Retreat won’t help

We love God, and every Sunday we become immersed in God and realize once again how great it would be to be immersed in the Holy Spirit 24/7. We regret having forgotten about him the countless times throughout the week. We’re filled with guilt, and we beat ourselves up to be better, and then we thank God for his love and mercy and grace. We swear to remember. We leave church will good intentions.

And then it fades.

We go through this week after week, year after year, and realize that we need to do something. So we decide to get away, re-align our lives, seek God, and go on a retreat. Some retreat to monasteries, some to small groups or small social bubbles, and others to the International House of Prayer or the Zadok House of Prayer. We want to learn to be better, but we need some time to do it.

The world won’t change for our retreating. All our running away and focusing on God while we’re distant from the world won’t really change us. It’s easy to focus on God 24/7 when you’ve got nothing else around. When you’re at church on Sunday morning, it all seems so simple. We won’t learn how to be in the world by living without it.

Kierkegaard claimed the church needs to be of the individual, because as an institution it had become corrupted. He said that we use the corporate church to escape responsibility and to spread around the burden. Kierkegaard suggested that we need to take responsibility as individuals and abandon this corrupted corporation. Much as I respect Kierkegaard, he was wrong.

This abandonment of the bridegroom won’t protect or help her. It won’t help us as individuals either. We can’t save the world by running from it.

We can’t avoid this life–we were born into it, as a fish is into water. We can’t retreat.

5 thoughts on “Retreat won’t help

  1. … seriously? Do you really think that retreats are about “abandonment of the bridegroom,” rather than about refocusing and recharging in order to become -more- effective? Because just about every bit of Christian history for the last 2000 years (you know, starting with Jesus) disagrees with that assessment.

    1. This stemmed from some notes I jotted down one morning, and I think my word choice was less specific than it ought to have been. I’m speaking rather generally.

      Let me try to clarify. I think, as Christians, or perhaps as humans, it is our inclination to retreat from challenges. I mean this word “retreat” in more the military sense of withdrawing from an engagement, and not “going to a camp for a weekend of relaxation and prayer.” Withdrawing temporarily can be of benefit, but I see a lot of people who are withdrawn permanently.

      These people reverse their lifestyle in trying to correct their nature. Where once they experienced God for a few hours one day a week, and quickly forgot about him the rest of the time, they swing the other direction and focus entirely on God by avoiding the rest of the world. Since the world is a temptation, they leave it. Every evening spent at church, with Christians as the only friends or companions allowed. Jobs in Christian businesses, shopping at Christian businesses, etc. I couldn’t say what the size of the population is that goes this far, but I can think of a number of people who fit the profile.

      When Jesus “retreated,” using the term as I believe you interpret it, he went and prayed for a bit and then returned to the great crowd of people following him. I think a lot of Christians retreat permanently. They attempt to leave the secular world behind.

      And I would argue that such actions are harmful to both the world and the Church. It opens up the line of questioning, “What is the true Church? The one that engages the world, or one that avoids it?” I recognize the wisdom of C.S. Lewis’s words when he said that we can’t tell whether a person is Christian or not; similarly, I can’t really define a “true” Church. But constant retreat doesn’t seem right to me.

      And while Kierkegaard would argue that constant retreat isn’t what he is advocating, I would disagree. He saw temptation even in the heart of the Church, in associating with the organized structure. Yes, there is temptation there, but I do not think we overcome temptation by running from it. That would be submitting to cowardice, or any number of other temptations. At some point, we have to stop retreating and face that which threatens, or challenges, or tempts us.

      Do I think that all retreats are about the abandonment of the bridegroom? I don’t think they all start out that way, but I have surely seen some that have reached that conclusion.

  2. I like what you’ve written here. Something that has been bothering me ever since I read The Trouble With Paris by Mark Sayers and Tim did the sermon series on consumerism is the way that our culture sets us up with unrealistic expectations. What’s really disturbing to me is the way that these unrealistic expectations can creep into our theology and mess with the way we view God and His promises to us. You’ve named what I think is the weakness of these ministries that specialize in “getting alone with God” in that they can lead a person to believe that they can really live in a sort of constant spiritual high. As though a person on this earth can become completely devoted and focused on God 24/7, and that this should be the goal of every Christian.

    Actually, it should be the goal of every Christian, according to 1Thessalonians 5:17, but I’m skeptical that we need to become monks or nuns that do nothing other than pray and contemplate scripture in order to do so, or in order for our devotion to have meaning to God and to the people around us. In fact Paul did not evangelize the Mediterranean world by abandoning normal life for a super-spiritual one. He often worked as a tent-maker. The thing that makes me want to one day plant a church instead of an IHOP (prayer, not pancakes) is that the para-church ministry of a monestary or a house of prayer is something that can only exist in a land that is abundantly filled with churches–churches that are filled with normal, “spiritually mediocre,” hard-working accountants, plumbers, computer technicians, doctors and lawyers and waiters and stay-at-home-moms and Wal-mart employees that pray and give and serve faithfully in spite of their constant struggles with sin, lack of faith, and general human weakness. Without churches there would be no way for an IHOP or a Monestary to exist. Who would produce babies to become monks? Who would lead a person to Christ so that they would want to pray for a living?

    That being said, God does seem to do some really amazing stuff when we step “away” from “the world” for a time to focus ourselves on Him exclusively. I have seen this fruit in the lives of my friends and co-laborers with Christ who are involved in those kind of ministries. Their lives shine light on my lack of personal devotion and inconsistent habits of prayer and study of Scripture, and their passion, focus, and enthusiasm about God and life and sincere love for neighbors is a testament to the work of the Holy Spirit in those ministries. Whatever the real or imagined lack of health in these organizations, God does use them powerfully for His Glory, perhaps if only as a prophetic voice to the church to remind us to focus on God first. Where a House of Prayer kind of ministry can be afforded, it seems to me to be a good investment.

    However, what seems ideal to me is not that every town have a House of Prayer, but that the House of Prayer and the local church become indistinguishable. That is to say that if the church in America were doing what the church was designed to do, then there wouldn’t be need for a para-church organization that specializes in teaching people to devote themselves to God in prayer. Like the missionary societies of the Victorian era or organizations like Young Life or campus ministries that arose to meet a need that churches were failing to meet, to me it seems ideal that a local church do all of these things. However, it could be the case that what I am talking about is actually happening through local churches, but there is only an illusion of separation due to the organizational challenges of integrating the unique focuses of the various para-church organizations into local congregations.

    Anyway, I agree that we’re not going to “get away” and in that retreat figure out how to live a holy life. Unless, like Jesus, we often withdraw, at the very least weekly in the context of a local church community, as well as to lonely places to pray. If Jesus had to get away, we probably will need to as well. In that para-church organizations like monasteries and IHOP provide a safe place for normal people to “get away” for a brief period of time in order to live whole lives devoted to God, they are quite a glorious blessing. I just wish that we didn’t need a para-church organization to do it. But apparently, we do.

  3. Luke 16:9 And Jesus went on to say, “And so I tell you: make friends for yourselves with worldly wealth, so that when it gives out, you will be welcomed in the eternal home.

    I feel my worship of God involves telling others that God is real, Jesus is LORD. Secondly it is trying to earn some money so I can help the poor. We’ll always have the poor, but that doesn’t mean they’ll always be starving to death.

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