Paul Marshall email@example.com www.paulmarshall.org
Retreat Orientation A “guided” retreat is aimed at providing structure and instruction that helps us to engage our hearts with God and to experience his love through times of quiet prayer and meditation. The structure helps us to focus in the midst of all of the distractions in our minds and around us. We might ask: How can my life in the kingdom take flight? How can my life with God become more real? This retreat seeks to prime us for the kingdom life, and to help us to enter it in a deeper way, by helping us to meditate on the Lord’s Prayer (we will use Matthew’s version). Through this prayer Jesus captures the key aspects of his way of life as a basic guide for his followers – if you like, he articulates in the context of prayer what is distinctive about his followers. As we engage in a prayerful conversation with the Father about these central things we can expect them to become more a part of our hearts and lives as Jesus intended by teaching his disciples to pray this way. This is because we provide opportunity for the Holy Spirit to be at work in us in these specific areas, and for this reason The Lord’s Prayer is an excellent focus for a guided retreat like this one. Jesus taught that the Holy Spirit would testify to us about him (John 15:27), and we prepare ourselves for this testimony of God’s love and power in Christ as we spiritually focus ourselves and make ourselves available to God. There are many ways into deeper intimacy with God. This retreat seeks to achieve it by engaging our hearts with the teaching of Jesus in The Lord’s Prayer.
Practically, how does it work? The Flying Life involves nine daily times for reflection and prayer – simply follow the stepby-step instructions in this guide for each day. Each will take about 45-60 minutes. The retreat is to be experienced as a whole, with all nine sessions weaving together to make for the overall journey of our hearts towards intimacy with God and the kingdom life. The goal is to take this journey on nine consecutive days, but don’t feel slavish about it – if you are unable to retreat on a particular day don’t worry about it, just pick the journey up again the next day. To give you a sense of the overall journey, it is summarised below: DAY 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
FOCUS Jesus, Lover of My Soul The Brave New World of Intimacy With the Father Take a Stand for God Live as if God is Here and at Work What are you doing Father? The Dependent Life of Loved Children Captives Set Free Release Others and Free Your Own Heart Testing, Spiritual Energy and Spiritual Advance 1
Find a meeting place that is quiet and where you can be alone to take this journey of the heart without distractions. Each time, get yourself comfortable sitting with a straight back. Take some deep breaths in and out if required to bring yourself into the present moment and to help you to be inwardly aware. Throughout the nine-day journey you are encouraged to write anything that you sense God is saying to you in the spaces provided. This helps you to remember things that God is saying, and also helps you to involve your heart with him. The key teaching from my sermon series on The Lord’s Prayer is summarised, not as the main focus in itself, but merely as a springboard for the meditation exercises. The Bible teaches that we should expect God to communicate with us in a variety of ways. Jesus clearly encouraged his followers to expect God to speak directly to them by the Holy Spirit (eg. Luke 12:11-12). So be intentional about embarking on the retreat wholeheartedly and with some expectation. Day 1 is an introduction to the retreat, helping us to meditate on Jesus as a Divine Person whose words, when responded to, have the power to transform, restore and empower our lives. Days 2-9 will lead us to “digest” the teaching of Jesus captured in the Lord’s Prayer in a way that makes a difference to us. I pray that this retreat enables some steps towards The Flying Life for you, with all that this means in terms of the soul-delight of living in God’s love and participating in what the Father is doing around you.
THE LORD’S PRAYER Pray like this: Our Father in heaven, may your name be honoured. May your kingdom come soon. May your will be done here on earth, just as it is in heaven. Give us our food for today, And forgive us our sins, just as we forgive those who have sinned against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. (Matthew 6:9-13 NLT)
Jesus, Lover of My Soul PREPARATION: Wait silently for a couple of minutes allowing yourself to be aware of the Holy Spirit’s presence around you. Recognize God’s glory by kneeling and bowing down to the ground before him – allow this body language to help you respond inwardly to the Creator). PRAY for the Holy Spirit to testify in you about the love, power and divine wisdom of Jesus. (John 15:26) PRAYER TEXT: From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:66-69 NIV) Jesus has just taught that he is the “Bread of Life” given by God to satisfy the hunger of people’s souls. What do you hunger for at the soul level?
Use your imagination to place yourself with Jesus and the disciples. Jesus was teaching that when we believe in him, and align our lives with him and his words, we will discover The Flying Life – eternal life, life close to and enlivened by God, the kingdom. Picture other disciples walking away because his teaching is too much for them. Now meditate on Simon Peter’s answer – say it several times until you can do so with your eyes closed. What do you see? What do you understand about Jesus?
