Take a Personal Retreat (Part 1)

Since I am not preaching at Calvary March 8 and 15th, I am posting an article in two parts that discusses a practice of mine related to my ministry of the Word.  I take a personal prayer and planning retreat 3-4 times a year.  It is one of the best things I do for my ministry.  I hope that our church family and anyone in ministry will benefit from reading this article I wrote.  It was published in Today’s Christian Preacher a couple of years ago.   Part 2 will be posted next week.

It is better to be proactive than reactive in dealing with busyness, stress, and exhaustion.  Rather than waiting until symptoms of burnout surface in his life, a wise man in ministry will implement practices that will enable him to grow and thrive while bearing the heavy burdens of pastoral responsibility.  One of the best ways a pastor can enjoy deep and sweet fellowship with God and maintain a strong, rich preaching ministry is to regularly take a personal retreat.  A time away for prayer, study, and planning can produce renewed energy, a refreshed spirit, and fruitful study that will significantly strengthen a pastor’s personal life and public ministry.

There are some scriptural reasons for taking a retreat like this.  Jesus set the example.  Mark 1:35 records of Jesus Christ that, “. . . in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.”  He did this after expending physical and spiritual energy in preaching and in ministering to the needs of individual people.  Jesus regularly retreated for the express purpose of prayer (Mark 6:46; Matthew 14:23; Luke 6:12; Luke 22:39-42).  He encouraged His disciples to “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat” (Mark 6:31).  The apostles established priorities for preachers of all time when they said, “It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables . . . But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:2,4).  Both our Master and the first church leaders drew away from the busyness of ministry activity in order to devote themselves to prayer and preparation for preaching.

There are also practical reasons for having a personal retreat.  It is nearly impossible to give sustained attention to prayer and study in the midst of a regular schedule.  Routine tasks, pressing projects, and the endless needs of people demand your time and concentration.  Even when you steal away to pray you must often get up from your knees before you are truly finished communing with your Lord.  You may shut the door of your office to study, but there are a hundred distractions around you.  You often close your Bible and put your notes away knowing that another hour or two of continued study might have yielded clearer understanding of the text and enabled you to capture its meaning in words potent for preaching.  When you retreat for several days, you can indulge your passion for prayer and appetite for study.  Not having a tight schedule frees you to enjoy the adventure of investigating the eternal truths of God’s Word.   You can go much deeper and farther than you are able within the confines of your daily routine.

Click here to read Part 2

Surviving a Crisis (Part 1): From the Book of Ruth

What kind of crisis are you having?  Is it a financial, health, family, or spiritual crisis?  I am concerned for the many people I know who are experiencing uncertainty, difficulty, and pain.  I thought, “Who in the Bible had a crisis?”  My mind went to Ruth, and I am preaching two sermons from this little book on Surviving a Crisis.  The first was Sunday, March 1, and I will preach the second one, Lord-willing, the morning of March 22.

You can listen to the entire March 1 sermon here.

The story of Ruth shows us four actions for surviving a crisis.  The first two include:

  1. Beware of Bitterness (Naomi)
  2. Learn Faithfulness (Ruth)

I will present the third and fourth actions in the second message.

The following is a transcription of the introduction and second action from Surviving a Crisis (Part 1).

A crisis is a situation or time period in which things are very uncertain, difficult or painful.  A crisis is a time when action must be taken to avoid complete disaster.  Are you in a crisis?  If you read the newspapers, you have to say “Yes, we are in a crisis.” We hear a lot about the financial crisis of our day.  You might also be experiencing a personal crisis,  a situation or time period where things are very uncertain or difficult or painful, and something has to happen before disaster takes place.  It may be a financial crisis in your own home.  That’s what happens when there is national financial crisis, it has an effect on everyone. It might be affecting you.  I know for some of you, it is very directly affecting you.  You may be experiencing a health crisis. There may be a family crisis taking place.  You might be having what some would call mid-life crisis. You may have experienced a moral crisis, or an emotional or spiritual crisis where there uncertainty and difficulty and pain and you just know that something has to happen and action must be taken before there is disaster.

