When the Spirit leads a retreat, the experiences you have are exactly what you need.
One thing I can say about missional living is that it can leave you kind of tired. Because it is so oriented about living in an intentional way, about being engaged and involved, it can inadvertently lead to a works oriented life-style. Let me explain.
We teach about our covenant relationship with God, in the tool we call the Covenant Triangle. Building on Ephesians 2:8-10, we teach that when we come to know God as Father through the grace. Faith in Jesus Christ helps us to understand that we have a new identity as God’s children. We are adopted into God’s royal family. What flows from our identity is the sort of obedience that brings glory to God. Obedient living flows from a firm sense of identity.
When we talk about missional living, a lot of times we emphasize the obedient living. We talk about serving others, about blessing neighbors and co-workers, about engaging with people and taking part in mission and ministry. We talk about it so much that it is easy to forget identity piece. It’s easy to get so busy with “God’s work” that we get so focused on doing what God wants us to do that we forget to be who God has made us to be.
God is more interested in who we are than in what we can do. And God orchestrated this retreat to remind us.
It’s kind of cool how God put it together. We rented the ECO Lodge in Fargo, Georgia, and I encouraged people to invite others. It would be free apart from everyone pitching in on the food. I was kind of hoping for an event like this that would connect us with some other folks – and really, how hard could it be? It was a couple of days on a long weekend at a beautiful place an hour and a half away with awesome people (if I do say so myself.)
I had some ideas for a theme, but then Kent and Kris shared something that had impressed them in a Bible Study about knowing our story with God. I’ve learned to pay attention to what God says to our leaders in times of prayer and study. Our story with God became our theme. It wasn’t what I’d planned. It was far better.
And a bunch of people were interested in coming. On top of that, we have this tool we use, call the Person of Peace – based on Jesus teaching in Luke 10 about looking for and recognizing persons of peace. And when you apply it, well, people are more likely to connect. And so, we were concerned we might not have enough room at the ECO Lodge – until the retreat got close. Then we started to hear the “no’s”.
Okay, I’ve been in ministry a long time. People saying “no” is part of it. We build relationships. We invest in people. We invite. And many people say “no”. But others come, connect, and join in. It’s part of the work. You work and trust God.
But everyone said no. Everyone. There were a list of people who were “unlikely to attend.” They all said no. There were those who were likely to attend. And they said, “No. Can’t make it.” Finally, there were the “slam-dunk-sure-fire-of-course-they’ll-come people who said…. “No, not this year.” Those who were coming were our core people and their families. Everyone at the retreat was hosting the retreat.
And I believe that’s how God wanted it. For that matter, I believe God arranged it that way. Because we needed to rest, to reflect, and to remember who we are – and who God is.
God is the one who has brought us into his family. He’s been with us in the past. He is able to do abundantly more than we ask or imagine. And he reminded us of this.
We took some time to remember who we were using the Covenant Triangle tool. My friend Nicholl pointed out that we often jump past the identity piece to the obedience piece. I think she’s right. It’s heretical to think that God needs us to do his work for him. But sometimes the business of our lives says we do. And God slows us down.
As part of that exercise, I sent everyone out on a prayer walk with a set of scriptures aimed at reminding us of God’s presence. To remember that he is with us, he has claimed us, and he will not “leave us of forsake us.” (Deuteronomy 31:8)
My friend, Kent, led us to reflect on our spiritual journeys using a resource called The Spiritual Graph. (We found it at the Perimeter Presbyterian Church website). We took some time and graphed our spiritual highs and lows over the course of our lives. The time of sharing that followed was powerful as story after story attested to God’s faithfulness, God’s love, God’s intervention, Gods grace, and God’s redemption. (I am deeply grateful my kids got to hear the stories.)
Finally, using the learning circle, we took some time in our last gathering to think on what God was saying to us using the Learning Circle. The turning points in the spiritual graph usually point to times when God is near. We call those times, “kairos moments.” What was God saying in those moments. Finally, I pointed out that the whole weekend was a “kairos moment”, a season of time when God was near at hand. What was God saying to us? What was he saying to our church?
We didn’t have time for sharing. Not to worry. We’ll be together again soon. But for me, I was reminded over and over again that the God who is able to do more than I can ask or imagine is with me and will not leave me or forsake me. Its as if God is saying to me, “Relax Jesse. I got this.”
I can rest in that.