part of such an effort to keep our souls alive and healthy.

The care of the soul is a lifelong practice that is often relegated to second or even last place in our lives. We are so immersed in the demands of our noisy world that we can easily ignore the chronic emptiness deep within. That emptiness ranges from a dull ache on the edge of our awareness to a sharp pain calling all of our attention to itself. As Pascal has said, "Only God can fill a God-shaped emptiness." And only God can remove the ache of our soul.

Regular personal retreats are one effective way of creating space and time to receive God's healing for our brokenness, God's presence for our emptiness, God's companionship for our loneliness, and God's enabling strength for our ministry.

I spent the early years of my life on a farm in North Dakota. I fell in love with the prairies and with windmills. Our farm was surrounded with huge cottonwood trees that often sheltered our windmill from light breezes that would otherwise have turned it to face the wind and permitted it to do its assigned work of pumping water for the farm. When the breeze was too light to turn the huge fan into the wind, my father would climb the tall tower and physically turn the fan and tail of the windmill until it faced directly into the wind. Properly positioned, the slightest breeze was translated into life-giving water. Personal retreats can be a time of repositioning ourselves, a time of intentional turning toward God. I join Evelyn Underhill in believing that "the object of my life toward God is not ... any personal achievement or ecstasy at all but just to make one able to do this kind of work."

excerpt from: A Guide to Retreat for All God's Shepherds by Rueben P. Job. Copyright©1994 by Abingdon Press. Used with permission.

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