By Ps Lee Kok Wah
Come near to God and he will come near to you (James 4:8a, NIV).
It is natural for us to draw close to the person we love. Our vision of greater prayerfulness is for the purpose of coming nearer to God. This year, we are introducing several practices to facilitate growth in prayer. I highlight two such practices here.
In April and September, Prayer@CG Cluster meetings will replace the Church Prayer Meetings. Led by the respective CARE Group Overseers (CGOs) - namely Pastors Kok Wah, Wei-en, Keet Keong, Gift and Timothy, CGs will pray with their respective clusters, either on-site or online. The platforms for such meetings will be decided by the CGOs in consultation with the CG Leaders. We hope these two inter-CG prayer meetings will bring a fresh experience of corporate prayer to all the participants. Worshippers who wish to pray in this manner but who do not belong to any CG are welcome to join any cluster.
We intend to organize up to two half-day guided prayer retreats in the second half of 2023. The desired outcome is a growing intimacy with God. This is a subject that is being taught at the on-going Prayer Course (March 11, 18 & 25) by Ps Stanley Tay. A guided prayer retreat provides the opportunity to set aside holy time and carve out sacred space to practise some of the spiritual disciplines for such intimacy.
In addition to guided prayer retreats, there is also the personal spiritual retreat. Our church member and former pastoral staff Dr Tong Mee On, who is trained in Christian Spiritual Direction, shares the following insight.
“A personal spiritual retreat is time between you and God to place your mind, your heart, your soul and your life fully before him (to) listen for his direction, conviction, wisdom and insight. The aim of a spiritual retreat is to withdraw, to be with God. Instead of making demands on God (to do something), we allow God to shape us and become aware of how we are to live more fully in Christ.”
How may we plan a personal spiritual retreat? Dr Tong offers the following pointers.
1. Set apart uninterrupted time.
The duration may be a day or multiple days, but you must make the necessary arrangements to protect this time from distractions and from work.
2. Set your intention.
What are you hoping to receive from this time? Perhaps you want to experience rest or gain more clarity about something in your life. Perhaps you are discerning your vocational calling or a major life decision and wish to dialogue about that with God.
3. Settle into God's presence.
Once you begin your retreat, spend time simply settling in. Do something that helps you quieten your body and soul, and ease into the present moment. Take a leisurely walk or sit in stillness while doing deep breathing exercises. Allow yourself to become aware of God's presence. When you sense his nearness, dialogue with him about your feelings and expectations of this time. Ask him what he wants for you to receive during this time. Listen. Respond to any stirrings you receive from the Holy Spirit.
Let your awareness turn to the preceding week or month. How have you experienced God's presence? What has been life-giving? What has been life-draining? As you reflect, notice any desires of your soul that emerge.
5. Connect with God.
Connect with God through practices that help you engage with him and rest in his presence. (The practices introduced in The Prayer Course would be helpful).
6. Receive and Return.
Ponder what you received from God during your retreat. What do you want to leave behind? What do you want to bring back with you? There is no fixed way to do a spiritual retreat. Receive what has been given to you, trusting that whatever happens is nourishing you in the way God intends.
We have different spiritual temperaments or “sacred pathways” (Gary Thomas). Some may find prayer retreats more helpful than others for the purpose of developing intimacy with God. Like physical disciplines, all spiritual disciplines need practice. We are motivated by God’s love for us and our love for him.