Friday, May 29, 2009

Inner~View #66: Transforming Power of a Personal Prayer Retreat

Come Away with Me by Cynthia Hyle Bezek

Come Away with Me

Pray! Magazine's Guide to Prayer Retreats

by Cynthia Hyle Bezek

Cynthia Hyle Bezek

Phil Miglioratti interviewed Cynthia Hyle Bezek editor of Pray! Online ...

Phil ~ In the past, most retreat guides dealt with how to plan for a church group's annual get-away; a weekend filled with games and sports and activities. How is this guide different?

Cynthia ~ The retreats you’re talking about are usually intended for horizontal fellowship, so a church can have focused time to get to know one another better. And that’s great, and there’s a genuine need for that. However, if we need focused time to deepen our human relationships, how much more do we need focused time to deepen our most important relationship of all, our relationship with God? That’s what my book is about: taking intentional, extended time alone with God to nurture your relationship with Him.

Phil ~ Is a personal prayer retreat only for persons who have reached the burn-out stage in their ministry?

Cynthia ~ No. Personal prayer retreats are for all of us who want to enjoy personal, intimate connection with God. I think of my relationship with God in the same way I think of a marriage relationship. No marriage relationship will be deep if a husband and wife only communicate on the run or in the middle of the bustle of life. They need focused alone time to really hear each other and grow to know each others hearts. It’s like that with God. If we really want to know and enjoy Him, to hear His heart and to let Him care for ours, then we need to spend quality and quantity time with Him. I really don’t believe there’s a short cut.

Phil ~ What does it mean that a personal prayer retreat is a "gracious invitation"?

Cynthia ~ I called it that because I believe God longs to give us the gift of rest and refreshment and deep connection with Him. He won’t force us to enjoy Him, but He yearns for us to experience Him in ways that refresh us, re-create us, restore us, empower us, and fill us with His very Self.

Phil ~ Many of us who desperately need to retreat are afraid we could not sustain a weekend or a day or even an hour of praying ...

Cynthia ~ That’s a huge fear. And yet without exception, everyone I’ve encouraged and coached about taking a day (or more) with God has unanimously come back telling me how quickly the time passed, and how they had no idea they could spend that much time with God—and really enjoy it. Sometimes this fear comes from what I think is an incomplete view of prayer. Some folks think prayer is all about us talking to God, mostly telling Him our needs and requests. Well, I can do that for about 45 minutes and then I’m done. There’s only so much listing of requests I can do. But when you realize that prayer is about relationship—about talking and listening and sharing and celebrating and dreaming and rejoicing and resting and just being companionable—a whole new way of relating with God opens up and time with God just flies.

Phil ~ How might some of the methods you mentioned in your book help us spend an extended time in prayer?

Cynthia ~
  • Singing, listening to music—Worship songs and hymns give us words to express our love to God. Have you ever had the experience of finding a birthday card that expressed your feelings about a loved one better than you ever could? Songs can do that for us, helping us to express what’s truly in our hearts toward God but in words we may not have been able to come up with ourselves.
  • Writing or speaking prayers—For those of us who struggle with distractions, writing or speaking aloud our prayers can help. When we write or speak we force our thoughts to come out single file. These practices help us to find focus. Writing our prayers has the added benefit of providing us with a record of our conversations with God which is of great benefit down the road when we want to remember and reflect on where we’ve been and where God has brought us. On the other hand, speaking our prayers helps us to be more conversational and relational in our talks with God, something many of us could benefit from. In either case, I suggest that you pause for two or three minutes after you’ve written or said something to allow God’s Spirit to speak back to you.
  • Reading noted authors (current or classic) on prayer- I hesitated to make this suggestion because some people might be tempted to spend their entire time reading instead of connecting with God. So, having said that, yes, reading others as they talk about communicating with God can be helpful, but I encourage you to read just short amounts, maybe a chapter, or even less. In my view, the purpose of reading during a retreat is to get a thought or idea that will stimulate our own conversations with God. For example, I like to read Henri Nouwen. I might read a few paragraphs from him and then talk to God about something he said, like how God views the balance of my life in terms of alone time and time with others. Or I might read A. W. Tozer and talk to God about my hunger for Him. Or I might read an article that tells me about prayerwalking and then go out and take a prayer walk. But the idea of reading is to stimulate something in me that will respond to God in new ways. If we only read about prayer but do not pray, we have missed the objective.
  • Walking, dancing, kneeling—The Bible gives us examples of many different prayer postures, including these three and more. I enjoy experimenting with these during my alone times with God. For me it’s about involving my whole self in my prayer—my spirit, soul, and body. Something about lying prostrate before Him or yes, even dancing, opens me up to Him and makes me feel close to Him. I think He enjoys me losing my inhibitions and letting “all that is within me praise the Lord!”

