Dear Grace Fellowship Church,
I want to give a quick report on my time last week and how God used it. I arrived at the Abbey of Gethsemani on Monday morning and returned home Thursday afternoon. When arriving, retreatants are given a private room with a bed, desk, chair, and bathroom. All meals are provided for you and two of the three dining rooms are designated as places of silence. So my room was silent, the meal areas were silent, the hallways are places of silence, and the library was, obviously, silent. It was all very silent. I unplugged from my phone and computer, only calling Andrea and the kids each evening before dinner or texting them a couple of times when I really missed them.
I spent my time primarily in prayer and reading, my prayers spilling over into cards of encouragement to many of you and my reading bleeding into ideas, reminders, planning, conviction, hopes and dreams, and sermon preparation. My journal got a good workout in the midst of it all. I read chapters in a few books and finished two books that I started during the retreat, one of which I cracked open around 10am and finished just after lunch. I don’t know that I’ve ever done that.
On Monday and Tuesday I took five mile hikes through the hills and valleys, the knobs and the hollows on the grounds west of the Abbey. I got lost both days, but with nowhere to be, it was a good feeling. On Monday I spent the first part of the hike confessing sin (out loud, as I never saw another soul in all my time hiking). As I was pouring out my heart to God, the wind picked up and a light snow began blowing through the trees, and all I could think about was the truth that though my sins are like scarlet, they will be white as snow. I continued to confess, but with fresh confidence and joy in the forgiveness of God in Christ. I came to the base of a ridge and could hear the wind blowing over the top of it. The trail led straight up that ridge, and as I came to the top, the wind and snow hit me with all their force. I walked the steadily climbing ridge, and when I reached the top of a knoll, I was filled with the thought that, in Christ, Sinai’s flames and the judgment for sin become pure snow, cleansing and redeeming us. I went further into the woods, and as the wind died down, large flakes of snow began to float through the trees and stick to the forest floor around me. I was filled with fresh wonder at the hope and promise of the gospel. It was a wonderful way to begin the week, and that confidence of God’s grace to me marked the remainder of my time. I continued to hold on to the promise of James 4:8: “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”
Tuesday’s walk brought conviction about my prayerlessness, prompted by God’s word applied in the book Praying for God’s Flock. I confess that prayerlessness to you all and ask for your forgiveness. God is gracious to forgive, as I pray you are, and I am filled with a renewed trust in and commitment to prayer. What can I do personally and what can we as a church do apart from reliance on the power of God? And what greater good can we do for one another than to consistently pray for one another? As I worked through the prayer cards you all gave me and wrote cards to many of you, I was filled with a love for our church – for you, the people of our church – and joy that God, not me is the one working his grace in each of us.
Wednesday felt like a day of sweet rest. Rest for my body and my mind and my soul. I didn’t get out in the woods that day, partly because it was so bitterly cold. Again, I prayed and read. And I fell asleep while reading. I do not take for granted the gift that this all is, and my prayer is that the gift of rest given to me by God and by you becomes a gift I can give to you as I am filled with new strength and new reliance on Christ as I serve our church.
On Thursday I took one final walk after breakfast, just after the sun had risen. I climbed a place called Cross Knob and walked just past it to see the sunrise. In that moment my heart was filled to overflowing. Joy and peace and spiritual strength felt like something I could almost touch with my hands. I smiled and said aloud, “I’m ready.” I knew deep in my soul that I was ready to come home. I was filled with love for God, love for my wife, love for my children, and love for our church. I had committed to stay through lunch, in part so I could catch up on some emails before arriving home, but I was itching to get back to the noise of life. I knew that God had done something in me I could never do on my own, and he had used the gift of silence and solitude to do it.
Brothers and sister, I can’t thank you enough for the way you have served me and my family through this retreat. Not only did I feel zero pushback from anyone regarding this time away, but many of you stepped in and blessed my wife and children in my absence. Thank you for that. Thank you for your prayers for my soul – God has heard them, and I pray that the fruit of these four days is tasted by Grace Fellowship Church in the days to come as we walk this journey of faith together. I am most grateful for the fresh wind blowing through my prayer life, but I am also excited about some of the thoughts and dreams that came to mind regarding our church. And surely there will be fruit of this time that I know nothing about.
As much as I thank you all, we all know that my wife and children are the ones who bore the greatest burden in this. I told many of you that the idea to go to the Abbey was in my mind, but it wasn’t until my wife, unprompted, suggested that I take the time away that I felt any peace about it. God was so gracious to answer your prayers and mine for her and the kids. From all accounts, it was a good week.
I came home, donuts in hand, to the same struggles and trials that I left behind. Our vacuum is still broken. The bulletin still needs to be printed on Sunday morning. People still need to be discipled. I didn’t get as far in planning the Genesis series as I had hoped. Our community is still filled with people who are hungry in body and soul. But if my calling in this life at this time is to serve Grace Fellowship Church in the mundane and the majestic, then I am filled full and ready to be a minster of God’s grace and peace to and alongside you all.
With Deep Gratitude and Love in Christ,
 If you’re curious, I read the chapters on silence and solitude in Don Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life and in Richard Foster’s Celebration of the Disciplines. I’m currently reading Lloyd Jones’ Preaching and Preachers, so I read a chapter in that. I read a bit in a Genesis Commentary by Allen P. Ross called Creation and Blessing. I began and completed Pray for God’s Flock by Brian Croft and Ryan Fullerton and the book I blazed through was Brennan Manning’s memoir, All Is Grace. For fun, I read a few chapters of The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection by Robert Farrar Capon.