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I promised not to leave you hanging! Here are some abridged entries from my journal from days 3-5 of my personal "retreat" week. This week produced so much spiritual fruit that I am continuing to benefit from! To God be the glory!
Day 3: (Monday, May 16)
All I can think of to start this journal off with today is I’m so glad I’m doing this! It is so true that when you put God first in your life—not just say he’s first put make him your first priority-- and eliminate the things that drown out His voice, He reveals Himself in all His glory! I’m only a few days in to this week long “challenge”, but God has revealed so much to me already and He is guiding me to find appropriate balance in my life and walk in His good, pleasing, and perfect will.
One of the things that never ceases to amaze me is how God will make connections between many different resources that I’m using at the same time. God never ceases to make connections between my multiple sources, and the things He reveals are always the Truths that I need in that very moment! I praise Him for His sovereignty!
I added Facebook back in in the afternoon hours today, as I planned to do. It felt good to get on and catch up on some things I missed, but I was reminded that it doesn’t satisfy my soul like my time actively seeking God does. It is a way of keeping in touch with family and friends as well as networking and meeting people with similar interests. But, it’s not soul food. As of right now, I plan to stick to the “No Facebook during the morning hours” rule. I can feel the “needing to be plugged in 24/7” mentality losing its stronghold on me slowly, but surely.
I haven’t added any TV back in yet except for YouTube videos on Biblical teachings. I intend for the guidelines around TV usage to be fairly like those for social media usage. TV usage is much less problematic for me than social media, but there are still certain shows that affect my mindset and pull me away from Christ. Those are the shows I need to abstain from completely. There are other shows I enjoy that don’t have that effect, but I found that my time was better spent doing other things today than turning on the TV, so I didn’t bother.
It is going to take some time to establish new routines and create new habits, but it is well worth it! I want to have the full armor of God on every single day, submit myself to Him, and resist the devil! I want to be spiritually strong so that I can fight the battle that goes on between my flesh and my spirit in a way that glorifies God. And, this challenge is helping me to do just that!
Day 4: (Tuesday, May 16)
Today was similar to yesterday, except for the fact that I added a ½ hour of TV back in today. It feels good to be able to enjoy entertainment (provided it isn’t in conflict with scripture) in an appropriate way. This challenge is changing my routines and the order in which I do things throughout the day. I used to wake up in the morning and look at Facebook first thing. Then, I would often get sucked in for so long that I’d wasted a good portion of my day. It was even to the point where I would be late getting places because I couldn’t get off social media. For a time, I did do a morning devotional before getting on Facebook, but I still spent most of the morning on Facebook. Now, I read a devotional while I eat my breakfast in the morning (as opposed to scrolling through my news feed) and, if I have extra time, I listen to a podcast, usually from the Desiring God website.
I used to also spend much of my evening on social media, sometimes trying to convince myself, for an hour or so, to get off and have my quiet time. I would often wait until I was so tired to have my quiet time that I didn’t get as much out of it as I could have. I was giving God my leftovers when He deserves my first fruits. Now, before hopping on social media or turning on the TV, I ask myself if there’s something directly related to my relationship with God that should be done first. That way, entertainment gets the leftovers, not God!
I also try to ask myself if there are any other tasks that should be completed before jumping into entertainment. Is my house a mess? Do I need to make any phone calls? Do I need to reach out to someone? Do I need to run an errand? These tasks have a lower priority than God, but they still have a much higher priority than entertainment! I am learning to be honest with myself instead of saying “I’m just getting online for a minute” when I know I intend to be on much longer than that and procrastinate the task at hand. I am by no means perfect at this, but I feel it is part of the balance that God is teaching me.
Day 5: (Wednesday, May 17)
One of the verses God has been using to speak to me this week is the memory verse for the week from the Bible study I am doing with my Bible study group. The study is called “Seeking Him” and the verse is Hosea 10:12: “Sow righteousness among yourselves. Reap the fruit of unfailing harvest and break up your unplowed ground, for it is time to seek the Lord until he comes and showers his righteousness on you.” That’s quite a challenge! At our Bible study meeting, we talked a lot about what it means to “break up our unplowed ground”. When a farmer breaks up unplowed ground, he’s preparing the soil to receive the seed and reap a good harvest. The process takes much time and effort. The same is true when breaking up the unplowed ground in our hearts. We must allow God to go deep into our hearts; to reveal things to us that we may have shoved to the back burner quite some time ago. This can be a painful process, but it’s impossible for us to receive all that God has for us if we don’t endure it. And, it is possible to endure it when we depend upon His strength.
