But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. Luke 5:16 NIV
I just returned from a three day solo retreat spent in a little log cabin located in a remote neck of the western Wisconsin woods. My purpose was to sequester myself away, free from modern amenities, media distractions and human interaction to seek the face of God. Years ago that was an annual practice of mine, looking forward to setting aside time apart from the hustle and bustle of the world, to still my soul and listen intently for the voice of God. Sad to say it had been a number of years since I made that a priority but thankfully my long overdue withdrawal to the wilderness more than met previous expectations.
Spending time in solitude, expressly to delight in God’s presence is a unique experience. It helps when a person can isolate themselves geographically in a nature scape removed from civilization. Cloistered in a simple one room cabin with a window to the wooded winter stillness of white and muted grays set against the wash of an azure sky, I could not help but sense that God must surely be in this place.
I was struck right from the outset how the utter simplicity and austerity of such a setting so readily strips the worldly traveler of every false dependence and diversion. “What, no internet or cell phone coverage?” No, only silence and the sounds of nature; and the sounds you create through the motion of everyday activity, all woven intricately with the golden threads of your prayer and worship.
For me, my most faithful companions in times alone with God are my pen, journal and Bible. I’ve found reading and pouring over the words of Scripture to be like the sun around which all my reflections and prayers and meditations and worship align their orbits. And then my journaling becomes a natural expression of their reflected light with which God illumines my soul.
It might be said that austerity brings clarity and I have found in such settings that God often poses clarifying questions for reflection and evaluation. Such questions bid the harried sojourner to slip his heavy knapsack to the ground and sit a spell, so as to take an inventory of its contents. Not everything we so dutifully carry has been placed there by God and He wants to once again remind us that “His yoke is easy and His burden is light.”
Here is a list of the clarifying questions I sensed Him bidding me to ask. They enabled me to leave my respite in the woods carrying a much lighter load than when I arrived.
1. When do I feel God’s pleasure? (ala Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire) When do I sense His presence and anointing, find myself being joyful, feeling fulfilled and useful for God’s purposes?
2. What things do I hate doing, have little grace for & find that they drain me? What do I sense God is not blessing or anointing in my life?
3. What things do I think I have heard God say to me in the past year? Scriptures, words, dreams and impressions I have received and I believe are from God?
4. What are the major needs I perceive out there in my world?
5. What do I have a burden for? Things I am concerned about, pray about and would like to do something about.
6. What questions do I have for God? What do I believe He is saying to me about them?
7. Having answered all these questions, upon review, what observations can I make? What might God be saying as a result of all this?
Time alone with God in a setting of solitude is of inestimable worth. Why, I am asking myself, do I not do it more? I can see why many saints through the centuries, like the desert fathers and mothers, hermits, ascetics, monks and anchorites were drawn to such isolated habitats. Obviously that is a special calling. It may not be a chosen lifestyle or a place where we daily live, but like a distant, favorite vacation spot, it is definitely a place that we want to make a point of visiting whenever we can.
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