Next week, I'll be heading out for a two-day personal prayer retreat.
I've only done this a few times in my life, but, this time around, I plan to be prepared for it.
In the past, I would simply show up at these retreat centers, and then be like, "Ok God, here I am. What do you want to show me?"
There's certainly nothing wrong with that. It's better than nothing. But for me, because there was so much to think and pray about, it would take a few hours to clear my head, let alone get focused.
Learning from my past mistakes, I've decided to get more intentional this time. I want next week's retreat to be the best yet.
While thinking this through, I decided to write this post on how to plan a personal prayer retreat.
But before we get specific about planning an effective prayer retreat, there are a few important things to keep in mind:
God wants to teach you about himself first
Connect with God simply because it's why you were created. Don't start with getting clarity on your life or finding answers to your problems. Knowing God and being in His presence can bring so much peace - even in the midst of the same confusion you had when you realized you needed the retreat in the first place.
The main purpose of a prayer retreat should be to get refreshed in your relationship with God. Even if you have to make a lot of big, stressful decisions, a retreat shouldn't leave you feeling more overwhelmed when you leave.
God has the outcome is in his hands
In all our planning, we must never forget that it is the Lord who makes our plans succeed. I was reminded yesterday in Proverbs 16 of this oft-neglected reality:
"The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord."
Keeping those key principles in mind, you can then get specific with planning your retreat. Here are 5 things to plan before you go, that will help your retreat be more successful.
How To Plan A Personal Prayer Retreat
1) Write Down Your Prayer Points
Make a list of some broad categories for prayer that come to mind. It could be categories like family life, ministry, business, personal growth, and relationships. In that list there are probably a few areas that jump out more than the others. If so, take only those with you on the retreat. After you've decided that, write out a brief paragraph that gets to the specifics of the categories you selected.
2) Schedule Specific Prayer Times
It may sound weird to schedule prayer times when the main reason you're going is to pray, but if you plan specific prayer slots into your schedule, it will keep you more focused. Take the prayer requests you jotted down in step one, and schedule them out in separate slots. Think about the times in the day when you are the most alert, and schedule those times for prayer alone. It could be 1 to 2 hour blocks of your time, depending on what else you're planning to do, but doing this will greatly help you make the most of your time.
3) Decide About Technology
There are different kinds of retreats. Writing retreats, planning retreats, and more. But on a prayer retreat, be honest about what you really need technologically speaking.
For next week's retreat, I'm planning to NOT bring my laptop or even my Kindle. I will have my phone on in case of emergencies, (and maybe if a song idea hits me) but other than that, I'll be pretty much off the grid. Even if you're used to reading your Bible on an iPad or some other tablet, I'd suggest you bring the old fashioned leather-bound Bible, just to lessen any potential distractions.... (cough)....Angry Birds.
4) Plan Your Reading
Based on your previously decided prayer points, prayerfully select 2 or 3 books to bring with you. My retreat will be focused on family life, and worship ministry - so I'm bringing one marriage book, one book on fatherhood, and one on worship/music ministry. Again, though it may seem obvious, don't forget your Bible. I plan on having my Bible with me in the mornings and especially during my prayer times.
5) Plan to Get A Little Exercise
Depending on the time of year and where you go, you should definitely think about getting out of your room or wherever you're staying, at least twice a day. My plan is to do a morning run, and an evening walk before dinner. Being outside is really good for reflection and prayer and it helps to simply change it up. Being in one spot the entire time, unless I have no choice, can get a little too monastic for me.
So get up, go on walk, change up the scenery - whatever you're able to do to get your blood flowing. And be in a continual state of prayer.
Those are just a few specifics to think about when planning your personal prayer retreat.
After you've factored in meals, workouts, prayer times, and reading times, you've basically filled up your day. I think the last thing I'd say is to make sure you get good a night's sleep each night. For me it's going to mean not being up late writing or recording. Resting well at night will help you physically, which really affects your ability to unplug and be with the Lord.
You may have some ideas too. If so let us know in the comments!
Here a some other helpful posts that relate to this topic:
- How Getting Outdoors Gives You A Creativity Boost (A recent nf post)
- Organizing A Day of Silence and Solitude (This is a 5 part series by Mark Driscoll)
- Three Simple Ways to Prepare for a Retreat (From Derek Griz's blog "Hobo Theology")