Bi-annual prayer getaways
“If the ax is dull and its edge unsharpened, more strength is needed but skill will bring success.” Ecclesiastes 10:10
Over a decade ago a pastor challenged a room of us young Navigator staff to get at least a day or two away with the Lord a few times per year.
He said that in all his years of suggesting this to people in ministry that folks always say something like “Man, that’s a great idea. I really want to start doing that.” But, he also said that in all those years, he literally only knew of one person who ever took him up on it and made regular prayer getaways a part of their annual schedule.
It turns out that “one person” was one of my closest friends. So, that year I resolved that I too would start planning these times into my schedule and ask my friend to check in with me to make sure I was regularly scheduling these times into my year.
We know each other well enough, and these getaways are significant enough for each of us that without even asking, we can often tell if the other person has been neglecting their extended times away!
Nothing can substitute for my daily times in prayer, and my weekly extended times in prayer that I must vigilantly guard. But, I’ve also found that over the years, establishing the habit of incorporating bi-annual prayer getaways into my ministry has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
My getaways are usually over Christmas break and in the summer.
It seems over the last ten years that I’ve been doing these getaways, the Lord almost always meets me in significant ways. And I can easily say that every major life decision or new direction for ministry has been significantly shaped during these times away.
I try to also make it possible for my wife Susan to get away for the same purpose once or twice a year.
Before I leave, I always ask at least a handful of friends (and usually my e-mail list of prayer team too) to be praying that my time would be profitable. I also ask them to pray for my attention span. I tend to be easily distracted, so the ability to focus is essential.
Though they look somewhat different every time, here is a list of 12 things that I typically always do:
Similar to when I’m gone for any overnight trips, I try to make a deposit in the relational bank with Susan and the kids by getting more time with them than usual the few days before I’m getting away.
This isn’t always possible and is always hard to do as I’m also trying to get ahead on other work related tasks. But, I find that if I’m able it’s really worth it as it keeps us from going far into relational deficit as a result of me being gone for a few days.
Pick a place
I almost always get away to a friend’s guest house or just Priceline a cheap hotel at a local place.
I have tried camping, which may be great for some, but just required too much prep and provided too many opportunities for distraction for me.
Make an outline
On day one, I’ll spend about an hour committing this time to the Lord and drawing up a basic outline for my time away.
I often have specific things going on with work that I want to pray through.
So, while the times away are fairly unstructured, I’ve found that a basic outline of what I’m hoping to focus on is helpful to keep me on track.
Save for later
I grab a piece of paper or create a note on my phone that is my “get this done when I get home—don’t spend time working on or thinking about it on this getaway” list. This really helps with my attention span and keeping me focused.
After that the next order of business is almost always a nap!
I know, it doesn’t sound very spiritual, but usually I run pretty hard throughout the semesters.
With the combination of leading a big ministry and staff team, Susan’s health challenges, and the extra energy demanded of me with four kids at home, I find that a two to three hour nap really helps me to enter in to my time more fresh and focused.
Get in the Word
I’ll spend a few hours reading the Word and reviewing a big chunk of my Scripture memory verses.
Each of those verses are like old friends. They are either instructive, or promises that the Lord has given over the years.
It’s great for me to refocus and to be reminded of key verses that the Lord has used to speak to me and shape my life and ministry.
I am always particularly encouraged by my verses in the Psalms and Proverbs.
Sometimes I fast during these getaways, so time is maximized and I don’t have to worry about getting food.
The discipline of fasting obviously also has its value if I sense the Lord asking me to fast during some or all of this time. More times than not though, I do not fast on these prayer getaways.
For some, fasting would be very beneficial for a getaway such as this. For me, I tend to be a pretty grumpy faster! I spend much of my time irritable and thinking about the food I’m not eating!
I want the tone of these times to be refreshing and enjoyable and I find that the times are more enjoyable and impactful for me if I fast at some time other than my getaways.
Otherwise, I usually just order a few pizzas and put them on ice in the sink and eat those throughout my time away.
Read old journals
I’ll often spend time looking through old journals.
This seems to help orient me in a lot of ways and remind me of God’s goodness and provision.
It also seems to help me with perceiving what the Lord’s doing in me and how He’s been growing me, as well as trends that I see in sin patterns or fear, worry, etc.
This leads me to a real place of thanksgiving and gratitude as well as keeps me from worrying about the future.
I try to turn off my phone and refrain from checking e-mail or turning on the TV while I’m away.
That being said, I will occasionally plan on catching one key game that I’ve been wanting to watch as I usually don’t have time to do so while at home.
After the game, part of the first night includes me trying to quiet my heart and mind and posture myself as a listener.
Like Samuel did, I’ll pray,
“speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”
I’ll then pray through Psalm 139:23,24,
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
I spend time asking the Lord to reveal any ways that I’ve hardened my heart to Him or things that I’m holding on to that I’m not honoring Him with or not letting Him speak to in my life.
By the second day, I’m much more focused and in the zone.
I don’t set an alarm, rather just wake up when I feel rested. Then, I start working through my outline of what I’m wanting to pray about.
If I get distracted, I’ll take off and go for a prayer walk to switch things up and to get me back on track.
Though I have my goals for my time that I want to cover, my overarching goal of my time away is to be with Jesus.
So, whatever it takes to do that, I focus on communing with and enjoying the Lord.
Listen to the Word
I like to take some time to listen to the Scriptures for a few hours too.
I’ve got the Bible in audio form on my phone and I like to try to listen through some of the Epistles, minor prophets or the Psalms. (No particular reason I pick those—just seems like those are what I usually end up listening to.)
By covering a lot of Scripture, I find that it gives me a bigger bird’s eye view of the Word.
Day to day in my normal life, I can get stuck in one book of the Bible sometimes for months at a time. That’s great for going deep, but occasionally it’s good to step back and take a more comprehensive stroll through several books of the Bible.
Invite someone to pray with me
Occasionally, I’ll plan on praying together with a friend for an hour or so over the phone during my time.
If I’m getting away for more than two days, I sometimes invite a friend or student to meet me at the hotel and pray with me for an hour or two.
Wrapping it up
The rest of the time is then spent praying, journaling, reading the Word, and going through my Scripture memory verses again.
I will sometimes add an extra day, or ask for a late checkout that last morning and spend several hours praying and planning through ministry related items.
I’ll also assess how my relationship with Susan and each of the kids is going and ask the Lord to give me insights into their needs and how I can love and shepherd them well.
And that’s pretty much it.
Again, they vary from one getaway to another based on what the Lord’s doing in me, but those are some things that are usually a part of my time away.
It’s always costly to put another time away into my schedule, but I’ve found that it’s far more costly not to keep in my life these bi-annual times away with the Lord!
I hope that you will make the time to incorporate a few personal getaways into your schedule too.