This is my very first blog post!! Can you believe it! Thanks to some friends who have tried really hard (over many years) helping this e-challenged pastor to start doing a blog! I have been in an e-fog, or so it seems, for a long, long time. Things are getting a little clearer now!
This first posting is a report on a trip last week to Durban (30 March to 3 April). I have sent this report to two email groups – to my ministry colleagues in the Vineyard, and to my community, family and friends (“prayer-partners” in the ministry that I do – often with my wife, Gill – on our trips to various places).
Gill and I were invited to lead a two-day silent retreat for Sam Kisten’s church (Chatsworth Vineyard). There were 23 people – 4 or 5 being from one or two other churches. It was held at the Marian Hill Retreat Center outside Pinetown, near Durban – a lovely place.
Marian Hill was started in the mid to late 1800s by an Austrian Catholic missionary-priest, as a mission to the Zulus. It evolved into a Trappist monastery – a silent order. It is now a sprawling development with many building, facilities and aspects of ministry, one of them being a large retreat center to serve the broader church. It is very well priced and well worth a visit for a personal or group retreat (I must learn to take some pics of these places so that I can include them here in my reports!!!)
It was a great honour and privilege for Gill and I to lead a silent retreat for a Vineyard church!! It was a first for all of the participants. We have different pictures/ideas that arise in our heads when we hear “silent retreat”. Anyway, it was not as you may think. We took the theme of “Introduction to Christian Retreat” and built meditation exercises around the key aspects of any classic Christian retreat: Solitude and Silence, Rest and Renewal, Meditation and Prayer. The purpose was to introduce the participants to the experience (first and foremost) and the understanding of authentic Christian retreat, so that they can then continue a journey – now with a clear frame of reference – of taking periodic personal retreats. And some of the leaders who are given to the “inner work” of the soul, can also use this experience and these materials to begin introducing others to retreat.
Each session had a brief verbal input with some practical exercises (entering into silence) and a meditation handout-sheet, which the participants worked with for 1 to 3 hours. Then we had times of feedback and sharing what God was saying and doing with those who wanted to share. We ended on the Friday with worship and breaking of bread – it was pregnant with God’s presence – tears and “God-stuff” flowing freely!! In fact, almost every sharing time ended in tears for some! It was evident that God did a deep work of bringing people to stillness, of some healing, peace, rest, instruction, calling, guidance, etc – they all in their own way testified to this. The beauty of this kind of experience is that people experience God for themselves as they work with the Word, with God in prayer, with their hearts and lives in the stillness of his presence.
On the Sunday I preached in the Chatsworth Vineyard. The worship was heavenly! It’s a healthy strong church. I felt God led me to preach on “A Call to Prayer – which is a call to the Desert, to Warfare, to Spiritual Growth”. I took a quote from Evagrios the Solitary (345-399 AD, a hermit in the Egyptian desert), who wrote 200 tacks on prayer. He began with, “First of all, pray for the gift of tears so that through sorrowing you may tame what is savage in your soul”. I find that profound, unnerving, terrorizingly true! I don’t know about you, but I know me, and there is a savage in me that needs to be tamed by God’s Spirit of Love. The word “sorrowing” is a favorite Greek word used by the Desert Fathers, penthos, which means a deep mourning for one’s true condition before God as a sinner, captured in “The Jesus Prayer” which they used incessantly: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Anyway, I spoke on Jesus’ baptism and his conferred identity from Father, “you are my Son, my Beloved”, which was immediately tested by the devil in the 40 days of fasting and prayer in the desert…. “if you are the Son of God, then….” When we truly begin to pray we enter a desert where demons manifest and test our identity as God’s beloved. This is how we learn to defeat evil by God’s Word and grow into our true identity as beloved children of the Father. I called people who wanted to respond by saying, “God, I want to get intentional about prayer in my life, and truly begin to seek your face”. Most of the church came up and knelt down, and many wept.
Pray for us, because Samuel kinda prophesied at the end of the retreat, and at his church on the Sunday, that God will use us to raise an army of people who know the spirituality of retreat & silence, of growth & character transformation. The whole area of Christian spirituality and spiritual growth has to be built into God’s people (especially the Vineyard!!) Here am I Lord, send me! So pray for us as we do more of this, and as I continue to write the book “Doing Spirituality”
And once again, this report is to say thanks for praying, because it makes all the difference – we cannot do this alone – we are an extension of you!