I have been burdened for a number of you.  I know there are people in our church family who are experiencing crises of these and other kinds.  I want to look at something today that I hope will help you to survive your crisis.

Ruth has been called the most beautiful short story ever written.  It is quite a story.  I encourage you to read it and be blessed by it.

The setting is Israel.  The time period was after Israel had entered and occupied Canaan, led by Joshua and before King Saul had become the first king of the nation.  It was the time period when the people and the land were ruled by judges.  If you look at Judges 21:25  In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” Within the nation there was no central leadership; there was political chaos; there was military disorganization; there was little care for God.  On the outside of the nation, neighboring nations took advantage of their vulnerability and encroached on their borders and invaded the territory of the land of Israel.  The people had turned away from God and the nation was spiritually, morally and politically and militarily weak.  Do you see any parallels to what is happening in our own day?  On top of all of that, there was a natural disaster; there was a famine.  And that national crisis became a personal crisis for the individuals who lived there.

Ruth is the story of a family and of their personal crisis.  We can learn much from this story and the four main characters in it.  From each of these characters we will learn an action we can take in order to survive a crisis.

As we look to Ruth and her response to the loss of her husband as well as the other losses, there are many lessons we can learn, but the one I would like to emphasize as an action that we can take to survive a crisis is that we can learn faithfulness like she did.

Ruth 1:14-18 says  And they lifted up their voice, and wept again: and Orpah kissed her mother in law; but Ruth clave unto her. And she said, Behold, thy sister in law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods: return thou after thy sister in law. And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me. When she saw that she was stedfastly minded to go with her, then she left speaking unto her.”

Remember, Ruth was not a blood relative of Naomi.  She was not a Jew, she was a Moabitess.  Naomi had released her.  If there was any obligation, legal, cultural or just a personal sense of obligation, Naomi had made it very clear that there was absolutely no obligation for Ruth to stay with her.  But Ruth made a commitment and promise to Naomi that she would stay in her home and in her land and with her people.  In doing so, she made a choice that brought upon Ruth herself great responsibility.  It changed the direction for her life.  There was uncertainty because she didn’t know what it would be like where she was going.  But her decision also gave her a very special place in history in the plan of God, although she didn’t know that at the time.


I see three qualities of faithfulness that we can learn from Ruth that will help us survive a crisis. First of all I see her determination.  She clave, she stuck, she held on to Naomi.  Naomi had insisted, she had released her, but she also insisted that Ruth go back.  Ruth said, “No.”  Orpah did go back, but Ruth made a vow and showed her determination.  Verse 18 said she was steadfastly minded; she would not change her mind.  Have you ever met someone really stubborn?  Ruth was being stubborn.  She was not going to do anything other than what she said she would do.

Determination helps you to keep from allowing problems to stop you from doing what is right.  You are going to have problems.  As a nation, we have a boatload of problems.  As families, as a church, there are problems ahead – some we may be able to anticipate and others we have no idea about.  You’re going to have family problems and health problems and problems at work and problems in relationships.  They are going to come.  And there must be a determination not to allow those problems to keep you from doing what is right and honoring God with your life.  In a crisis, someone has to say, “I’m not letting go.”  That is what Ruth did.  Naomi was in the throes of  bitterness.  She was down under the crisis.  She was losing the battle and Ruth reached in and grabbed hold and said, “Naomi, I’m not letting go of you.”  Aren’t you thankful for somebody like that.  That is what we need in a marriage that is having problems.  Somebody, husband or wife or somebody, needs to say “We’re going to get through this.  I’m not letting go.”

