Silent Retreats: Seven Blessings & Benefits

What are the blessings and benefits of going to a silent retreat? I have been to many silent retreats from one day to over thirty days and I have always experienced many benefits and blessings through them. I have listed those that I can recall here, although not all of them are experienced in every retreat. The benefits and blessings are like a fountain and what it dispenses are abundant, life-giving and multi-faceted. Here are seven blessings I have experienced.

First, physical rest. Like most Singaporeans, I am often unaware of how much I needed rest and sleep. I was so caught up with the church work, family commitments, unticked boxes in my “To Do” list, and meetings that I often failed to attend to my body’s plea. I push my body and prop it up at night to its brink. In a silent retreat, I quiet myself and slow down. Quickly I begin to hear my body’s sigh. I embrace my limits and have my naps and unbounded sleep. Imperceptibly my body would rejuvenate, and the joy and sparkle would return. 

Second, processing of past events and experiences. Being proactive and productive is drilled into us by our culture, but being reflective has to be learned. There is no better place to learn this than during a retreat because it offers space for God to be with us as we reflect on past events and experiences, both the blessings and the burdens. This conversation with God about past painful and happy experiences helps us to go back in order to go forward. It facilitates a healing process, adjusts our assumptions and perceptions, empowers us for reconciliation, and roots us in the peace of God in the midst of unchanged circumstances and ambiguous issues. I always leave the retreat house with deep peace and joy.

Third, knowledge of God and self. God reveals himself to us as we intentionally seek him in silence, solitude and prayer. “Seek and you shall find”, Jesus promised. Mostly, I find God revealing himself to me, and more of myself to me. This knowledge comes through scripture meditation and other ancient ways of prayer, through reflection of how God is present in my past experiences, through the Lords’ Supper, and through what I observe and experience day by day in the retreat center.

Fourth, transformation. The knowledge of God and self often led to repentance, trust, commitment, directional change, worship and praise. It is not mere head knowledge but formational knowledge born out of illumination and truth encounters. Many years back I was going through a burn-out and a lengthy retreat restored me completely. You can read about this HERE. It was a transforming experience that convinced me that set apart times of seeking God in solitude and silence are vitally important for all followers of Christ, particularly those in the front-lines of the Lord’s service. 

Fifth, learning to seek and know God. Free from all earthly distractions and duties, I find myself having the space and time to learn to be intimate with God.  The many hours devoted to prayer, whether regulated or spontaneous, individual or together with others, in your room or in the chapel or outdoors, lend itself to intensive training and learning of what it means to pray. Most Singaporean Christians hardly pray – they are bombarded every day with a hundred things! The retreat gives you an undisturbed space to form a deeper connection with God and to form a habit of daily prayer and reflection, however small the beginning may seem. Armed with this success, one is more assured when one goes back into the fight of the daily grind, because he or she now has a stronger connection with God and is more confident about praying through life.

Sixth, patient hope. Retreatants often come with burning questions or issues. The felt need has to be strong for a Singaporean to sacrifice precious annual leave and money which could be used for a vacation or expensive device. They seek God with an intense expectation of a clear answer from God during the retreat, preferably by the middle of it. Sometimes God does address the issue concerned and answers or direction is graciously granted. Other times, in fact, most times this expectation of a quick satisfactory answer is met in a different way from what is expected by the retreatant.  

The biblical Job demanded an answer from God for his “unjust” suffering and got nothing God’s revelation of his glory and greatness. No intelligible logical answer was given to the mystery of why a righteous man like him had to suffer so much. God drawing near to him and revealing his greatness is deemed sufficient to root Jobs faith in the sovereignty of God. This often happens in retreat: we want an answer to help in decision-making but God simply draws near and reminds us of who he is, and invites us to trust him. God beckons us to wait without worrying. God invites us to hope.

Seventh, learning discernment. Spiritual discernment is a neglected gift, one we should all pray for and develop. I have found a growth in my ability to distinguish the thoughts, desires and feelings that comes from the devil, or my old self, or from God. I learn to discern the idols in my life: those things that I need to be freed from, so that the choices I make are glorifying to God. I learn to detect the devil’s specially designed tactics of attacking my specific weaknesses. I learn to be more sensitive to the Spirit’s movements in my heart.

Share this:

Read More →

A Christian’s simple guide to voting

Who should I vote for is the question on my mind and on your minds too. Some thinking and feeling and praying should go into my vote. To help me think through, I came up with a list of criteria. If you want to use it to help you in your decision go ahead but do attach your own individual weight of importance to each of the criteria. Since I am a preacher permit me to indulge in alliteration.


Who are the candidates in the GRC or the SMC? Certainly integrity of character and ability would be an important factor in my choice. While it is difficult to assess a candidate’s character in just two weeks, the testimony of others and character references do help. The speeches and interviews may also let slip some clues. Still it is advantageous for the incumbent, and since its difficult to be fair here, I give this less weight. I just need assurance there is no major doubts about the integrity or ability of the candidates to represent me in Parliament.

Property or practical benefits

This is probably the most self-centred of all the criteria as it has to do with “what’s in it for me and my family?” PAP’s explicit and publicly stated policy is to benefit whichever constituency votes in their candidates. This behaviorist’s approach of carrot and stick in politics has served them well in the past though today’s young voters are a different breed.


Another approach is simply to choose the party whose platform and values I am most aligned to and consonant with. A perfect match is unlikely but I can surely choose the party I am most comfortable with. Read their manifestos and hear the speeches will help me reach a reasonable  judgment.


