I wrote last month about how I first came to put a structure to my prayer life: divert daily, withdraw weekly, retreat regularly, abandon annually. That was years ago and things have changed. However, the basic principles are still there. At the beginning of each day – well, most days – I spend between a half-hour and an hour in prayer. Sometimes it’s while I’m walking and sometimes it’s praying with others. I focus on immediate issues, praying for Heather and the kids and our friends and family, and the things that are coming up that day. Then about three or four nights a week I take time to write in my journal, which often takes the form of a prayer, reflecting on the day and recording how God has been working with me.
Each week I put aside two hours somewhere in the week for prayer specifically about my ministry roles and responsibilities. According to the maths of my little structure, this is supposed to be three hours but, honestly, I’ve caved in to time pressure! This is especially hard to maintain, because as soon as I start praying about some aspect of ministry I’m itching to get up and go at it in a flurry of activity. At that point my theology of ministry, works and grace is sorely tested!
I found going for seven weeks between retreat days was too long, so now a take a day a month, usually the first Friday, to get away from both home and office. The shape of that day varies depending on my circumstances at the time. I try to plan it so it doesn’t just get frittered away. Sometimes it’s given largely to personal worship, other times it’s praying name by name through the people God has entrusted to me, yet other times I’ve given it over to placing strategic decisions before the Lord and waiting on him to direct my thoughts. It seems like a huge luxury to do this, but I believe it’s actually a necessity if I am to be a spiritual leader who has any sort of integrity.
The last thing is my ‘annual abandonment’ to a monastery or other ‘quiet place’. I love this time, and my wife is very gracious in allowing me to take off for four or five days while she looks after things at home. This period is spent on three main things. First, I review my journal for the year, picking up patterns, revising the lessons I’ve learned and compiling the insights I’ve written down along the way. Second, I read right through Paul’s pastoral letters to Timothy and Titus several times, meditating on my pastoral calling in the light of the Scriptures. Third, I plan for the year ahead, which involves listing personal, spiritual and professional goals and getting my diary sorted out.
This annual abandonment has been my lifeline for more than 25 years now. Without it, I think I would have lost perspective on several occasions and perhaps not been able to keep focussed on my calling in the early years as a pastor and now as an itinerant mentor. I come back from these times refreshed, clear headed and strong-hearted – ready for another year of ministry because I’ve reconnected at a deep level with the love of God, the wisdom of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.