Sometimes in a situation with another individual in the church where there is a conflict or problem or misunderstanding, the temptation is just to forget about it, walk away, keep your distance.  Somebody just needs to say, “You know what, I’m not letting go.  This relationship is more important than that.”  It needs to happen when people have problems with others in the church and decide to leave the church.  Someone needs to say “You know what, I’m not letting go.  You’ll make your choice, but if it is up to me, I’m not letting go of you.”  That is exactly what Ruth did.  We see her faithfulness as she helped Naomi through and we see Naomi come out the other side because Ruth was willing to hold on.


I also see dedication. You see that in her vow.  She expressed her loyalty to Naomi.  She made a promise to share all the circumstances of life with her.  She also expressed her loyalty to God.  It was loyalty not just to Naomi but to Naomi’s God.  This may have been a turning point for Ruth.  We don’t know, but there was a point where she declared herself to be a follower of Jehovah God.  This might have been it.  We would call it conversion.  She declared and affirmed her commitment to Naomi as well as Naomi’s God.

Look at Ruth 2:12.  We see where Boaz has heard about Ruth and is observing her.  He makes an observation about her.  The LORD recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust.” Isn’t that beautiful?  So Ruth dedicated herself to Naomi, but she also dedicated herself to the Lord.

My friend, that is probably THE key to surviving a crisis right there.  It starts when you realize that the greatest crisis in your life is the crisis caused by your sinful condition.  The greatest crisis anyone can have is to be separated from God and under the condemnation of God’s just wrath and judgment against sin.  That is your condition.  You are born in that condition.  That is a great crisis.  But, that changes when you trust in Jesus Christ who died on the cross, bearing your sins upon Himself and rose again and you believe in what He did on your behalf and receive His gift of salvation and receive forgiveness of sin; your whole life changes.  You declare now your new loyalty to God and that is a turning point for you.  Then, the same Christ who died on the cross is still pouring our His love and you become an object of the love of God in such a way that nothing can separate you from that.  How can God, who spared not His own Son freely with Him also give you all things!  If you can trust Him to save your soul from Hell and give you a home in Heaven, can’t you trust Him to get you through your crisis?  That is exactly what Ruth did.  She was dedicated to God.

In a crisis, people often turn on each other, unfortunately.  Look at the finger-pointing going on in our nation today.  The same thing happens in families and the same thing happens in churches.  When there are problems, people begin looking at and talking about and blaming one another.  Maybe others do contribute to the problem, but what needs to happen is a sense of personal responsibility and commitment.  Ruth herself took that responsibility.  She said to Naomi, “I’m committed to you no matter what.”

Then look Ruth 1:22 “So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter in law, with her, which returned out of the country of Moab: and they came to Bethlehem in the beginning of barley harvest.” When you read the book of Ruth, you start seeing these intricate details in which you find people’s problems intertwined with God’s providence.  It is incredible.  Read it and look for it.  Read it over and over again and see this beautiful interweaving of the providence of God with the needs and problems of mankind.  The fact that they showed up at that time was of God.


Then look at Ruth 2:1-3  “And Naomi had a kinsman of her husband’s, a mighty man of wealth, of the family of Elimelech; and his name was Boaz. And Ruth the Moabitess [the book identifies her that way several times emphasizing the fact that she was an outsider] said unto Naomi, Let me now go to the field, and glean ears of corn after him in whose sight I shall find grace.[if somebody will let me in and do this] And she said unto her, Go, my daughter. And she went, and came, and gleaned in the field after the reapers…” Here we see that Ruth took it upon herself to engage in some work, some manual labor.  This was not Naomi’s idea, this was the daughter-in-law’s idea that she wanted to do this.  You start seeing the character of this woman which is also observed by others throughout the story.

What I see here in an aspect of her faithfulness is that she was diligent.  We can learn from that as well.  Gleaning is hard work.  I can imagine her out in a dusty field under the hot sun feeling probably awkward and somewhat threatened because she was an outsider.  She was a Gentile and she was a single woman, alone, working around men.  She hunted for scattered grain.  She collected a little bit at a time to have just enough for her and Naomi’s meal that night and maybe something at the beginning of the next day.  When you work under a hot sun, your head begins to hurt.  When you’re leaning over picking up grain from the ground, your back begins to ache, your throat grows dry; your hand and feet are grubby and sweaty and begin to get calloused.  She was performing hard work.  Ruth was willing to work hard.  She was in a destitute condition.  For her and Naomi, this was the last stop, the last effort before begging.  She knew that she had to take action.  The action that she took was to place herself in a situation where she could work.

