“Now it happened, when Saul had returned from following the Philistines, that it was told him, saying, ‘Take note! David is in the Wilderness of En Gedi.’” (1 Samuel 24:1)
Have you ever taken a personal spiritual retreat? Just you and God in the wilderness?
Last week, I joined my good friend Mary Ellen at the Billy Graham Training Center in The Cove near Asheville, N.C.* It was our third retreat together and the best so far. After a stressful day of deadlines, I could feel my blood pressure go down as soon as we drove past the entrance gate!
The entire complex is a mountainside woodland, with lots of hiking trails that cross beautiful creeks. The walking paths are edged with Scripture signs as well as benches for rest and meditation. There’s a gorgeous chapel complete with an “upper room” and kneeling-bench table for focused prayer.
Being here in May meant rhododendron and mountain laurel were in bloom, trees were fully decked with bright green leaves, and gentle breezes kept things cool. Even the occasional sprinkles of rain felt like touches of the Holy Spirit on my skin.
Much of the time I hiked alone, just myself with God. I was a thousand miles away from all agendas, lists, obligations, and worries. In the evening, sitting in a rocking chair on one of the lodge balconies, cup of hot tea in my hand, I melted into the blissful sounds of owls and crickets. I was sheltered, calmed, refuged.
Sounds heavenly, doesn’t it? It was.
I’ve been afraid that the peace I experienced at The Cove would evaporate when I got back home. Today faces me, a back-to-work day. Will the lessons and experience of the retreat last? I sure hope so.
David, before he became king of the Israelites, ran for years from cantankerous King Saul. During King Saul’s fits of rage, David would take off for the wilderness and seek refuge in the badlands around the Dead Sea and Arabah desert. One of his safe havens was at En Gedi, a fertile gap in the Israel mountain ridges where waterfalls flowed from underground springs. There, in an isolated part of the rocky wilds, David found rest and comfort for his body, soul, and followers.
Psalm 63:1-2 describes one of David’s moments of longing for the presence of God while he traversed the wilderness of Judah: “O God, You are my God; early will I seek You; my soul thirsts for You; my flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water. So I have looked for You in the sanctuary, to see Your power and Your glory.”
Not only did David find peace at En Gedi, he also gained perspective and wisdom from God. It was here that David spared King Saul’s life, despite the misguided goading by his friends, and David proved it by cutting off only a piece of the king’s garment (look for this story in 1 Samuel 24.) David, as a former shepherd, knew the value of green pastures and still waters. He craved that “alone time” with His Lord when he could pour out his joys, troubles, and questions with his heavenly Friend. Read David’s heart-to-heart talks (in the Psalms) during his refuge times.
If you’ve never gone on your own spiritual retreat, I encourage you to plan one, especially now as the weather turns nicer. Here are some suggestions:
- Just go. There’s never a perfect time…you will always have reasons to postpone it. Put it on your calendar and commit to making it happen.
- Take or get an accountability partner. While you’re supposed to spend time alone, make sure someone else is close by or knows your plans. Don’t venture out alone into the woods or mountains without telling someone. Share your experiences afterward with your partner.
- Choose the best “getaway” spot for you. If possible, go to a park or forest with hiking trails. Or, if your physical abilities are limited, find a quiet city park, a lake with benches, or even a public library. If nearby conversations or noises are distracting, take earplugs or use ear-buds to listen to soothing instrumental music.
- Carry your Bible and a devotional. Look for Scriptures and a good book to address your current needs. Dive deep into God’s word, and maybe work on some memorization. You could also take a list of the attributes or names of God; meditate on each one, praising God simply for who He is. Take a blank journal, and record your thoughts.
- Fix up a “retreat” backpack. Use a drawstring bag or daypack. Fill it with favorite snacks, water, towel (for sitting on a rock or bench), books, bug spray, hand sanitizer, pocketknife, tissues, cap, and any other hiking essentials. Carry, of course, your cellphone for emergency use…just don’t let it get in the way of your “God time.” Take a walking stick, too.
- Leave expectations behind. Don’t anticipate any special revelation from the Holy Spirit. Simply pour out your heart to Jesus, calling upon Him to bless you with wisdom in difficult situations, for power and strength, for greater trust and love. Let Him do the work of filling You with His joy and peace.
Friend, I hope you’ll take advantage of the privilege of prayer, using this time “selfishly” to refresh and renew your soul. Let your time alone with God be a sabbatical rest, a chance to learn more about His character, and a catalyst to make goals for your future with His guidance.
Ask God to speak to you in the wilderness. And don’t be surprised if He replies on a soft breeze.
Holy God, Creator of our beautiful world, please help me to recognize my need for solitude with You. Call me to draw near to You, and please draw near to me as I study Your word and worship You in the natural world You created. Teach me more about Your love, holiness, goodness, excellency. Fill me up with Your Holy Spirit, and let me return home with newness of purpose and energy to serve Your kingdom. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
*For more information, go to https://thecove.org
© Copyright 2023 Nancy C. Williams, Lightbourne Creative (text and photography)
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
To learn more about the grace of Jesus Christ, go to this page: https://lightbournecreative.com/good-news-for-you/
#thecove #billygraham #asheville #retreat #personalspiritualretreat #hiking #wildernesstime #meetingGod #sabbatical #engedi #israel #arabah
2 responses to “The Privileged Life: In the Wilderness with God”
I have always wanted to go on a retreat alone with God. One day, I will.
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I sure hope you can! Even a mini-retreat for a few hours, just to a local park, can be very rewarding. I hope you will be able to make time for yourself and God, to engage in “prayer therapy”! Blessings to you, my friend….
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