PRAYER TEXT: For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:25 NIV) In Matthew’s gospel the Lord’s Prayer is found in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, one of the most extended teachings on how Jesus wants his followers to live. But in Luke the prayer is a specific response to this request from his disciples: “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1 NIV) John the Baptist’s followers were known for certain practices that differentiated them from other sects in first century Judaism, and the disciples are asking: “What is distinctive about us?” or “What is central and essential if we are to find what we are looking for or hunger after?” So in the context of prayer Jesus teaches 3
his beloved disciples the dispositions, attitudes and practices that would provide an on-ramp to his transforming, restoring and empowering Way. He was inviting them into a wholehearted conversation with the Father around these essential things, involving their hearts, so that these essential aspects of kingdom life would become engraved in their lives and help them to find God and satisfaction in their souls. He was being “the Shepherd and Overseer of [their] souls”, the Lover of their Souls or Guardian – defending, protecting and watching over their wellbeing. Again using your imagination, place yourself around Jesus as he teaches the Lord’s Prayer. Enter the scene as best you can, including noises, what the other disciples are doing, and what you are feeling. Now focus on the heart of Jesus and on his love as he teaches you. Imagine him looking at you – not as a disinterested peddler of his ideas, but as the Lover and Guardian of Your Soul. Be there “under” his words, his warm acceptance, his protection, his wisdom, his determination for your wellbeing, and sense his love like rivers over you. How did this make you feel? How do you respond to Jesus?
How does this shift or enrich the way you respond to the teaching of Jesus?
Now moving out of the story say to Jesus gently 4-5 times, “You are the Lover of My Soul.” CONVERSATION: Talk to Jesus about what you have felt and seen today, and what you feel God is saying to you. Express your responses in writing below. Over the next day try to be aware for times when you reconnect with the truth that Jesus is the Lover of Your Soul and journal your thoughts here.
The Brave New World of Intimacy with the Father PREPARATION: At your meeting place take ten slow, deep breaths and exhale slowly each time to help you move away from distracting thoughts and to become inwardly alert. Make a physical gesture to show reverence and humility before God. PRAY for the courage to let God love you. PRAYER TEXT: Our Father in heaven (Matthew 6:9a NLT) Jesus often called God “Father”, particularly in prayer. When praying in the garden at Gethsemane he used a special Aramaic word “Abba” (Mark 14:36), which has the incredibly intimate sense of “Dad” or “Papa”. Jews and Gentiles alike at the time addressed God as “Father” but only after stressing God’s greatness – for example “Oh Lord, our Father”. This effectively insulated the prayer from intimacy, making their relationship with God more about piety or saying and doing the right things, rather than relating closely with God. It made God first of all far way, above, beyond us, out there somewhere - great but not close or interested in our lives. Stunningly, in his prayer Jesus switches the recognition of God’s greatness (ie. in heaven) to after the invitation to intimacy, calling his followers into a brave new world where we let God be our Father and love us. This is a place of the heart where love and care are expressed, we face ourselves without fear, we are known warts and all and are still accepted, real questions find answers, where we can find restoration and liberation because we can sort out stuff in our souls and spirit – surrender them to grace, dip them in the blood of Jesus, find healing, fresh vision and love. Close your eyes and repeat slowly and aloud several times, God is my Father, I am his child. As you do, allow yourself to see God with the eyes of your heart. What do you see and feel?
PRAYER TEXT: My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the hiding places on the mountainside, show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely. (Song of Songs 2:14 NIV) Now meditate on the scene in Song of Songs 2:14. Close your eyes and imagine that you are the dove in the clefts of the rock. Repeat the words of the verse as if God is speaking these words personally and intimately to you. Sense the glorious power of his Presence over the rocks as you hide there. Sense his relentless, uncompromised love and delight streaming from him to you; his reaching out to you with a heart bursting with affection like a dad longing for something intimate with his child. Oblivious of your flaws he is asking, “Why are you hiding?” Write down what is happening inside you when he asks you to look up into his face so that he can see your beauty, and to let him hear your sweet voice.
We can always grow in our capacity to enter this brave new world of intimacy with God. Can you identify with any of the following barriers to intimacy with God our Father? ● In my past people important to me didn’t show me love. Reflect on your own experiences of parents or others being distant – withholding affection (ie. not hugging you or telling you they love you), abandoning you to make it on your own, ignoring you or your cries for help, withholding forgiveness and grace when you failed or affirmation when you did well, and saying words that hurt. Take a few minutes forgiving those who withheld love, and then meditate again on the truth, “God is my Father, I am his child” and allow God’s love to impact your soul. Record your experience and thoughts here.
