Ideas for a silent retreat

silent retreat ideas

Remember the energy you had for ministry on campus when the school year started? But if the semester’s papers, exams and unread textbooks are crashing down, you may be feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. And what happens when the vision and passion you had for ministry starts dying out, becoming just another thing you have to do? That is when making space for God 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 spend two and a half hours in silence, contemplating Scripture, reflecting on our lives and engaging with the Lord.

Our retreats vary, but we usually use “Lectio Divina” (Divine Reading) which is a slow, contemplative, prayerful reading of the scriptures. This sample video describes the process of Lectio Divina and walks you through a segment of scripture.

Here are some of the ideas we’ve used for our silent retreats:

Motivations for ministry

As leaders, it’s important to take a close look at our motivations for ministry. Why are we doing what we’re doing? What limits our effectiveness in ministry? One of our first silent retreats focused on knowing God, not just doing ministry.

Everyone found a solitary place on campus and followed a Lectio Divina to slowly work through a particular scripture multiple times, listening attentively to what God might be saying. First the readings ushered us into the intimacy of God. Then, as we met with him, our false motivations for ministry were exposed and we were invited to confess. In the end, we found solace and excitement in the hope that God is the one who will lead us through our ministry responsibilities. Everyone was amazingly refreshed by this time of solitude.

Bearing fruit (or not)

Last spring we added to the Lectio Divina with stations that represented Jesus’ illustration of the vine and the branches in John 15. The exercise was “Abiding in Christ” and students actively engaged with God. They worked slowly through the gospel passage, contemplating what branches God is pruning and what fruit he wants to bear in each of us. Again this was a refreshing time for us, especially as the year drew to a close and everyone was tired from a year of ministry.

Here is a description of the experience from one of the students:

Station 1: The Lectio Divina is one of my favorite ways to begin studying a passage. I had to quiet myself before God and listen. It took more than three readings of the passage from John 15, but finally the word that stuck out to me was “truth.” I couldn’t figure out why.

Station 2: I moved on to the second station with John 15:5-8. In a basket were real branches and fake branches (pieces of paper crumpled into branches). silent retreatWe were instructed to think about what we do in ministry where we fail to abide in Jesus. I realized that I don’t encourage my team to pray together. During our large-group meetings I worry about things going right and try to do things on my own instead of depend on God. As a branch, I think I can detach myself from the vine and grow on my own. I forget that everything I have, all my abilities, all that I am, is solely because of Jesus. He is my source.

Station 3 focused on John 15:9-11. On the wall was a large piece of paper with a vine painted on it. We were invited to respond to Jesus’ love. We could paste a branch onto the vine or draw or write something on the vine. On my branch I wrote, “Jesus is my source.”

Station 4 was John 15:12-17 with some guiding questions. I finally connected the stations together: Jesus is my true source. As much as I think I can handle everything, I am not the vine. I only have to be a branch.

Finding freedom to rest

This fall’s silent retreat fit in with the theme for our chapter meetings which are focusing on the freedom we have in Christ, as found in Romans 5-8. So far we have talked about “Freedom to Party and Excel.” Then we talked about “Freedom to Rest.” As a follow-up in the large-group meeting, we invited students to come and rest the next day for an extended time of silence and personal reflection. Once again, the Lord met us with grace and truth.

You may live with a packed schedule and relentless responsibilities, but I invite you to take time to rest, reflect and restore your soul.

—Stephen Wong

Return to the feature article, Making space for God.