Spiritual Focus Days
a guide to the first 24 hours
Following the Jesus’ Pattern
Jesus practiced the habit of retreat throughout his ministry (Luke 5:16). In the gospels we see a pattern that recurs often, Jesus going by himself to pray. Often the disciples are subsequently going out to find Jesus. Jesus had one extended retreat (40 days) recorded in the gospels (Luke 4:1). He used it to reflect on his identity and crystallize his purpose, define the appropriate use of his power, and fix in his mind the need for absolute obedience to what Scripture reveals of his Father’s will. Throughout his ministry, Jesus regularly used short spiritual retreats to:
- keep himself grounded in his mission
- Luke 4:42-44. When the crowds demanded that he stay and continue to minister to them, Jesus went into seclusion and then announced that his purpose was to preach in other cities as well.
- reflect on what was happening around him
- John 6:14-15, 26-36. In this account, the crowds misinterpreted what the signs of Jesus’ ministry meant. After seclusion, he came back to the crowds and corrected them.
- make key leadership decisions
- Luke 6:12-13. He chose the twelve apostles after a night of solitary prayer.
- prepare for next phase of his leadership
- for example, key points such as the beginning of his ministry when the Spirit took him alone into the wilderness and at the end of his earthly ministry in the Garden.
- meditate on God’s word
Based on Jesus’ use of retreat time, there is great value for us doing retreats as well. I pray, study, listen, meditate and reflect as a regular practice, but setting aside an extended period of time for a more intensive encounter alone with God provides an incredibly rich grounding for growth and direction. Look again at the list of what Jesus used his retreats for.
Over 5 days, Friday, Sept. 11 to Tuesday, Sept. 15 we are sharpening our spiritual focus. Even in the midst of all the legitimate demands present in our lives we simply must make the space to elevate our spiritual health as priority over everything else. Jesus put it this way, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” Stop here, and reread that considering which name Jesus would replace with your name. If it is “Mary” this will all come very natural and easy for you. If it is “Martha” you have the opportunity to hear Jesus calling to you and you can respond to his invitation.
Friday and Saturday: Personal preparation (on your own)
Sunday: Worship Service 10am
Ministry and Teaching 4pm (childcare provided)
Monday and Tuesday:
Ministry and Teaching 7pm (at the church)
I am suggesting you engage in this part over 24 hours spread sometime between Friday and Saturday. You may want to begin Friday at 6pm and focus until Saturday at 6pm. Or maybe begin Saturday morning and run right through until Sunday morning. When you do it is not the important part. Rather, that you do it. I plan to begin Friday noon and go through to Saturday noon. That timing gives me the most flexibility within the 24 hours.
What follows is how I will structure the 24 hours. There are 5 specific exercises planned during the 24 hours. Each one requiring about 20 minutes of uninterrupted time.
Friday 12pm – Fast begins (water only)
Read and Pray – Psalm 119
I read it as a method of “washing” my mind and emotions with the word. During this time I also have a paper and pen nearby. As I spend the time to simply read and hear the Word my mind starts reminding me of all the other things I need to do still. So, I write them down so at noon on Saturday I can do them. I don’t read the Psalm for comprehension or insight. Rather, it is like getting warmed up. When you play sports you often begin by changing into the proper gear and warming your muscles up. That is what I am doing as I read through Psalm 119.
TO DO LIST:
Exercise #1 – Reflection, Repentance, Forgiveness
Acts 3:19 says, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you- even Jesus.” This verse defines both my goal in this time and the process by which to accomplish it. The goal is “times of refreshing” and a drawing closer to Jesus. The process is to “repent….and turn to God”.
Again, with paper and pen in hand I ask Jesus to identify all things that need to be “wiped out”. Many I already know – it is kind of silly to wait for Jesus to call them out. So, I just start writing them down in whatever detail seems necessary. As I do, other sins come to mind and I add them to the list. As much as we may not like this part I have come to see how this may be Jesus’ most favourite activity in our relationship with him. How much joy does He experience as we give him the sin that destroys us and he takes that sin and destroys it!
I continue on the list, sometimes shorter, sometimes longer. And I also move into asking about relationships wherein I need to extend forgiveness. I write these down as well. Some of these are very easy and others very difficult. The process (emotions) of forgiveness can sometimes take a very long time. However, the decision to forgive is where it begins. And so I make the decision regardless of how I am feeling. (There are times where I have not been prepared to forgive someone and rather than pretend to choose to forgive them I ask God to lead me to a place where I can do that genuinely. And, God does it J)
If distractions start creeping in I return back to Psalm 119. Keep warming up with the Scripture! There comes a point in this process where I feel a “lightness”. At that point I simply thank Jesus for his goodness in forgiveness. Time to move on!
With the sin “wiped away” I find I have a much clearer picture of God in my mind and in my spirit. I will end this time by asking Jesus if there is any other specific action he would like me to take in regard to repentance and forgiveness. That is, do I need to go and make anything right. If so, I write down what he says. If that task can be done right away, do it. If not, schedule it.
Finally, ask Jesus what else is on his agenda for the remaining 23 hours and 40 minutes. Again, I write that down.
Friday 1pm –
Spend some time to determine a Scripture verse I am going to gnaw on for the next 23 hours. Many times it is something that has come up in the first exercise, or another verse I have been thinking about. How long or short it is doesn’t matter. After identifying something I write it down on a piece of paper or 3×5 card. I begin to memorize it. For the next 23 hours every time I am tempted to check Facebook, or email, or have a snack I pull this paper out and chew over it first! If I am fasting media I chew on the verse until the media craving goes away. Same goes for food.