● I am trying to make God do something through my piety. “Our Father in heaven” calls us to see and connect with who God already is and what the Father is already doing – loving us, great, expressing his power in the world etc. Reflect on the ways that you have made piety (out of pride or self-sufficiency) rather than intimacy primary, then venture into intimacy to ask God to forgive you, and allow his mercy to touch and delight your soul. When God is our Father it means significant changes in our relationships – we are joined in a purposeful kingdom way with each other and every human being that God loves. As his sons and daughters we are called to take on our Father’s business by reaching out mercifully to save and restore all people. One last time close your eyes and repeat “Our Father in heaven” over and over, and as you do allow yourself in your mind’s eye to see what he is doing in the world. What do you see? How does this challenge or envision you? Describe your inner response.
CONVERSATION: Talk with God about your forward journey into the brave new world close and involved with him, and give thanks.
Take a Stand for God PREPARATION: When you are still, allow yourself to be aware of God looking at you with purpose and intent. Let this flood you with a sense of the sacredness and significance of your life. Make an appropriate physical gesture of response to his glorious presence. PRAY for the grace to be reverent before God and what he desires. PRAYER TEXT: may your name be honoured (Matthew 6:9b NLT) In the first century someone’s name and the qualities associated with the name went together. To speak about God’s name is to refer to everything about God – his character, desires, priorities, authority, power, mission, and what he does. To pray “hallowed be your name” (Greek word hagiazo – to make holy), or “may your name be honoured” means to make God and everything about him “the opposite of common”. It is a call to be reverent before God and all that God stands for – love, justice, purity, restoration, liberation, salvation and so on. It means to make him and such things special, sacred, and worth involving in. Our lives find their shape as we do things in the name of: our team, decency, fairness, the values of society, a cause we believe in (historically people died in the name of their cause), “right” thinking, success, economic security, ourselves. But Jesus makes it a distinctive of his followers that we give God’s name the real respect – that we act on the basis of who God is and what he desires, seeing value in what God stands for above all other names. Prayerfully consider the names that shape your life. Note what God is saying and your response below. (Remember: God’s voice does not sound like condemnation – even if we are being shaped by other names, his voice will make us feel loved, hopeful, and encouraged by fresh vision for a better life in him. He won’t squash us but he will call us on – that’s what love does!) .
PRAYER TEXT: Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor 8
slanderers will inherit the kingdom of God. And this is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 NIV) Don’t be distracted by what is and isn’t included in this list of sins. The point is that when God washes each of us clean from things that displease him through Christ, and sets us apart for what resonates with his heart and what he stands for, his name is made holy. Therefore, by praying “may your name be honoured” as Christ’s followers we humbly ask God to go to work in us to bring change, to call us to higher purity, nobility and purpose. Allowing him to set us free to be the kind of people who have their hearts, priorities, financial budgets, and diaries full of the things that reflect him and what he stands for is how we fight for his honour. Close your eyes and repeat may your name be honoured over several times in the spirit in which Jesus taught the prayer – as an expression of your own desire to honour God’s name in every area of your life, and an invitation for him to go to work in you. Be alert and wait for the Holy Spirit to speak and work in you. What areas of your life did the Spirit bring attention to? What specific issues surfaced? How did you respond?
PRAYER TEXT: Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17-19 NIV) CONVERSATION: Jesus gave Peter a new name – like a prophetic rally-cry in his soul towards his sacred life. And we see this God-honouring life unfold in Acts as Peter stands for God in faith, authority and courage to see the kingdom come powerfully. Have a conversation with Jesus about the negative names that you feel define you (eg. fearful, insecure, worthless, powerless, unlovely, unloved, guilty, ashamed, dirty, hopeless…), and ask him to give you a new name (loved one, friend of poor, pure, saver, healer, free, warrior….). Be alert during your conversation to any prophetic rally-cry you hear in your soul and write about it here.
