Monday, April 7, 2014

We Retreated So We Could Advance (part 1)

The Time: this past weekend.
The Place: Cedar Springs Christian Retreat Center
The Reason: a prayer and planning session for our church.
The People: a small group of leaders from our church family.

Setting the Scene
Friday Night. We've picked our rooms for the night, gotten settled in and enjoyed a tasty hot meal together, and have now circled the wagons in the living room of the cozy A-frame cabin we've rented for the weekend. A fire crackles in the hearth of the massive fireplace, a fresh pot of aromatic coffee brews in the kitchen and the bowl of trail mix and chocolate circulates the room. Soft praise music plays in the background and our view from the window offers us entertainment as squirrels scamper across the lawn and further out a small pond is busy with the flurry of geese claiming territory. We wait expectantly for our leader, our pastor, to set the tone for this evenings discussion.

We are 4 couples who serve in various capacities of leadership in our church. We now gather at least quarterly for planning and prayer, encouragement and accountability, to each other and to the people we serve. This is our first overnight together and it will allow us an extended time of fellowship and relaxation as we review where we've been and look ahead to our future. I think we are all curious as to what this weekend really holds in store for us.

Our evening session is productive. We listen to an audio clip from an Andy Stanley program, about how we spend our time. It is both convicting and encouraging. We spend some time discussing this as a group and then paired up with our spouse, in the privacy of our rooms, spend time praying. We come back together a little while later, as a group, to move into a time of intentional, focused prayer.

I find myself feeling irritated and know instinctively that at some point this evening I've put my walls up. I do this when I am nervous, or worried about being vulnerable. I do this when my security feels threatened, even in the smallest measure. When I think someone or something might shake what little control I have, out of my hands, I tend to grip it even tighter. And it seldom ever really works. For I know there is very little that I truly have control over. Especially when I try to live my life centered in Gods Will. Those times when I determine to do my own thing, follow my own will instead of the One whom I gave my heart and soul to, are the times that the control I think I own, becomes even more slippery. Life always goes better when I allow His Will and His Control to rule and I just line up with it and rest in in.

But for the past little while, I've been slowly slipping back into old habits, unhealthy thought practices, and the outcome has become a hardening heart. It doesn't feel tender, but it does feel fragile. Hard hearts can shatter but a soft heart can bounce. I am lost in my thoughts and ticking off my list of grumbles and complaints instead of listening, really listening and praying along with, my brothers and sisters gathered here this warm spring evening.

As our prayer time continues, I shake myself mentally. I want to be a conscious part of this time together, not just a huddle on the couch lost in my own agenda. I struggle to shake the negative thoughts away, to push down the irritations, in favor of tuning in to the prayer warrior who is now fervently calling to God.

I hear him pray to bind the enemy. That those Satan would lay hold of to trick and distract, would be rendered powerless. In an instant I know this prayer is for me. I am one of those whom the enemy wishes to bring down. He's done it before and will gleefully do it again.

Is doing it.

For I have been struggling to keep my head above water, spiritually speaking, for weeks now. My prayer life has been full of fits and starts. I'll try to pray and just sputter. My worship time has felt forced and empty. My bible reading has felt automatic, not real. I've not been fully engaged and it's evident. I feel it. I see it.

As my brother in Christ continues to pray, he has no idea that one of the people he prays freedom for, is sitting right across the room from him. That's ok. I know it. God knows it. My husband must sense it for when we were alone together in our room I told him I felt like I sucked at prayer right now. He's heard this from me a time or two and he never panics. He just nods with patience because he's experienced it himself-- as I am thinking we all do from time to time-- and he knows this will pass. But when you are the one in the doldrums, it can feel scary and icky.

The prayers continue and again this man asks-- no, commands-- that Satan leave God's chosen alone. I feel something hot and brief flash across my heart and immediately, feel a release. It is quick and it is subtle but it is real. A warmth begins to seep throughout my body and the tension that has filled my joints begins to melt away, the walls around my heart come crashing down. Prayers begin to tumble from my lips. Silent prayers, filled with heart.

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