Not long after answering the call to the mountain of devotion in 2015 I wanted to embark on a three-day retreat, just Jesus and me. Here was the plan:
1. Crazy encounters with Jesus like the Mount of Transfiguration.
2. Build a fire to burn everything that existed on paper from my old life.
3. To come off the mountain glowing with the glory of God.
With a tank full of gas, car loaded down with every notebook and folder I had, the mountains were calling. I spent nearly two weeks searching for the perfect cabin to be alone with God. Tucked away in the Smoky Mountains was a chalet that looked like heaven to me. (Not to mention a firepit near the hot tub.)
The drive was beautiful. Fall was beginning to settle into those beautiful mountains; it seemed that every element of the trip was predesigned. The whole ride I was contemplating all the possibilities. I had set an appointment with Yahweh, and I knew He was awaiting me on the mountain.
As I climbed that mountain in my car, up and down the windy roads, I finally came to my cabin of encounter. It was perfect; even the address was prophetic. I unlocked the door, walked through each room, and could not wait to settle in. With each load into the cabin, my expectancy grew. I put all my papers on the table and my suitcase in the bedroom. Now it was time to build a fire.
The firepit was terrific, with wood gathered, all I did was find small pieces of kindling to help start the fire. I’m sure you think I’m a true outdoorsman, with flint and steel…no. Out came the wonderful invention we call “BIC Multi-purpose Lighter.” A few pieces of paper, kindling, and a lighter…encounters were sure to begin.
There I sat in a relaxing full reclining outdoor camp chair with only the sounds of nature. No cars or humans heard; just the crackling of the fire. Does it sound like heaven yet? But it did not last long. Why? The roar of my busy mind instantly invaded this place of solitude.
As the thoughts began to roll, it seemed my mind was bent on everything but Jesus. To be honest, my initial idea was that if my retreat is to be successful, it must begin with repentance. I knew I had to deal with my inconsistencies, compromises, and sin. As each blemished thought came to mind, the fire of encountering Jesus started to diminish quickly.
I thought Jesus had been waiting for me in the mountain, but it seemed Satan was my host. Was it Satan? No, I was learning my first lesson in the life of solitude, the mirror. Without the noise and distractions of everyday life, I had to sit alone and stare at my own heart.
Fear, rejection, bitterness, hopelessness, and jealousy had found a home in me. Right there by the fire, I confronted the intruders living in the home of my heart. For hours I sat there conversing with each one, trying to figure out how to kick them out. They were taking away from my time with Jesus.
It was now time for bed. The condemnation was massive, so much so that I was in total fear. I started inspecting every sound; I turned on every light, and then to help calm my nerves I turned on the television. What was happening? I was going through withdraws. I was addicted to noise, busyness, and ministry. I slept very little the first night.
Day 2. The sun had finally poked through the trees. I was now safe to go back outside. As I began to talk again with the intruders, the anxiety started to build. I sat there for a few minutes wondering why this retreat was going in a radically different direction than I had anticipated. I needed guidance.
All I knew to do was begin attempt number two in personal repentance and evaluation. Get everything under the blood so that nothing hinders the communion I seek from the Lord. Quickly, the Lord highlighted my thought patterns. “You are so quick to follow the protocol of Jeremiah to root out, pull down, destroy, and overthrow. But I am here to build you up.”
For ten years, personally and in ministry, I learned how to identify flaws and imperfections in everything, especially in me. Then light began to shine in my heart, and I said to the Lord, “Lord, I don’t want to tear things down the rest of my life.” These thoughts were so deep inside of me…the religion, legalism, and inferior concept of consecration had perverted my sense of genuine relationship with Jesus.
It was time for a new path, and I didn’t know where to begin. But, I knew that trying to tear myself down in the name of God wasn’t working. My mind started going through the Rolodex of conversations and finally landed on a conversation I had with a friend about Mike Bickle preaching on the love of God. So I did what any person with sense would do, I got my phone out and Googled “Mike Bickle love of God.”
I listened for nearly five hours on a series by Mike Bickle called “Abiding In Love: Experiencing the Heart of God.” In a matter of hours, a brand new lens came on my eyes. I was approaching the Father as a Judge and me the guilty sinner. No wonder there was no encounter, there was no access point. My mind was already determined to block the love of God out of the equation.
Religion had taught me to come before the Lord this way. I quickly realized the mirror placed before me on day one was not judgment; it was the grace of God showing me how desperately I needed to have a change of perspective. Approaching our Father as a sinner has never worked, trying to fix all my problems, telling God I would never do it again, it hadn’t worked in twelve years.
The retreat with God did not begin until I stopped trying to fix me.
I was not ready for my prayer retreat because it was mine; my idea of what a retreat alone with God was to be. I had a desire to be with God but not for fellowship, but to hopefully deal with the “me” I hated desperately. If I could help you prepare for time away with Yahweh, learn this lesson quickly; He’s the host.
I wasn’t ready for my prayer retreat because my approach was wrong. I had come before Him a sinner. He called me away to be with Him as a bride. I wanted to talk about my old nature; He longed to introduce me to my new nature. I wasn’t ready for my prayer retreat by merely not being grounded in the love of God.
I burned every sermon I had ever preached, including the journals and notebooks since I started journeying with the Lord. That may have been as glorious as emptying my Gmail account after nine years of build up. It was time for a fresh start with God, not leaning upon old manna, and allowing all my writing that was influenced by systemic paradigms to fade away.
As the smoke rose from the fire, it seemed like an appropriate offering. All my efforts in religion consumed and there I honestly was left with all I ever needed…Him. I did not leave that mountain glowing; maybe it is reserved for another time. However, I believe I could join with others who have dared to go away with God their first time and say, “I wasn’t ready for my prayer retreat, but I got exactly what I needed.”