By “intentionally” I mean that we have a goal or purpose that guides our actions; in this case our goal is to be alone with God. This neither implies nor excludes an agenda or schedule, but it does mean that such considerations are secondary and shaped by our intention to be alone with God. There is no special formula for retreating. The way that we focus on God may be completely different from one person to the next. However, the goal of attending to God remains the same.
Intentionality is key to wilderness time because it affects how we relate to God during that time. Consider the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector as an illustration:
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
The Pharisee and the tax collector both went up to the temple, but they had drastically different intentions. The Pharisee was interested in boasting to God and others about how good he was and could have added going to temple to his list of religious accomplishments. If we approach wilderness time with the intention of adding it to our Christian pedigree, then we will entirely miss the point and it will be little more than puffing up our ego. We will be too busy talking to listen to what God has to say. In this frame of mind, the wilderness time is itself the end rather a means to the end of communing with and being formed by God. In other words, we do not allow God to form us because we have accomplished our goal and spiritually checked out as soon as we have begun our retreat.
Contrast this with the tax collector’s intentions: rather than boasting he was there to humble himself before God. Our goal in wilderness time is to commune with and be formed by God; the first step in doing this is submitting to God. Once we have relinquished control of our spiritual growth to Him we are free to concentrate on cooperating with Him. The image presented in the tax collector gives us some tips for getting our intentions right. First, the tax collector had no illusions about himself and recognized that he was a sinner in desperate need of God’s mercy. We must be willing to know and be honest with ourselves. Second, the tax collector was not interested in making his trip to the temple about himself. As a matter of fact, he stood “afar off”, away from the center of attention. While we need to know ourselves, wilderness time is focused on God and not us.
Very often our intentions are the difference between an attitude of self-righteousness and an attitude of submission. Even if we have the perfect plan for our wilderness time, it will be useless if we do not submit to God and allow Him to form us. This is why we must intentionally be alone with God in wilderness time. The intentions that we bring to our retreat are the foundation on which the rest of it is built.
- Do I identify more with the Pharisee or the tax collector in the story? Why?
- What am I giving up by being honest about myself with myself? By being honest about myself with God?
- How might I be more intentional in my walk with God today?