I continue to be very grateful for all that God has revealed to me throughout this “challenge week” so far. So far, the habits I’ve created have been helpful, so I plan to continue them. My hope is that they will become even more ingrained in my routine and feel less foreign as time goes on. But, my mind has been racing so much less this week. My mind is going back to God as a “home base” rather than to worldly things. I want that to continue to be the case, so I know I must continue to intentionally make God the number one priority in my life every day.
Keep your eyes open for my next post, where I will discuss how I am continuing to reap the fruits of my "retreat" week! I hope you are enjoying this series as much as I am!
Part of my challenge to myself during my personal "retreat" week was to journal every day. I did this successfully for five days, and then I started to feel like I was repeating myself. Here are some pieces from my journal entries, sharing both victories and struggles, from days one and two.
Day 1 (Saturday, May 13)
After writing last night’s entry, I felt significantly less restless and God blessed me with peaceful, restful sleep. Granted, it was almost 3:00 in the morning by the time I got to sleep, but I slept well, nonetheless. I woke up this morning and, like I always do, I touched my phone to check the time. I then looked at the text messages that had come in since I’d been asleep and checked my e-mail, but gently reminded myself that I would not be using Facebook or Twitter today. I don’t like admitting how hard it is to not tap that Facebook icon! My hope is that this journey will make it easier, because my goal is for social media’s importance to decrease in my life.
At one point, I was doing short devotions in the morning, but this is something that I’ve drifted away from in the last month or so. I usually peruse Facebook while I eat my breakfast in the morning. So, this morning, I took out the devotional book I had been reading and read the devotional while I ate breakfast. I felt focused and peaceful. I then got myself ready for the day and then spent some time reading “You Are Free” by Rebekah Lyons, which I just started a couple days ago. I found much of what she was discussing completely in line with what I have been going through. It’s so amazing how God gives us so many resources, so many lifelines, when we take the time to listen to him!
In the afternoon, after I arrived home from a family gathering, I had to consciously chose something to do with my time other than engage in social media. I began a series on YouTube last night about Romans 8, so I decided to that back on for a bit and watch it. To my amazement, it was discussing exactly what I had written about last night—the raging battle between our flesh and our spirit as followers of Christ. It would have been so easy to put something mindless on TV, but I wouldn’t have gotten that nourishment and reassurance from God that I so desperately needed. He wants to speak Truth into our lives, He wants to encourage us in our walks and help us grow stronger so that we can fight the enemy. But, we must take the time to listen to His voice above all the worldly voices we hear daily. I wondered, how long has God been trying to reach out to me to validate this feeling? Although I was still having a daily quiet time with God, I have been putting other things before Him in my life. I may not want to admit that, but it’s the only explanation for my struggle to hear His voice.
Day 2 (Sunday, May 14)
My alarm went off at 7:30 this morning, letting me know it was time to get ready for church. Half asleep, I turned it off and knew my second alarm would go off 15 minutes later. It did, and I intended to get up in just a second. However, I accidentally fell back to sleep and didn’t wake up again until 9:00, which is when church starts. I had overslept and now I was missing church. I dislike missing church; it always seems to throw my whole week off. I enjoy starting my week off in fellowship with other believers and listening to my pastor give the Word. I was even more frustrated about missing church than usual today because this is supposed to be a “spiritual challenge” week for me. I felt very angry with myself. I was thinking: “You want to do all these things to get closer to God and you can’t even wake up in time for church. What a great start you’ve got going.” I even thought, briefly, “why even do this challenge this week now? I should just start over again when I get it right.”