Live as if God is Here and at Work PREPARATION: When you are settled in your prayer place, let expectation rise in you as you take in the truth that God is there with you – looking at you with affection and purpose. Make a physical gesture recognising, and being open to, his presence. PRAY for the sort of faith that keeps you involving yourself with God. PRAYER TEXT: May your kingdom come soon (Matthew 6:10a NLT) God’s kingdom is not a geographical place but an activity – God’s dynamic activity or rule. It is God’s expression of himself in love and power in the world. Jesus talked a lot about God’s Kingdom and he showed that it had come by healing the sick, casting out demons, forgiving sins, helping the poor, loving the hopeless and those rejected by society. Praying this prayer means praying for this to happen here and now. The Gospel or Good News that we believe and proclaim is this: The King and the Kingdom have come – God is here and at work all around, in, and through our lives! This has been made available to all humanity and creation through Christ’s victory on the cross and the giving of the Holy Spirit. Reflect here on your own response to this truth – does it make a difference to the way you live out your life of faith if the Kingdom is the dynamic activity of God? (Note: Be aware of what is really going on inside of you and don’t be afraid to write about it here whether it is resistance because it seems too hard to be a part of, or excitement and expectation.)
Now imagine the Sistine Chapel painted by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512 with neartouching hands depicting the creative power of God giving life to Adam, and images representing the purity and power of God’s love; Christ defeating death and forgiving sins; the intent and power of God to heal, liberate and bring peace; the humility of Christ to descend and serve the least. Now imagine that the doors of the chapel close and everything depicted on the ceiling and walls becomes real – this part of the prayer is saying exactly that!
You are now “live” with God and all that he is, all that he feels for you, all that he wants to do in and through you, and all that he is doing! As you allow yourself to be aware of the power, love and activity of God around you becoming animated, what do you see in your mind’s eye? What are you doing, and what do you see God doing? (Note: Be alert to specific things to do with you or others you know – this can form the basis for some real involvement with God.) What does God say to you?
Jesus obviously believed that it was possible for his followers to enter this God-here Reality. He called his followers to pray for the kingdom to come. To pray that way is to live that way – to “live as if “it is true with the expectation that we discover it and come to know that it is true. This means a faith-filled involvement with God, working out his purposes in our lives. Ask God to show you specifically what it means for you to “live as if” God is here and at work, wait for him to show you, and record it here.
PRAYER TEXT: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV) Integral to the God-here Reality called the Kingdom is that God is at work here and now to transform us into the likeness of Jesus – really (2 Corinthians 3:18)! By praying Let your kingdom come” we are declaring a willingness to co-operate in our own re-creation by being honest about the sinful parts of our lives and working with God in the process of our own transformation (he transforms and this can happen as we co-operate) until a new life in the love and power of God (the kingdom) takes shape to the glory of God. In your imagination go to a safe place with Jesus and in the spirit of co-operating in and desiring your own re-creation ask him to show you the areas of your life that are inconsistent with his and require re-creating. Ask him to show you what God wants to do with you next and how you can co-operate. Write what you hear and see below. (Again remember: Christ’s 11
voice will never be condemning and will always leave you feeling loved and with a sense of hope and possibility for your life.)
CONVERSATION: Jesus taught that we should prize the Kingdom like a treasure or precious gem and eagerly exchange everything for it (Matthew 13:44-46), doing battle in prayer and through our faith-filled actions â€“ putting our hands to Kingdom tasks - until the Kingdom comes in all its fullness and power. Have a conversation with Jesus about how you feel about what he taught us, and ask for his help. What does he say to you?
Pray slowly several times: You are here and you are at work in, through and around me. Thank you.
What are you doing Father? PREPARATION: Take ten deep breaths, slowly exhaling each time, to become inwardly quiet and focussed. In the presence of God make a physical gesture to recognise his sovereignty over all things. PRAY that God sharpens your spiritual sight so you can see what he is doing (John 5:19). PRAYER TEXTS: May your will be done here on earth, just as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:10b NLT) Therefore I urge you brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2 NIV) Jesus taught that we live, and relate with God, from the inside-out (Matthew 12:34, 15:1720). The centre of the inside of us is our will. The whole self is directed and organised from the will – the same as the biblical heart or centre of a person. It is hard to separate the heart, soul, mind and spirit that make up the non-physical part of us, but this is where we feel things, think, and make choices that shape our life and organise our life around God and his Kingdom (or not). Unless our will is surrendered to God, we aren’t surrendered to God. The will is the decision-making function of the heart and exercise of the will forms character as choices are ingrained. The will is what God looks at when he looks at us and relates with us because it is what is true about us. Still yourself inwardly, close your eyes and say slowly 4-5 times: You are merciful and Your will is good, pleasing and perfect. What do you see with the eyes of your heart? Write a prayer to God in response.