That is very important when we are in a crisis, isn’t it?  We can’t just sit back and wait for God to do something.  There are times when we need to wait on God, but there are also times to go to work.  If you need a job, it is time to be looking for a job.  If you need to do extra work part time, extra, additional, maybe something you are not used to doing – it may be distasteful and you don’t like doing – it’s time to do anything that is necessary to make sure that those needs are provided for.

But it doesn’t just apply to a job or a financial situation – anytime there is a crisis, there is hard work to do.  If you are having a spiritual crisis, there is study, memorization, meditation, prayer and the discipline of growth that needs to be happening in your life.  If there is a marital crisis, you have to work at communication.  Sometimes that is very hard.  You have to labor through conversations and work through awkwardness and tension and difficulty.  If there has been a major offence or some travesty committed against you, you have to work through your own thoughts to a point of being willing to talk and be reconciled and forgiving and work at practicing forgiveness.

Look at verse 23 of chapter 2.  So she [Ruth] kept fast by the maidens of Boaz to glean unto the end of barley harvest and of wheat harvest; and dwelt with her mother in law.” It is all in that verse.  Look at how faithful she was.  She was faithful in her relationship to Naomi and she was faithful in her work and her responsibilities to make sure that she and Naomi were provided for.  Ruth was a faithful woman in the midst of her crisis.  She was a single woman, far from her family and familiar places and people.  She was probably looked on with contempt and distain by many of the Jews.  She had experienced the loss of her husband.  She was childless.  She had gone through the upheaval of moving to another place.  She was away from family.  She had no financial means and barely even had food. Would you call that a crisis?  I would.  She was faithful.

Some Applications

How can we be faithful in times of crisis?  How can be follow the example of Ruth?  How can we put this into action?  How can we learn faithfulness and develop faithfulness during a difficult time?  That is an assignment for you to go and think about that and have discussions about that.  How is it that we should be faithful during a crisis.  A few ideas came to my mind, especially from some of what Peter wrote.

Peter wrote to people in crisis.  They were experiencing and crisis of persecution and suffering because of that.  How can we be faithful in a time of crisis?  Let’s look at a few items that will help us know what to do.

In 1 Peter 2 verses 11-12, Peter appeals to these Christians who were suffering.  In their crisis, he said, “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; Having your conversation [your manner of life, your conduct, what people observe and see about you] honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation. What is he telling them?  He is telling them that regardless of what people do to you, you do what is right. That is a great lesson for us to learn.  It doesn’t matter if somebody has hurt you, offended you, walked out on you, wronged you, taken advantage of you, you can always do the right thing.  He said, “Don’t let your problem become a justification in your mind for indulging in sensual, sinful pleasures. ” – well I’m hurting, I’ve got a problem, I’ve got all this pressure, I need a little bit of an escape.  I need some relief, I need to have some fun, I need some pleasure in my life, therefore you indulge in something sinful.  Don’t use that for an excuse.  In fact, this is a time to shine so that the people around you see the difference in your life that you don’t succumb to that temptation and that pressure.  Do the right thing regardless of what others do to you.

Then he follows that up with people who are subject to an oppressive government.  He talks about slaves who are being abused by oppressive masters.  He talks to wives who are married to ungodly or unsaved husbands; and he talks to husbands who are married to and living with difficult wives.  He addresses every single one of those very practically and he tells each one in each category that it does not matter what that person does, you fulfill your responsibility as a believer in that setting.  He names what that responsibility is in relationship to those people in the rest of chapter 2 and chapter 3.  He uses Jesus Christ as an example in the end of chapter 2.  He said that Jesus Christ Himself did not react to those who were abusing Him.  He kept silent and he committed Himself to the One who judges righteously.  You may be offended and wronged and defrauded and taken advantage of and oppressed, illegitimately, illegally and there are ways to address that and straighten that out.  But he said, “Ultimately, you commit yourself to God, just like Jesus Christ did.”