SCRIPTURE VERSE FOR GNAWING ON:
Friday afternoon –
Proceed with the normal tasks at hand.
Exercise #2 – Encouragement
Who can I encourage? And How? This part is usually very fun. Although sometimes I am pretty sure God uses it as a test for me to see how I really felt about those who I may have forgiven earlier on. However, encouragement is really just giving, and giving is central to the heart of God. This is not something to try and combine with some other activity. This is deliberate and attentive time with God. I turn off music and everything else. I begin by clearing my head of whatever else I was working on. Paper and pen handy I add to the “to do” list all the things the enemy wants to distract me with.
Then, I ask God, “who?” Who would you like to encourage through me? Keep in mind, there may be people in your network in which you are the only point of access for God. So, ask God, and start writing down the names. Usually there are 2 or 3 names that God brings to mind. They may be surprisingly close relationships (spouse or child) or surprisingly distant. I don’t worry about the nature of the relationship I have to the person God identifies. Just go with it.
After asking, “Who?” I ask “How?” I will most likely do this exercise at my desk at work (generally where I am on Friday afternoons). I have a pile of cards in my desk that I can easily access as it seems God often directs me to write an encouraging note. God sometimes directs me to make a phone call, or email instead. Or, he goes right off the page and directs some kind of other method.
I kind of expect it will be a card, so that is what I will be ready for. (If you happen to get a homemade painting or a dancing telegram you will know what happened!J)
Then, I ask, “What?” and I listen to how God directs. Sometimes a part of a Scripture verse will enter my mind and I will go and dig that up. It may be that there is a particular event or accomplishment the person has done that God wants to address, or a particular character trait to acknowledge. I don’t know – God does! Ask him.
I will take the necessary time to start and finish whatever action in encouragement God directs.
Friday suppertime –
Even when fasting I often choose to sit at the table during mealtimes. If the children notice, we may talk about it. If not, we just continue on. I like being at the table with my family and during a 24 hr fast the temptation toward the food is usually manageable.
Friday night –
Exercise #3 – Reminders
One of my favourite exercises. Don’t wait until it’s too late in the evening and don’t underestimate the discipline it will take even though the task seems easy. Be careful too, where you do this because telephones, crying babies, whatever happens to come on TV etc. will take you out if you go in unprepared.
Pick a good story or a new story and read it through. Last time I did this I read Abraham’s story (Genesis 12-25). It took me a little longer than 20 minutes. This time I have decided to read the end of Paul’s story (Acts 20 – 28). I know it has people falling out of windows, shipwrecks, and snakes. Sounds exciting! I will sit and read it through all at one time. It reminds me I am part of a bigger story!
Before starting I again take some time to clear my mind of everything else. Paper and pen are close at hand. I also remind myself of the incredible value or what I am holding. I thank God for the Bible and make sure I am approaching it properly – the living and active word of God.
I pray asking God to open my eyes to new ideas and details. I ask God to clear my previous thoughts and impressions and bring me into a new experience of him telling me the story.
Then I read it through.
After reading it I will spend time thinking about and will ask Jesus the following questions:
What do you want me to leave with from this story?
How would I have reacted to ___(part of the story)_____________?
And, one of my favorite questions;
Jesus, what were you thinking while this was happening?
I am a pen and paper person. I write everything down.
Some great story options:
Nehemiah (whole book) Ruth (whole book) 1 and 2 Kings (any of it)
Esther (whole book) Genesis 37-50
(I will do these two together and avoid the breakfast table)
Exercise #4 Relationship
I found this little picture with the accompanying exercise recently. I never did it at the time and I remembered it as I was preparing my 24 hours. I am going to sit with the picture and write/draw on it whatever God tells me concerning the state of my relationship with him. I am a pretty visual person so this kind of thing works well for me. The goal is to be quiet and still long enough to hear God speak to me specifically about the state of our relationship.
Exercise #5 Direction
In response to hearing God’s view of our relationship I will ask God what/where I should focus. I will have a blank piece of paper ready and start to write/draw. I am not content with just knowing what God wants but also how I should pursue that direction. Is it a book, or a relationship, or learning a new discipline or skill.
By this point I am also getting hungry so I use that motivation to look ahead and think/dream about what I am spiritually hungry for. I write all that stuff down.
I don’t normally keep all the stuff I have written down. Sometimes I will keep parts of it if there is something I want to remember or save for some other reason.
My goal is not research it is growing the relationship with Jesus. The important stuff always sticks out – same as in any other relationship. The writing part just helps me to stay focused. I guess you could consider my form of eye contact when in conversation with Jesus. It works well for me. You may need to find your own way.
If you don’t have some sort of plan in your approach you will tend to spend 24 hours hungry – and that may be about it. Perhaps, just doing the exercises requires enough discipline for you without doing any fasting. Make a decision what is going to be of most benefit to you and then stick with your decision.
One other way that I recharge and refocus is to spend some time by myself, either walking outdoors or having a coffee alone at Starbucks. Sitting alone in a room at home or at work is not the same. So, I will also include some kind of individual activity. In a 24 time frame that probably equates to less than 1 hour in addition to everything else.
During the 24 hours I will also turn off other media and listen exclusively to Christian music/podcasts.
Add whatever components fit you. Key word “add”. The priorities are;
- Time for repentance/forgiveness
- Time in the word – I will be sure to read all of Psalm 119, my Acts story section, regular reading of psalms and proverbs (at least a chapter a day).
- Exercises where I listen to God – getting quiet and still enough to do that well
Anything else is added after these are accomplished.
24To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— 25 to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen. Jude 1