PRAYER TEXT: Jesus gave them this answer: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can only do what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (John 5:19 NIV) To follow and live like Jesus is to discern God’s will and do it – this is the secret to the peace, freedom, and power of his life. It allowed him to powerfully live in and bring the kingdom. In terms of your own life at this time, pray “Father what are you doing?” and wait for words and images in your mind’s eye that are specific to you. Write down what you hear and see as well as your inward response.
The importance of our will for our life with God, and the fact that God’s plan for our wellbeing is to align our will with his, helps us understand why there is a raging battle to win over our will. The devil’s strategy is to deceive us so that we (for whatever reasons – even logical ones) stop responding to God’s Word and voice, and as a result become “spiritually dull”. This means that our spiritual equipment becomes rusty from lack of use and God speaks words of love to us but we can’t understand them in a way that frees us to do God’s will even if we say we want to (Isaiah 6:9-10, Mark 4:11-12, Mark 8:14-21, John 12:37-40, Acts 28:23-28). Man’s strategy, shaped by the fact that we don’t have the power to change a human heart, is to attempt to win us over by providing external motivations to respond in a certain way (ie. importance, entertainment, convenience etc.). God’s strategy is to light up our heart with the knowledge of his love by the Holy Spirit (Philippians 2:13, Ephesians 1:17-18). As we develop spiritual practices that reach deeply enough to touch our will, the boundary-lines of our heart are stretched so that we can embrace God’s will. Reflect on how each of these strategies is impacting on your own life with God. Write a nittygritty prayer to God expressing what your desire is in terms of his will in view of the influence of the different strategies.
PRAYER TEXT: I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the spirit of wisdom and revelation to know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. (Ephesians 1:17-19a NIV) Pray this Scripture as a personal prayer, and as you do allow yourself to see with the eyes of your heart. What do you see?
CONVERSATION: Have a brief conversation with God about what you saw, letting hope and gratitude rise in your heart because of what the Father is doing.
The Dependent Life of Loved Children PREPARATION: Shake off any distractions that want to rob you of inner quiet and clarity. To orient your soul towards the fact that you need him, say Father several times over and over as if appealing to him for help. Make a physical gesture of humility and affection. PRAY for the faith and humility to depend on him. PRAYER TEXTS: Give us our food for today (Matthew 6:11 NLT) Jesus is showing his followers the way that we should be towards God – our attitude and “frame” – amidst the needs and problems we face in our lives. Firstly, we should ask like loved children – with humble innocence, dependence, trust, and expectancy. As we are able to fight off the lies and pain that life’s experiences can bring us that tell us we are unloveable, we are able to embrace a new identity as a loved child of God. This is how Jesus teaches that we should come and ask. When my kids come to me there is absolutely no question of my desire to meet their needs because we are tied together by blood. In the same way praying Give us food for today anticipates that Christ’s blood shed on the cross ties us to the Father as his loved children. Close your eyes and repeat “Father give me food for today”. As you do allow yourself inwardly to come before God. Be aware of how you come – is there fear, tentativeness, distance, begging or connection, affection, eyes meeting, and affection? Do you come as a loved child or with another identity? What does the Father say and do when you approach him? Write down what you see, hear and experience and also how you are impacted.
Secondly Jesus teaches that we should only ask for food sufficient for today, and in this way remain in a place of constant (daily) dependence on God – he is jealous to be our Keeper so that we keep coming to him and don’t forget him in the midst of our busy lives. Our attitude should be that we don’t need to grab, hoard or worry (about food, finances, happiness or our reputations) because each “today” will have its own grace for God’s loved children (Matthew 6:25-34). We should ask like loved children but then not just wait for what we want, but 16
instead remain involved, surrendered and corresponding with our Father who gives all good things (James 1:17-18). In this way we position ourselves for grace. We should get out of the kitchen and let our Father prepare the food! Sometimes what we need is clear, but often we don’t understand what we really need because we don’t have the sort of insight into our lives that God does. Not getting what we think we need can be discouraging, and God might, in his wisdom, be giving us something else because he sees our real need. In the context of Christ’s call to be constantly dependent on the Father reflect on how you live your daily life and write your thoughts here. What is God saying to you?
Write down what you think you need. Then bring these before God asking him to show you if you have identified your true needs as he sees it. Write down what he shows you.
