It’s easy to explain why we need renewal because all of us can easily identify with the all-too-familiar sense of depletion.
But what do we do when we come to this point? How do we renew?
When I’m aware that I’m running on fumes, I follow this five-step process. (We’ll look at the first three steps in this post and the last two in the next.)
Renewal doesn’t happen on a treadmill. We need time out of the current to regain focus. Jesus Himself is our example in this. Even in busy ministry with people clamoring for His time, Jesus carved out time to spend with the Father.
And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.—Mark 1:35
How often should you retreat? Every day—minimum. This is your daily quiet time when you still your heart before the Lord and seek His face. Spend time in His Word, ask Him to search your heart, and evaluate the coming day in light of His priorities for your day.
Additionally, I have found that as I take time weekly to evaluate the previous week and plan the week ahead, I begin the week with energy and purpose. The thirty minutes it takes to do this on Sunday afternoon is well worth the focus I gain from it.
In the course of a year, you will need more than just daily or weekly retreats—especially if you are a senior pastor. Beyond your personal need for retreat, you need times to seek the Lord as you develop vision for the church and step back to evaluate how effectively you are leading toward the ministry goals God has already given.
As Henry Blackaby said in his book Spiritual Leadership, “Leaders realize they must occasionally step back from the day to day operations in order to gain perspective on the broader issues such as the nature and the future of an organization.”
Your goal in retreat is not simply to rest. It is also to objectively assess where you are currently.
There are multiple levels at which we need to assess:
First, we need to assess spiritually. More accurately, we need to slow down and ask the Holy Spirit to search our hearts.
Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.—Psalm 139:23–24
But we also need to assess physically. We are not only spirit. We have bodies, and the strength of our bodies can affect our spirits.
And he said unto them, 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
Are you resting? Are you eating well? Are you exercising? What changes do you need to make for your physical strength?
And finally, we need to assess emotionally. I love the quote, “Lord, You created us for Yourself. We become restless when we do not rest in Thee.”
I have set the LORD always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope.—Psalm 16:8–9
Are your emotions at rest? Are you living a reconciled life? Are you carrying bitterness? Are you living with biblical hope?
As you assess these three areas—spiritual, physical, and emotional—remember that you are assessing with the goal of change. In fact, if you’re like me, this time of assessment will lead you right into step 3.
I have discovered that when I ask God to search my heart, He does! And invariably, what He finds calls for repentance on my part.
When I am depleted and before I take time to retreat, I tend to think my problems lie outside of my control. I’m exhausted because of my schedule, frustrated because of what others have done, etc.
But when I step back and ask God to search my heart, I find my spiritual, physical, and emotional dearth is often linked to a need for repentance in one of these three areas:
I may need to repent of pride. This could be showing up in my schedule, my relationships, my frustrations, or in any number of other areas.
Before destruction the heart of man is haughty, and before honour is humility.— Proverbs 18:12
I may need to repent of spiritual neglect. Warren Wiersbe wisely said, “The erosion of character usually begins with neglect: we stop reading the Word, or worshiping with God’s people, or taking time to meditate and pray. We stop giving and start asking, ‘What will I get out of it?’ We stop hungering for holiness and exercising spiritual discipline and discernment. We stop making those sacrifices that show our special love for Christ and His people. We do our job mechanically because our heart isn’t in it. In time, we find ourselves ‘making arrangements to sin,’ convinced that what nobody knows, we can get away with.”
Are you giving as full attention to your walk with the Lord as you are to what you do for Him? Is your service fueled by love for God? If not, the problem is some level of spiritual neglect.
For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead:—2 Corinthians 5:14
Finally, the problem we need to repent of may be relational neglect. When you and I are right with the Lord and maintaining tender hearts toward the Holy Spirit, our spirit toward others is also softer.
Sometimes in the rush of life and ministry, we take advantage of a patient spouse or a quiet child. Sometimes we let relational upsets with team members fester. Relational neglect, however, is like a slow leak in the soul. It will deplete you and those around you. Conversely, investing in relationships replenishes.
Ointment and perfume rejoice the heart: so doth the sweetness of a man’s friend by hearty counsel.—Proverbs 27:9
Do these three steps—retreat, assess, and repent—seem simplistic? They are not.
When you find yourself empty, you may feel that renewal is out of your reach or that gaining substantive energy would require a complicated process.
Taking time to allow God to search your heart and pinpoint the areas in which you need to change, is not complicated but it is thorough. And it does work!