Phil ~ Do you think some have expectations that are too high? We assume we must have a burning bush encounter with God or our retreat was a failure ...

Cynthia ~ That’s a great question. I think it depends on your expectations. If your expectation is to get an answer to a huge question, like should I move across the globe or marry this particular person, then you might be disappointed. If you expectation is to have God speak to you in skywriting, you might also be disappointed. But if you expect to relax with Him, draw near to Him and have Him draw near to you, allowing Him to do that however He chooses, then you will not be disappointed. I never have been. Sometimes my retreats have been powerful and dramatic, but far more often they’ve been “still small voice” times. Either way, I come away encouraged, having spent time with my Father who loves me so well and always knows just what I need and how to give it. I think the key is to let Him lead. You can go with your agenda if you like, but then, first thing when you get to your retreat, offer it to Him. Say something like, “Here’s what I’d like to do with You, Lord, but You know best. So will You lead this time and express Your love for me however You see fit?”

Phil ~ What suggestions would you give to an "I'm too busy - I'm not ready" pastor who might consider spending an hour or morning in prayer in their office or a nearby location?

Cynthia ~ I’d borrow from Bill Hybels and say “You’re too busy not to pray.” And I wouldn’t say that in order to produce guilt. The fact is, the busier we are, the more we need God’s wisdom, strength, and empowering. He did not make us to do ministry on our own steam. And on-the-run praying doesn’t provide all of God that pastors need to bring to the demanding situations they face in ministry every day. I really believe time away with God is a gracious invitation, a gift, a necessity—not a luxury. And I can’t prove this, but I think it is like a tithe. If I give God from the firstfruits of my time (even as I do from my income) He has always been faithful to make the rest spread as far as it needs to go. So bottom line, I’d challenge pastors to trust God, take the time, and see if He won’t make the rest of their time more fruitful than if they hadn’t set apart time to relax with and enjoy God.

Phil ~ The Pastors' Prayer Group I am involved with has taken several one-day retreats. Could that be a good way to get one's feet wet; going with a small group as a first step?

Cynthia ~ Absolutely. If people can get away with a group and have a great experience with God—one in which the time flies by and they never knew they could spend so much time so enjoyably with God—then they will gain confidence and tools they can use on their own personal retreats with God.

Phil ~ Cynthia, please write a prayer you hope everyone will pray you as they read along with you ...

Cynthia ~ I’d be glad to. Father, You know us so well. You know our need for deep, connected relationship. And You know our need for rest, refreshment, and restoration, especially in our busy, hectic lives. It’s so cool that You invite us to have these needs met in You. Would you please help us to accept Your most gracious invitation? Would You help us trust You for the time we need to deepen our conversations with You? And for each of my friends who reads this prayer and takes You up on Your offer, would You meet them deeply and surprise them with the delight and richness of “wasting time” with You? You are so kind to us, Lord. Help us to receive Your kindness and to be changed by it. In the name of Jesus who made our relationship with You possible, Amen.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this prayer I just read and you know you have prayed it for me - for all who read it. I sometimes do write my prayers but I will take your advice and take a short break after writing something to listen for God to communicate back to me. I like the thought. At times I have experienced that, like having a Bible verse come to mind and I stop to look it up and pray over it. I don't know why I do not do this more often. It will greatly help me to return to a fervency for the Lord and for extended prayer time.
Thank you.