But, I consciously challenged this thought process. Was this self-directed anger going to help me get closer to God? Was it productive in any way? Was throwing my challenge out the window going to glorify God? When I realized the answer to all these questions was a definitive no, I decided to change the way I was thinking about the situation. I mentioned yesterday that I have been reading the book “You Are Free”. God reminded me of a portion of the book that talks about how important it is for us to understand that God’s love for us is not based on performance. So, I asked myself: “Does God love me less because I missed church today?” Of course he doesn’t! In fact, he already knew I would miss church today, just like he knows every other mistake I have ever made and ever will make. So, I decided not to abandon my endeavors because of this error, but instead to work even harder to listen to voice of God and let him nourish me, encourage me, and even convict me. To speak His truth into my life and to break my heart for what breaks His!
I read an article last week about how the constant use of technology, and social media literally rewires our brains. It severely impacts our attention spans. Our brains become trained to grab our phone and receive digital stimulation every time there is the slightest lull in our day. We train ourselves to become mentally incapable of just sitting and not receiving stimulation, even for a very short period of time. There were countless times this afternoon where there would be a lull in conversation and my hand, almost as if by muscle memory, reached for my phone to check social media. Now that I’m home by myself, it is incredibly tempting to hop on and scroll for an hour or two…or more. I have convinced myself that it’s the only way to unwind and rest my mind. I do not want technology having that kind of stronghold over me! I am determined to retrain my brain, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to place social media at the correct priority level in my life, to use it appropriately, and to not let it be an idol. I do intend to allow myself to break the fast tomorrow, but I am going to adhere to the guideline I decided on yesterday: No social media in the morning hours. I also plan to cut down on the amount of time I spend using it in general.
Don't leave yourself hanging! Keep your eyes open for the next post to see my thoughts from days three, four, and five!
Last Friday evening, I had a powerful encounter with God. I finally admitted to myself that I had been feeling a constant battle between my flesh and my spirit and that something had to be done. I couldn't sleep until I wrote up this piece; even though it kept me up until 3 AM! I decided to wait to share it until after I had gone though the "retreat" in order to see what God revealed to me during that time. This is what I wrote that evening. I am working on streamlining my other journal entries and notes from the week so that I can create a post that shares the amazing ways I've grown spiritually as a result of this "retreat" or "challenge". Here's where it all started:
What does the word “retreat” mean anyway? The first thing I think of is to “get away”; to escape the distractions of everyday life and take time to focus on what really matters. It’s been about a week and a half since I’ve been feeling a strong battle between my flesh and my spirit. It has been harder to read the Bible and do my devotions. Looking back, I can see signs of it before that, but it wasn’t strong enough to be felt the way it is now. It has been harder to pray. I end up putting it off or doing it halfheartedly. My mind wanders. I get frustrated. When I get frustrated with myself, my focus is on myself rather than on God. I do my best to shift my focus back to God. I praise Him for being faithful, good, and powerful despite my negative emotions. My mind is racing; bouncing rapidly from one random thought to another. Things I need to do, things I should have done differently that day, memories ranging from the past few days to many years back. I struggle to pray. I struggle to sit still. I struggle to sleep.
As I realize this is happening day after day, I start to pray for guidance. Prayer is becoming more awkward. Harder for me to start and harder for me to sustain. I pray the same things I would typically pray, but feel I’m lacking my usual fervor. Where has my passion gone? I ask God to guide me back into a healthy prayer life. He brings me to Psalm 51. I start with a familiar verse: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit in me.” I meditate on this verse. I need to be cleaned, to be renewed. I read the whole psalm and find other deep prayer points. For God to have mercy on me and blot out my transgressions, to restore my joy, to grant me a willing spirit, and to help me then teach these things to people who don’t yet know Jesus and make disciples. That’s a pretty tall order all packed into one Psalm!
I write down these prayer points. I go back to them a few times on different days to get the prayer ball rolling. It helps, but I’m still feeling the battle. My spirit wanting to surrender to God and my flesh throwing a temper tantrum like a toddler, wanting to run off and do its own thing. I continue to read my Bible and do devotions, but it’s still a struggle. Granted, it would be a greater struggle if I wasn’t doing those things, but I don’t like this feeling of constant tug of war inside my body that seems to be growing stronger.