Then in chapter 3 he give us another instruction of what to do in the middle of a crisis.  How can we be faithful?  Do the right thing regardless of what others do to you.  Then look at verses 14-15 where he says, “But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, [so, they shouldn’t be suffering, but they are because of their righteous life and because they are followers of Christ] happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:” How can we be faithful?  Share the reason for your hope with those who wonder and with those who ask.

Your hospital stay, your recovery period, your loss, your grief, the offence someone has committed against you, the way you have been mistreated is an opportunity for you to experience hope for yourself and demonstrate to others that you have hope and for them to wonder what in the world is going on in your life and ask you questions about it.  That gives you an opportunity to share that the reason for your hope is that you don’t have all of your confidence in what is in this world or even other people in this world, but it is in the Lord – just like I trusted Him to save me, I trust Him to take care of me.  Use the opportunities to share the reason for your hope.

Then I see another way to be faithful in your crisis in 1 Peter 4 beginning in verse 7 “But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.   And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves:…” In verse 9 he talks about hospitality, in verse 10 “As every man hath received the gift [He is talking here about abilities with which you serve] even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” In verse 11 he identifies two categories of gifts: one is speaking gifts and the other is serving gifts.  He is telling us to use our gifts.  Rather than withdrawing from church and backing out of opportunities to serve, he says that in order to be faithful in the time of crisis, keep serving the Lord; don’t drop out, jump in.  Continue using that gift for God.  Many times people do back away and drift from the place of ministry and service in the church when they are experiencing a crisis.  Yes, sometimes we need a little bit of room to recover and deal with the problems, but to walk away and not serve is going the wrong direction in a crisis.  He says “Just keep serving the Lord.”

We looked at 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 a while back about giving to other Christians in need.  When he used the illustration of the Christians in Macedonia who during their time of “deep poverty” gave abundantly to others in need.  I think a time of crisis is an opportunity for us to be faithful by giving when we are in need ourselves. The natural response and tendency is to pull back because we have to meet our own needs.  I’m not saying we should go broke or bankrupt trying to help other people.  But isn’t a time of crisis a time when we should be faithful in giving to meet the needs of others and giving to the work of the Lord?  It is tempting to wait until the end of the month to write that check, isn’t it?  It is tempting to see what is left to decide what we can give to the work of the Lord.  But what does God tell us to do?  He tells us to give of the first fruits, doesn’t He?  He honors that and He takes care of us because of that.

Paul said, “God will make all grace abound toward you so that you can abound in every grace, every good work in giving to others and to God’s work as well.  In 2 Corinthians 9:8 he says “God will take care of you.”  We can learn that lesson of faithfulness.

God has spoken to us. We have His Word.

Click here to listen to the entire sermon.

I began a series in our Sunday evening service February 15 about the Bible.  In the opening message, I identified the following questions we will address:

Has God spoken?

What has He said?

Do we have His Word?

If so, in what form?

How do we know?

I also outlined the subjects we would cover concerning God’s Word including:

How it came from God:  Revelation, Inspiration, Canonization

How it came to us:  Preservation, Transmission, Translation

How it profits us:  Illumination, Interpretation, Application

We covered the first step, Revelation, in the first two messages.  You can download the audio and outlines of these messages here.

I asked last night for your help in suggesting a title for this series.  I welcome your input.  Click on Comments below and give me your ideas.  I will take them into consideration and hopefully together we can produce a good title.

Every idea will be considered.  Obviously I can’t use every one, and may end up with a combination of several of the ideas that are submitted.  I hope that you will be blessed and will benefit from thinking about and discussing the topics above in order to share your ideas.  Thank you!

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