As part of my Pastoral Leadership training at Carey Baptist College, I recently attended a Spiritual Retreat for just over 2 days.
Apart from the opportunity to spend some time with fellow Pastoral Leadership students in uninterrupted fellowship for a few days, the retreat gave me an opportunity to stop, set aside all cares, concerns, and work, and tune into the Spirit for a concentrated period of time.
For so many years now, I’ve had a sense that my relationship with God has tended to be quite dry and cerebral. At various times during my studies at Carey, I’ve seen glimpses of improvement – little flashes of ‘what could be’. But overall, the major shift has yet to take place.
By nature, I’m an achiever. I feel immense pressure (self-inflicted) to perform in everything I do. I don’t enjoy being mediocre and strive to ensure this doesn’t happen. However, in some areas of my life, this is quite damaging. A combination of ‘events’ in recent weeks have shown me that one such area is my relationship with God.
In week 6 of my Spiritual Leadership class, I read a chapter from Timothy Geoffrion’s book, “The Spirit-Led Leader”, entitled ‘Connecting to God’. The first sentence reads, “The spiritual life is above all about the quality of our connection to God.” Tell me something I don’t know. This felt like a lead weight on my shoulders… the quality of my connection to God hasn’t been much to write home about.
For years I have strived to improve my relationship with God, and reading this chapter began a transformation for me. Geoffrion says, “…we need to recognise that God is taking the initiative to help us develop a more vital spiritual life.” Stop press!! That line was like a drink of cold water on a baking hot day.
More nuggets of gold from Geoffrion included:
“A prime reason we get stuck spiritually is that we mistakenly think our spiritual growth depends primarily on us.”
“God is actually taking the initiative to help us grow closer to Him.”
“Taking responsibility for our spiritual growth does not mean trying harder on our own. It means giving our conscious attention to what God is doing and wants to do in our life, and then responding accordingly.”
Reading this had something of an epiphany-effect on me. But it was just the beginning.
I believe God gave me two pictures while on spiritual retreat.
- The Water Skier
We enjoyed over 2 hours of complete silence and solitude on Monday morning, in which we were invited to read, walk, sleep, or whatever silent activity we liked. I chose to sit on one of the huge, comfy couches and read Richard Foster’s chapter on ‘Solitude’. Having finished this, I gazed out the window for more than an hour, across the Hauraki Gulf towards Rangitoto Island. It was then that God gave me my first picture.
As I looked at Rangitoto, I sensed God saying that the island represented my own concept of my relationship with Him – a far off place to get to. I have been treating my relationship with God as a goal, something to be achieved and attained.
As I sat thinking about this, I had a picture of myself on a water ski, skipping along the top of the water, frantically trying to get to the island. And I sensed God saying, “You’re so bent on ‘getting to Me’ that you’re missing the richness and joy I have planned for you.”
As He said this, I recalled a holiday Suzanna and I took to Fiji in 2008. One day I went snorkelling out off the coast of Mana Island and was astonished at the incredible life under the water – fish of every colour, size and shape. It was such a beautiful experience then, and I feel God brought it back to me in the context of what He wanted to say to me at the retreat.
“You’re skimming along the top of the water, trying to get to the island. All this time, underneath you, there is a vibrant beauty that I’ve designed for you to enjoy, and you’re missing it. Every now and then, as one or two of the fish swim close to the surface, you get a glimpse, but almost immediately, you look back up and focus on the ‘goal’.
I long for you to get off your water ski and dive deep into the water. Let ME take care of your destination – I know the way and I’ll make sure you get there. But you have to trust Me with that. In the meantime, I want you to stop striving, slow down, and just enjoy Me.”
Phew! Such an incredible experience to hear from God like that. And throughout the retreat, I had the words of John Piper ringing in my ears, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”
Enjoy God. Slow down. Dive deep. For me, the relief is difficult to describe. And it has flowed over into the way I’m approaching life in general – assignments particularly!
- The Safe
During afternoon prayers later on Monday, I was sitting in silence with my eyes closed. I ‘saw’ a small steel safe, the walls of which were several inches thick, and it had 3-4 combination dials on the door. I was sitting at this safe, frantically twirling the dials and trying to work out the combinations. It became clear that God was in the safe and I was in a state of panic, trying to get to him… trying every possible combination I could think of.
As I sat with this picture, it changed. Suddenly it was me inside the safe, and God sitting with His hands poised at each dial. I felt He was saying, “When you are prepared to stop forcing this, I will bring you to Me – I know the combinations. But you need to trust Me with this.”
In practical terms, this experience has altered the way I approach my relationship with God – as you’d expect it would! Instead of feeling that I need to maintain a regimented daily ‘block of time’, as important as this can be, I’m instead trying to tune into God throughout the day – listening to what He is saying through the everyday happenings of my life, and responding continually to Him.
“When we read the Bible or enjoy a delightful conversation with a friend, and when our thoughts turn to God in praise, remorse, a desire to know more, or intercession for someone, we are responding to God’s Spirit gently, or not so gently, calling to us to turn our hearts and minds heavenward.”
In reality, I am permanently connected to God because of what Jesus has done and nothing in heaven or earth will ever separate me. What I have been missing is the close, intimate experience of that connection. All because I was trying to earn and achieve something that already is, and always will be mine.
 Timothy Geoffrion The Spirit-Led Leader: Nine Leadership Principles and Soul Practices (Vancouver: The Alban Institute, 2005) 41
 Ibid., 43
 Ibid., 44
 Ibid., 45 (Geoffrion quotes Episcopal priest and author Martin Smith)