PRAYER TEXT: “My food”, said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” (John 4:34 NIV) Jesus taught that he was “the bread of life” (John 6:30-35) feeding our souls and spirits so that we can live the life of heaven – the life of love, peace, joy, and power. As young believers there is “beginner’s grace” but the path to maturity more and more involves finding our food and nourishment in the will of God. CONVERSATION: Chat with God about your desire for spiritual maturity, thank him for calling you higher and closer to him, and ask for his help with your needs in the day ahead.
Captives Set Free PREPARATION: Make yourself comfortable and still. Maintain silence for a minute or two as a gesture of reverence and humility. PRAY for the courage to be honest about your sin. PRAYER TEXT: Forgive us our sins [just as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us]. (Matthew 6:12 NLT) Jesus recognises that in a broken world we will continually sin and need forgiveness. This is true of the best person we know because beyond obvious sin that can be seen, there are also hidden sins in our hearts – motivations that displease God or omissions where we just don’t do what pleases God – an none of us is perfect like Jesus…yet. It is natural to want to make up for sins, but followers of Jesus aren’t on that treadmill – we ask for forgiveness and constantly reorient our lives towards the will and heart of God as we become more like Jesus. Wholehearted and constant forgiveness (both receiving it and giving it) describes a way of life in the Messianic community, a way of being for Christ’s followers that is integrated into the way we experience God’s love and kingdom. We forgive in strength and expectation not in weakness as if it is a necessary compromise. Say several times slowly, Thank you Father for sending Jesus to save us from the treadmill of paying for our sins. Read the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant in Matthew 18:21-35 Notice that the king doesn’t fudge on the debt, and in the same way God won’t fudge on our sin because sin hurts us and is a barrier to the biblical goal of our union with a Holy God (John 17:20-21). Often we don’t take sin seriously enough, and we are only sorry when we get caught. When appearances govern our repentance it shows spiritual immaturity and a lack of understanding of the central importance of doing God’s will for the good life in the kingdom that we all seek. The servant prostrates himself begging for time to repay the debt – the king doesn’t give time or opportunity for repayment but instead says you don’t have to pay. He gives complete freedom, releases the man from his debt – a Jubilee moment of grace and mercy, a fresh start. He is legally a captive but now set free without strings attached, not because God fudges on the debt, or because of the offer to repay (it is clear this is not possible), but because of some “integrity” (or honesty about what is real in our lives – both what is right and what is wrong –
as we truly seek to please God) in the servants appeal and the king is moved with compassion. This is also the way God is toward us. Use your imagination now to enter the scene of the encounter between the king and the first servant who could not repay his debt. You are the servant and God is the King. The issue between you is an area of sin in your own life – take a minute to identify it inwardly. Perhaps this is something that you keep secret, or a sin that has been there unresolved for many years, or perhaps you have sought forgiveness before but without relief. Whatever the situation, guilt and perhaps shame come with it, and an awareness that this sin is holding you back with God and in your enjoyment of life. Don’t rush as your debt/sin is clearly established in your interaction with God. What do you see in your mind’s eye? What do you see in God? How is he towards you? What does he say to you? Be aware of what is happening inside you through the interaction, and the ways God’s love empowers you to reorient this part of your life toward him. Write about the encounter here.
“Integrity” is often confused with perfection but it is not the same. Perfection means that there is no fault or wrong. Integrity is the uprightness and honesty to be able to recognise both what is right and what is wrong in our lives while at the same time truly seek to please God. This is a much better fit with the fact that the human heart is full of evil and deceit (Matthew 5:8). And the more integrity we have, the more whole we are. To be whole is to be able to embrace our true self (or whole self) – warts and all – and to find love and peace given everything that is true about us….no subtractions. God is calling us to live before him without subtraction, but with the whole of us, and that when we do he will bless us with mercy and grace through release, a fresh start, and reorientation towards his good will. Close your eyes and become inwardly aware. Now try to “feel” what perfection feels like as a way to live – try to feel its demands, where it leaves you, what happens to you as you try to satisfy its demands. Now do the same with integrity. Which best describes you? Have a conversation with God about it and write what you discovered and what you hear him say. 19
CONVERSATION: Biblically we are not just sinners but saints (people who are pure and holy) who struggle with sin. God sees us the way we see our own children – he sees our faults but would never separate himself from us because of his love. Problems don’t emerge in the relationship because we do wrong, but when we start hiding what is wrong (and trying to make up for it with outward appearances), and stop reorienting ourselves towards what is right. Have a conversation with God about this – journal about it below - and end with a prayer of deep gratitude for his forgiveness and love.
