Last weekend was my ministry’s annual winter retreat. The focus of this retreat was no small task, as we set out to survey the book of Revelation, discussing end times, heaven and hell, and God’s vision for a better world.
I literally spent all of last week preparing for this retreat. Studying Revelation. Reading commentaries. And then designing discussions that I hoped would expose students to varying views of Revelation, intrigue rather than scare them, and leave them wanting more.
Though I certainly could have, I used no video clips, no music, and no games to hook my students and introduce our topics.
Instead, I chose to immerse them in God’s Word, something we did during each of our five retreat sessions. During each, I was amazed at the power of God’s Word as my students hungrily read Revelation, debating and wrestling with the mysterious images found in it, expressing doubts, asking questions, searching for God’s presence, and connecting the dots between the stories of our faith.
I’m honestly not exaggerating when I say that our discussions were amazing. They were full of depth and very engaging, so much so that my students actually left wanting more. In the day and a half since we’ve returned, I’ve had a number of students facebook me additional questions about Revelation, sparked either by our conversations or their continued reading of this book.
Yet, despite these thought-provoking discussions, at the end of the day, they’re not what most impacted my students during this retreat.
I know this because I closed the retreat by asking students, “Where did you see God this weekend?”
By far and away, despite the countless hours spent planning these discussions and the amazing experience students had during them, where my students saw God most this weekend was in nature.
My students saw God this weekend in the unplanned moments of the retreat when, walking to and from the dining hall, they saw deer and recognized God as their creator, as someone worthy of worship.
My students saw God in the snow that continued to fall throughout our retreat.
And my students saw God on Saturday night when we were walking back to our cabin after a failed attempt at a campfire. On a whim, when we got to a clearing along the path, I asked all of our students to lay down in the snow and look up. After several minutes of joking around, an incredible (and very rare) silence descended upon our group as we stargazed.
After a few minutes of silence, I sat up and invited everyone to stand up. When no one did, I checked to make sure everyone was still awake. After seeing that they were, I just laid back down.
A few minutes later, people slowly started to rise, eyes still directed at the stars and moon gracing our incredible night sky.
For my students, who are constantly running from one activity to the next, there was something mystical about this moment of stillness spent stargazing in the snow.
It was something so powerful that even the most amazing discussions could not trump it.
To me, this was also a powerful reminder that in a world filled with so much unnecessary noise, sometimes what most enables students – and dare I say, us – to see God is not another discussion or even worship, but instead, stillness and silence.
As 1 Kings 19:11-12 says, “The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.”