Retreat 6

Choose Life

These retreats have been created in community through prayer and discernment and then most have been written in a singular voice. This retreat is offered in the voice of team member Daniel Lai.

A First Reflection

Let’s start by becoming more fully present with Christ in this moment. Put away distractions. ​

 

Write down pressing thoughts or to-do items that scramble across your mind, saving them for another time. This time is for you and the Lord. ​

 

Invite Him to spend time with you. Sit with Him now. Breathe with Him. Talk to Him if you want. (He loves to hear your voice!) Or just sit quietly with Him. (He loves this too!)

 

If you find it helpful, pray Psalm 46:10 in the contemplative way we learned in a previous retreat. Pause in between each line and take some deep breaths. Imagine yourself becoming more and more rooted in Christ with each line.

Be still and know that I am God.

Be still and know that I am.

Be still and know.

Be still.

Be.

When you feel settled and attentive, read this passage from Deuteronomy 30:19-20 (NLT):

Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! ​ You can make this choice by loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and committing yourself to him. This is the key to your life."

Re-read the passage a few times.

 

What part of the passage stands out to you? What is God calling to your attention?

You may want to write your thoughts down before you move forward.

Moses’ Final Speech

These words of Moses in Deuteronomy 30 constitute his final speech to the people of Israel before his death. The Israelites stand on the precipice of the promised land, the weariness of the wilderness behind them, the lush land flowing with milk and honey before them. Forty years of wandering has produced, literally, a new generation of people who will step forth into the new land with a new leader, Joshua. The old is going away, the new about to come. This is Israel’s threshold moment.

 

It is here that Moses delivers a speech for the ages. After enumerating in detail their history, the laws the Lord has given them, and their covenant, Moses distills the entirety of the Torah in simple and powerful fashion:

 

Oh that you would CHOOSE LIFE by loving God and obeying him!

You can almost hear the pleading in his voice. ​

 

 

The old is going away, the new about to come. This is Israel's threshold moment.”

A Revolutionary God

Today in America, where we have supermarkets bursting with a wide variety of food choices, where our menus have gluten- and dairy-free options, and where we can vote to choose our laws and leaders, we sometimes take choice for granted. ​

 

In the ancient world, the fact that God would give His people a choice was revolutionary! This was not the modus operandi of the gods of Egypt, or the array of Mesopotamian gods of that region and time. The average human being at that point in history was subject to the whims of the powerful, either the gods of their mythology or their kings and warlords, and in Israel’s case, their Pharaohs and slave masters. ​

 

The common person had no voice in government or society and had little recourse to enact change. Social and economic advancement was virtually non-existent and most people just accepted their lot in life because there was no alternative. Yet we can see God subverting this ancient worldview at the very beginning of the Bible: He creates Adam and Eve with wills apart from His own, giving them power to choose their own actions, which they promptly exercise by disobeying His first instructions. ​

 

Not only did God give human beings the power to choose, He also lives with their (often poor) choices! The story of the Old Testament is less about God forcing people to act the way He wants and more about Him dealing with their actions that are mostly the exact opposite of what He wants. What kind of all-powerful deity would act in such an exasperating, time-consuming way?​ What kind of God gives His creation the power to resist Him? A God motivated by love instead of power.

 

Reflect for a moment. How has God been patient and gracious with your choices? ​

 

How can you, in turn, be patient and gracious with the choices of others?

Continued...

How can you, in turn, be patient and gracious with the choices of others?

 

The power implicit in the choice that Moses sets before the people of Israel is a truly awesome power indeed, for it contains the wherewithal to say “NO” to God. The choice is more difficult than it may seem at first glance, however. Jesus describes it this way: “You can enter God’s kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate wide for the many that choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14 NLT) ​

 

If choosing life was a one-time choice made only in one’s mind, it would be easy! ​ But choosing life is both a one-time choice and countless daily choices that take place in one’s mind AND actions (lived out through one’s body), which is what makes it difficult. If having a good marriage meant simply saying “I do” on your wedding day, how blissful that would be! ​ But most married people learn that after the big “I do” there are countless little “I do’s” and “I will’s” and “I’m sorry’s” that constitute a good marriage. Choosing life is a choice one makes a thousand times a day in a thousand little ways.

 

Paul continues the theme of choice that runs through the entirety of Scripture in Philippians 4:8 (NIV):

 

“Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent and praiseworthy— think about such things.”

 

And again in Colossians 3:2 (NIV):

 

“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”

 

Paul reminds us that we have the power to choose what we think about. We can practice choosing our thoughts; what a valuable skill to develop! ​

 

A Problem of Desire

Yet we all know how difficult it is to control our own thoughts and actions. Contrary to popular belief, our problem is not a lack of will power or knowledge but of desire. I know what I should do, but I don’t want to do it; or rather, I want to do something else more. I know I should exercise, but I would rather watch something on TV. I know I should put away my phone, but I would rather scroll through social media. I know I should eat something healthy, but I would rather eat something delicious …err… I mean unhealthy!

 

We need help! We need, as Dallas Willard described it, a “renovation of the heart,” so we can begin to want the things that God wants (listed in Galatians 5:22-23, among other places). We in the Good Way hope that these retreats create opportunities for our hearts to align with God’s, so that we will want the things that He wants. ​

 

When our hearts are aligned with God’s heart, choosing life will be natural, like choosing to breathe. ​

 

Choosing Life Today

Like the people of Israel before us, God is inviting us to choose life today. ​

 

Perhaps you are standing on the precipice of something new.

 

Perhaps you are caught in the grind of the old. ​

 

What could choosing life look like for you now?