Release Others and Free Your Own Heart PREPARATION: As you still yourself inwardly let yourself be joyful as you entertain the thought that today offers an opportunity to be released from things that weigh down your soul. I make a gesture of gratitude to Jesus as Liberator. PRAY for a merciful heart that is able to forgive others. PRAYER TEXT: [Forgive us our sins,] just as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us. (Matthew 6:12 NLT) The kingdom life is characterised by an inward-outward rhythm. Freely you have received freely give; hear the Good News – be my witnesses to tell others, let God love you – pay it forward and love others…and so on. If we receive but don’t give away we will be like the Dead Sea – the waters of our soul will be stagnant and lifeless. Close your eyes and become aware of your own soul – what do you find inside you? Is the water fresh and live – flowing into and out from you, or is it stale and stagnant? As you write about what you find, invite God to speak to you and journal what he says.
Re-read the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant in Matthew 18:21-35 The servant who was released from a huge debt by the king is also owed a relatively small amount by a second debtor in the story. This debtor also asks for the opportunity to repay the debt but the released servant throws his fellow servant in prison until the debt is paid! The king calls him a “wicked servant” – not because he mishandled money, but because he mishandled grace. His (huge) debt was forgiven because of extraordinary grace and generosity, and he should be generous and have mercy too. The man who refused to forgive after being forgiven himself is thrown into prison. He was freed by grace but is now a captive because he refused to graciously free another. God will never fudge on sin but will generously forgive us when we ask him with integrity. BUT when we don’t in turn forgive others, we will forfeit the freedom we have been graciously given and end up in “captivity” – the servant who failed to forgive is “handed over to his torturers” (the literal translation). The person who doesn’t forgive is “tortured” or punished. We will look at the different forms that this takes as the basis for our own healing. Firstly, the heart that refuses to forgive is a heart that fails to appreciate or be made alive by the mercy and love of God – it cannot receive forgiveness or love itself (1 John 4:20) and is suspended away from intimacy with God (Matthew 18:35, 5:23-25). A further punishment is that our relationships remain unhealed, and can be estranged from people we loved or still love. Take a minute to bring all of your relationships – past and present – to God. What does God show you?
When we are wronged we think that withholding forgiveness is torturing the person who hurt us – that by keeping them on our hook we are holding something over them. But often they are oblivious while we suffer more punishment. When we are wounded by someone our heart and attention are hijacked and focussed on the wound – we cannot be focussed on God or what is good in our lives. Instead of hearing God’s voice of love, all we can hear is the voices of this fallen world – injustice (“It’s not fair!”), anger (“I’ll get you!”), fear (“I must hide and protect myself!”), pain (“I can’t go on!”), guilt/shame (“I am a shocker!”). God said that he would avenge injustice (Romans 12:17-19) but when we keep people who do us wrong on our hook our un-forgiveness makes us a target for the schemes of the devil. Forgiveness is a legal transaction that releases those who do wrong or wound us from punishment, AND releases us from the bitterness, judgement and anger that clogs up our hearts like algae blocking the flow of a river. If we don’t forgive these things remain in our hearts keeping alive the lies that are a part of the way we were hurt (eg. “You are no good”, “It’s your fault, you should have…”, “You aren’t worthy of love”, “You should be ashamed of yourself”, “You’ll never amount to anything”). Un-forgiveness chains us to the event(s) that hurt us and the people involved, punishing us as we re-live it over and over. But forgiveness is more than a legal transaction of release, it is the extension of God’s own heart 22
of compassion that removes demonic rights to our hearts (John 8:32, 8:44b). Un-forgiveness gives the devil some sort of right to ensure that the lies that control and diminish our lives continue to have influence in us. These lies include: fear, rejection, worthlessness, shame, insecurity, defilement and hopelessness. Freedom is found by going into the presence of Jesus so that he can speak liberating truth into our lives (John 8:32). Be inwardly aware and invite Jesus to show you any relationships - past or present - in which you are with-holding forgiveness. In your own way in the presence of Jesus, release the people involved from your hook and let God deal with any injustices that took place. Pray a prayer of blessing over them. Note here anything significant that happened during this process.
Still yourself and tune yourself in to hear your own inner voices as you think about recent events and the resulting conversation you had inside yourself. Note below the voices/lies (from the list above) that dominate the conversation and express themselves. Then go to a safe place where you can be with Jesus and ask him to speak the truth into your life. Write about his voice and what happens when he speaks to you.
CONVERSATION: Have a conversation with the Jesus about the liberating truths you have discovered about yourself today, recognise his wisdom for setting you free, and express gratitude.
