You’ve embarked on four (or more) years of study. What will you do with your years in college?
Making space for God
If you are a student with ministry responsibilities on your campus, how do keep your vision and passion for God fresh and alive? When ministry gets added to your schedule as just another thing you have to do, it may be time to find a quiet space and have a conversaton with God that can restore your soul.
Every semester, our InterVarsity chapter leaders gather for short retreats of prayer and solitude at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California. We skip our usual planning meeting on Sunday afternoon and take two and a half hours for what we call “making space for God.”
We spend this time in silence, contemplating Scripture, reflecting on our lives and engaging with the Lord. For some of us, it’s an effort to unplug from the electronic devices that normally serve as a distraction from our problems. But when we do, God meets us in the deeper places of our souls, restoring us for the work he has prepared for us.
Our leaders are renewed by the experience. “I really enjoy leaders’ meetings in which we get to spend time alone with God,” said Jocelyn. “I get caught up in so much logistical stuff that I forget to take chunks of time to spend just meditating on God’s word and listening for him to speak.”
Each semester is a different retreat of silence, using readings from Scripture and a particular theme. One retreat examined our motivations for ministry as leaders. During another retreat, we used stations to represent the vine and the branches from Jesus’ teaching in John 15. Our retreat this fall focused on the freedom we have in Christ, especially in the freedom to rest. Read more about each of these silent retreats.
One student leader, Audrey, appreciated the use of physical stations to connect with the Lord. “Doing interactive activities helped me think things more thoroughly,” Audrey said. “When I read a passage in the Bible, I think of all the things it could relate to. But doing the station about “branches” encouraged me to consider where I wasn’t abiding in Jesus. I put my ideas, feelings and senses into words.”
Tips for making your own space with God
Here are some suggestions to maximize your time with God:
- Silence: Yes, silence can be unnerving, especially in this media-saturated society. However, until we unplug ourselves from our noise-addiction, we will find it very difficult to pay attention to God’s still, small voice. So give it a try! Leave behind your phone, iPod and laptop. Go to a place where there are minimal audio distractions and listen.
- Solitude: Ever try writing a paper while your web-chatting program is up and your friend is across the room from you? Hardly anything gets done! When we’re confronted with awkward moments or unease, our first instinct as communal creatures is to break it up with human connection. But this is a time for you and God to meet. It can be very distracting to have others around you unless they, too, have committed to a time of silent retreat.
- Comfort: I once tried to fast while on a prayer retreat and all I could think about was what I wanted to eat after the retreat was over. There is a time and place for fasting, but during this exercise I recommend that you be hydrated, fed and in a comfortable (but not too comfortable) place.
All of these tips are designed to optimize your attention to God. I generally come into these times with an open posture by asking, “God, what is it that you want to meet me about? I am here to listen. Come and meet with me.”
I believe that making space for God is an incredibly important practice for every Christ-follower, but it is absolutely necessary for the Christian leader. And the best part is that it’s easy! All you need is an uninterrupted chunk of time, a scripture passage and an open heart.
How wonderful it is to have a God who has historically met with his people, from Abraham to Moses, from Joshua to Jesus — and now with us! Let us make the best use of our time here on earth by paying attention to God and allowing his guiding hand to move us, transform us and send us out for the glory of his name!
Read more ideas for a silent retreat.
If you’d like to try spending an hour with God but don’t know what to do, this interview with Mary Ann Voelkel describes the daily prayer habits she cultivated as a student.