 

Let’s start by getting in touch with our own desires:

what do you really want?

This is one of Jesus’ favorite questions (John 1:38; Mark 10:51; John 5:6; John 18:4)! We sometimes discount our own desires in the name of submitting our will to God’s; there is wisdom to this, for Jesus himself prays, “Not my will but yours be done.” Yet perhaps we have gone too far in not paying attention to our desires at all. Getting in touch with our desires can begin the process of aligning our hearts with God’s by helping us see overlaps and divergences between our hearts and God’s.

 

The following exercise may help you. (At the end of it, I give you an example of my answers to the questions in this exercise.)

 

 

 

Exercise: Self-Lectio

Self-lectio (pronounced “LEX-ee-oh”) is the practice of listening to your own soul in order to discern God’s current direction and invitation for your life. It is a wonderful practice to pair with Lectio Divina (listening to Scripture), which we have previously learned, as the two in tandem can bring Scripture into direct application to one’s current circumstances. ​

 

There are many ways to do self-lectio. For our purposes we will approach self-lectio this way:

 

 

Step 1:

Begin with Silence

Bring your soul into a listening posture by becoming still and quiet. Breath prayer may be helpful here (from the second retreat). Or whenever your mind begins to wander, refocus it by taking a deep breath and praying the words of Samuel,

 

"Speak Lord, your servant is listening,” (1 Samuel 3:10).

NOTE: You can do steps two-six sitting quietly or while doing some physical activity, or some combination. ​ Some of us think better when we are still, some of us think better when we’re physically moving. ​ ALL of us think better when we limit distractions: other people, music, podcasts, videos, games, etc. Do your best to limit distractions as you continue the exercise.

 

Step 2:

Answer this question:

What do you want?

Make no judgment to the godliness or value of these desires. ​ In other words, don’t think about what you SHOULD want; just be honest about what you ACTUALLY want. Either write them down (you can throw them away later if you want) or say them out loud to God, or both. There is power and freedom in externally naming our inner realities. God already knows the desires of your heart; He just wants to help you know them too so that He can begin to talk to you about them!

 

 

 

Step 3:

Talk to God about your Desires

Remember that He is a kind Father who loves you more than you can possibly imagine: your voice is pure delight to Him and He can’t wait to hear from you! ​

 

Maybe there is a desire that seems really good; talk to God about it and perhaps ask God to help you pursue/explore it, or to help you recognize opportunities related to this desire.

 

Maybe there is one that seems really bad; talk to God about it and perhaps ask Him to help you not want it anymore, or to protect you from it.

 

Maybe there is a desire that you are unsure about; talk to God about it and perhaps ask God to give you clarity regarding this desire.

 

Maybe there is one that seems inconsequential or less important (at least for now); feel free to skip it or perhaps ask God to bring it up in the future if it’s something He wants you to consider.

 

 

Step 4:

Begin to discern how you can choose life today by answering these contrasting questions:

What has been life-giving for you lately?

What has been difficult lately?

Again, you can do this in whichever way is best for you. It may be sitting and writing in your journal. It may be walking and talking with the Lord. It may be recording a video of yourself talking. Or any combination of these things or others. (So many choices!)

 

 

 

Step 5:

Take notice of any themes in your answers and talk to God about them.

Are there any themes in your life-giving/difficult answers?

Any connections to your list of desires? Do your answers point to ways you can choose life right now?

 

Talk to God about your answers/themes and how you can choose life moving forward. ​

 

Ask Him to help you. Then tell any relevant people in your life about how you want to choose life and ask them to help you if applicable.

 

 

 

Step 6:

End with Prayer.

If it is helpful, you can use these words...

Dear Lord,

Thank you for my life.

Create in me a pure heart, oh God,

And renew a right spirit in me.

Help me to choose life

Each day

In big and small ways.

I love you,

Amen."

 

 

 

 

Here are some of my answers: ​

(Key: bold print/seem good to pursue; italicized/seem good to avoid/change; plain/unsure)

I want

To buy a house in San Francisco that I can fix up with my wife Becky. (Deeper desire: to be financially secure.)

 

To be a good father and a good husband.​ ​

 

Others to think well of me. (Deeper desire: To be attractive to others both in appearance and substance.)

 

To be comfortable and safe.

 

To make a difference in the world. (Deeper desire: To do something good with my life.)

 

To write and teach about Jesus.

 

Life-giving

• Walking on Great Highway (along the ocean)

• Going to the farmers’ market

• Eating fresh fruit

• Taking a break from social media and the news

• Teaching my kids something new

• Listening to music as a family

• Learning about local plants and animals

 

Themes: nature, family

Difficult

Losing patience with kids, especially at the end of the day (tired?)

• Staying up too late watching TV or on social media, feeling tired and angry the next day

• So many Zoom meetings

• Getting angry about politics, the news (partly righteous anger, partly carnal/judgmental anger)

• Feeling cooped up in the house

 

Themes: screens/media/technology, being tired/needing restful sleep

Connections with desires

Family/being a good father and husband; I can do the greatest good in the world in my own family.

 

I want to choose life by

Taking long breaks from all screens

 

Becoming well-acquainted with Jesus and His teachings: studying, reading, meditating, praying

 

Getting out in nature

 

Eating fresh foods

 

Do fun things with my family

 

Getting a good night's sleep

 

Saving money, living simply, being wise about finances

 

 

People to talk to about these things

• My wife

• My kids

• My boss (limiting Zoom meetings per day)

 

 

Like the people of Israel before us, God is inviting us to choose life today.”

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