When you’re on a long motorway journey, it’s always a relief to see a sign that says “services”. It means that you can have a break, be fed, and go on your way hopefully refreshed and renewed (although I realise not all our experience of motorway service stations are like that!).
I find it interesting that we call our Sunday acts of worship “services” as well. Perhaps it’s a reminder that they too are meant to interact with the rhythm and busyness of our weekday lives. We don’t leave our experiences and concerns from the past six days at the door. We come in as we are, shaped by all that we have experienced along the way, hopefully to be fed, to be refreshed and to be renewed for whatever lies ahead.
And if that’s a helpful image, then it certainly tells me that our worship needs to be real and relevant to the issues people face day by day. But at the same time the music, the sacraments, the prayers, and above all the preaching need to offer renewal through the word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit. One reason why people stop going to church is that they see people going through the motions, or performing rituals which have little of the Spirit’s power and presence and which make little connection to the reality of Monday to Saturday.
So where do retreats fall into all this? Very simply, that sometimes we need to take extended time to be renewed and refreshed. A quick stop at a service station is not enough. We need time to work through the issues of our daily lives before God, or simply to enjoy being in His presence. To take the motoring analogy a little further, we need to stop and work out where we are going, or more precisely where He is calling us next.
That’s why last week I was in the depths of the Oxford countryside, reading, praying, seeking after God’s will and seeking refreshment. No internet access (except for an occasional peek at my phone), no phone calls, no distractions. Just coming to God as I am, making the space to be real with Him. And retreats aren’t just for ordained people. If you have the opportunity to take a retreat, I can thoroughly recommend it, and maybe even give some advice where to go.
Just in case you are wondering where this photo fits in, that’s a yellow wagtail who sat long enough to be photographed on some wild dog-rose. Thought you might like it!