And now we’ve arrived at tonight. Friday night, May 13, 2017. I am again struck by the plague of procrastination when I should be reviewing my memory verses and reading my Bible passages for the day. I finally open my memory verses. Only 12 due today. I can do that. I actually do pretty well with them and thank God for his divine intervention in helping me memorize His word. However, despite my success, I don’t want to dig deeper. I can’t seem to bring myself to read my passages from my “Bible in a Year” plan for today. “Maybe I’m not supposed to do that today”, I thought. “Maybe I need to let God interrupt my routine.” I start praying, yet again, for God to break through to my flesh. I pray that He will reveal any unknown sin that is causing this struggle. I don’t know if that’s what’s causing the problem, but I know it’s a possibility. God gives me Psalm 139:14: “Search me, O God, and know my heart. Test me and know my anxious thoughts.” I mediate on this verse and pray for a while. I decide to read the whole Psalm. Like Psalm 51, I find many points of prayer and praise. I read the Psalm aloud, so thankful that God is better with words than I am. My eyes glance over to the next page and I see Psalm 142. I see the subtitle is “Comfort in Prayer”. I read that aloud too. I go back to my new “go-to”, Psalm, 51, and read that aloud as well. I praise God for these Psalms, rich in prayerful language.
After reading those three Psalms aloud, I again turn my focus back to listening for God’s voice. Is there unknown sin here? Do I need to do something different? What do I need to focus on? I find myself thinking: “I wish there was a retreat coming up; I need a recharge. I need to feel closer to God.” Then God spoke (not audibly, but it was almost an instantaneous response): You don’t necessarily need others to have a retreat. Nor do you necessarily have to remove yourself from your daily life to do so (although both things are great experiences and important to do as well). God said: “Create your own retreat”. For a minute or so, that seemed like too big of a concept to wrap my head around. How could I do that? I asked God: “What do I need to do for my retreat?” Within about five minutes, maybe less, I had my bulleted list written. At this point, I don’t know if the list will change at all throughout the week, but I’m anxious to see. God poured ideas into my head that all boil down to the concept of being intentional about making Him my number one priority.
It’s one thing to say God is number one in our lives, but it’s another for our actions to reflect those words. None of the actions God presented to me were unfamiliar, but some of them seemed like “extreme” versions of things I already do. I listen to Bible teachings, read Scripture, and read books aligned with Scripture, but, during my retreat, God wants me to replace the vast majority of my entertainment time with these things. Swap out secular TV shows for a Bible teaching or a Christian movie. Keep all recreational reading to Christian books. Severely limit time on social media and replace that, too, with something directly related to my Lord and Savior. Even take a couple days off from social media altogether. The fact that some of these things seem so challenging is concerning because it means I’m growing too attached to secular things. God tells us in Colossians to “Set our mind on things above, not on earthly things (Colossians 3:2).” He wants me to do that with extra intention this week. Now, this retreat feels like an invitation. Like God has invited me to spend a special week, just me and Him, focusing on him to the “extreme”. God doesn’t do anything without a purpose, so he must be inviting me on this retreat to reveal some special things to me. As I write this, some of the nervousness I’m feeling is being inched out by excitement about what God has in store for me this week.
While I believe we must always live intentionally and ultimately do everything for the glory of God and His Kingdom, I feel I should make it clear that this “extreme” (for lack of a better word) intentionality is meant to be periodic, not permanent. There are, absolutely, certain things we should always abstain from because they directly conflict the word of God. However, there are other things that we may need to be abstinent from for a season (the seasons will, inevitably, vary in length) to refocus our minds and our spirits, discipline our flesh, hear the voice of God more clearly, and grow closer to God. Then, God will reveal to us when (and sometimes if) we should partake in certain activities again, and to what extent. For example, it is a Biblical concept to fast from food for various lengths of time, but that certainly doesn’t mean we’re expected to never eat again! Instead, it is a short-term abstinence in which God often reveals special things to us.
This "retreat" will be different from what we often picture as a retreat experience because I will not be removed from my daily life throughout this week. I’ll still be following my daily routines except for the changes pointed out in my retreat guidelines. I plan to follow these guidelines for a week and see where God takes me from there. Yes, I’m nervous because I don’t like changing things up! But, I sure would like to see those prayer points from the aforementioned Psalms come to life and I want God to be my first love not just in words, but in my actions! So, here goes nothing!