Testing, Spiritual Energy and Spiritual Advance PREPARATION: Sit quietly at your prayer place and take in the presence of the Holy Spirit. Make a physical gesture of reverence and openness. PRAY for God’s grace to be ready for the tests that will come. PRAYER TEXTS: And don’t let us yield to temptation but deliver us from the evil one. (Matthew 6:13 NLT) “The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” (John 10:10 NIV) The basic meaning of the Greek word used for temptation is “test”. Tests are part of life, but the hardest tests are the ones we are not ready for – they can discourage and harm us. If however, we are prepared for a test, it can make us stronger. God gives life in all its fullness by releasing us from sin through Christ’s work on the cross, and enabling us by the Holy Spirit to orient ourselves toward God’s will. He will not let us be tempted beyond what we can handle (1 Corinthians 10:13) and will use tests that come against us to make us stronger and more like his Son. The devil “steals, kills and destroys” by testing or tempting us to fall into sin and to ignore God’s will. Repeat softly over and over: Jesus, you have come so that I may have life and have it to the full. As you do, allow yourself to see it with the eyes of your heart. What picture do you see in your mind’s eye as you repeat the Scripture?
Read about the temptation of Jesus in Luke 4:1-13 At Jesus’ baptism there is a sizzling affirmation of Jesus as a dearly loved Son. Immediately after this the devil rattles the cage of this identity to try to get him to step out of it and to run on the treadmill of trying to qualify for God’s love, and living for himself. We think that the 24
hardship of testing is a consequence of our failings before God but Jesus is “full of the Spirit “and “led by the Spirit” to the place of testing. The testing was difficult, but also a place of spiritual advance – overcoming the test strengthened Jesus spiritually and in his identity as a loved Son of God. When we are tested but take risks, pay the price, and exert spiritual or physical energy to exercise the heart of God it becomes a place of spiritual advance. Church culture often wants to avoid testing, but to avoid it or the spiritual energy needed to face it, we will forfeit spiritual advance. We choose places of spiritual advance when we: challenge the lie of rejection and self-pity and let God smother us with love; when we take a risk to share what we think God is saying; when we exercise faith to pray for a sick person; and when we take risks and exert energy to express the heart of God to someone who is marginalised. Be still and ask God to bring to your attention a specific area of testing in your own life. Ask God to show you how this testing can become a place of spiritual advance. Write what he shows you and your responses here.
The struggle with temptation has to do with our own desires. Wrong desires lead to sin, and sin leads to consequences that weaken and hurt our lives – we are robbed, damaged and killed (if not literally, spiritually and emotionally). With opposition comes the temptation to resist God’s will or the cause of Christ. For example, Jesus saw his arrest as part of God’s plan, but as soon as overt opposition came many disciples were tempted to abandon him (Mark 14:4253). Temptation also comes from the evil one who deceives us with lies to influence our desires as follows: Lie Worthlessness Fear Rejection Shame
Insecurity Defilement Hopelessness
Distorted Desire If I can be the best I will feel loved and be worth something. I am alone in dangerous seas; if I cower in the corner I will be okay. No-one will ever say I am good enough, so I might as well believe it too. I’ve gone too far for grace; I can’t look God or others in the eye – all I can do is cover what is wrong. I am a helpless victim – under attack; I must take control. Because of what has been done to me I am dirty, guilty, spoiled goods. I will never…so I quit.
Source: Healing the Wounded Heart by Thom Gardner
Close your eyes and use your imagination to go to a safe place with Jesus. When you are settled there ask him to reveal any ways in which lies have distorted your desires and diverted you from God and his will. Write down what he shows you here. Repent for yielding to temptation in these areas, and ask Jesus to speak into your life in a way that frees you to right desires. Write how Jesus speaks into your life and how this changed what you desire.
CONVERSATION: The Lord’s Prayer is a recognition that we are weak and cannot resist temptation in our own strength. It calls us to exert some spiritual energy or vigour – to engage and involve with God in the face of threats from ourselves (our own distorted desires) and from the devil. Followers don’t give up on their calling, the kingdom, finding God or peace and happiness in the face of testing, but position themselves for assistance/grace from heaven. They recalibrate their perspectives to let faith and passion blossom again. Have a conversation with Jesus about this (write about it below), and thank him for always being with you (Matthew 28:20).
Paul Marshall firstname.lastname@example.org www.paulmarshall.org 26
A nine-day guided retreat on the Lord's Prayer.