This criteria is related to the one before it: specific issues and policies. Cost of living, availability of affordable housing, ministers’ salaries, the immigration and foreign worker policy, the care of the elderly and the poor, casinos and their social costs, health care, transparency of dealings of national reserves, and other such matters that fire your heart.  Certainly, how strongly I feel for or against the present state of affairs will somehow be factored into my thinking process.


The big picture, the long term good of the whole of Singapore comes to the forefront here. It’s no longer about whether my mum gets a lift at her floor, or upgrading of the landscaping in my area. It’s about the future I want for Singapore and for my children and children’s children. Which party is more likely to bring me towards that future?

Personal convictions and values

Faith cannot be totally divorced from this. The faith or religion I have does influence what I believe to be important in life and society, and therefore it does colour how I view the world and the decisions I make, including this vote. Christianity values the integrity and righteousness; peace and harmony; truth and justice; compassion and mercy; stewardship of the earth; etc.

Personal ranking of criteria

Individual Christians will of course place different weights of importance to each of these depending on their experiences, stage in life and convictions. Ranking the factors in order of importance helps me make a clearer decision, one that I can be at peace with, one that expresses the unique “me” at this stage of my life.

Prayer and peace

It is important to pray about my vote. Prayer is not only for when I am in trouble. The vote I take can then be free from the forces that have been unleashed by all the different political parties: fear and greed (the same forces that dominate the stock market). When these primal emotions dominate your personal landscape it is difficult to make a peaceful decision. Confidence in God’s love and care provides the basis for me to enter into a restful vote. So I will talk about this with the Lord.

Further reading: The Catholic Archbishop Chia’s pastoral letter for 2011 general elections.

Share this:

Read More →

Discerning what you “hear from God”

I had a friend from outside church who was always hearing from God. It seemed like he had a direct hotline to God, while all I had were smoke signals and myopia. Sometimes I envied the simplicity and  immediacy of his fellowship with the Lord, but most times I was cautious and doubtful. My reservations had to do with the content of what he claimed to have heard:  often messages of judgment on the world, or Singapore, or the Church, and what the church should do. Most times I listened patiently and occasionally I felt perturbed, and even irritated.

It is wonderful for anyone to have an interactive fellowship with the Lord, and for one to have experiences of dialogue and conversation with God. He can even share his personal experience, “The Lord said to me….”. But when he starts saying, The Lord says this about you, about the church, about the world, and this is what must be done, it is a different thing.  He has moved from the sphere of private experience to the public domain where his words can have implications and bind the conscience of others. Such claims to have heard from God need to be discerned (1 Thessalonians 5: 19-22). Discerning the voice of the Lord is important for otherwise it can hurt people,  the church, or bring the name of the Lord into disrepute.

Mexico HijackingSuch was the case with Jose Flores Pereiras, a Bolivian ex-drug addict pastor, who hijacked Aero Mexico’s flight 576. He threatened to bomb it unless he got the ears of President Felipe Calderon of Mexico. Jose Flores had “heard from God” that a great earthquake is about to strike Mexico City. It was an earthquake “like none there has ever been”.  Having tried for six months to contact the President without success, he had in desperation, resorted to a liquid laden receptacle with lights on it.  It took a pilot to persuade the pastor to release the 107 passengers unharmed. When the SWAT team arrested him, a few other passengers were mistakenly taken into custody too because Jose said there were three persons working with him. It later turned out  that Jose was referring to the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit working with him on this unholy venture. And why did he chose 9/9/09 to hijack the plane? Because 999 turned upside down is the Satanic 666! By God’s mercy, he was not hurt. This story underlines the importance of discernment of God’s voice and the interpretation of apocalyptic scriptures.

The best people to discern the Lord are those who continually experience the unconditional love of God. I was meditating on the Gospel of John chapter 21. Jesus had called out from the shore in the early but dark hours of dawn, “Have you caught any fish?” And Peter and the disciples who had fished all night without success replied, “None.” Then Jesus said, “Throw your nets to the right side of your boat.” Which they did and they caught so much it shocked them!

Peter and the other disciples were too caught up in work to notice who was the one on the shore. But John alone perceived that the stranger who spoke was Jesus. Tellingly the text described John as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. The inference I draw from this is that those best equipped to discern the Lord’s voice are those who have matured from having tasted and felt the length and breadth, and height and depth of the love of God over and over again. Children of the heavenly Father who have drunk deeply from the fount of God’s grace and love are most able to distinguish the voice of love. Like nets in the hands of hardworking fishermen, they have been mended and made whole by divine love. It is love and grace that distinguishes God’s voice from Satan’s and from ours.

The Holy Spirit speaks to us in our thoughts. These thoughts are so natural we think they are ours, but later on reflection learn to recognize that it is an inspiration from the Lord. He also speaks to us as we meditate or reflect on the scripture or experiences of the day as Peter found out: “while Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him….” (Acts 10). Such precious illuminations or ideas need to be journalled in a notebook or smart phone or e-journal to see if they persist and are of the quality of love we are familiar with. This way we learn more and more his gentle whispers.

Another principle of discernment is that it is best done together with the Christian community. “It seemed good to us and to the Holy Spirit….” were the opening words of the final decision made by James and the elders of the Jerusalem Chrisitian community(Acts 15). The many scripture injunctions to be humble, teachable and submissive to one another, and to the leaders God has appointed over the church provide a healthy environment for hearing God. Collective spiritual intelligence is better than the lone judgment call. God has placed us in a body that grows and thrives because the members are inter-dependent for real growth to happen. Such  spiritual environment is where spiritual discernment can best be practiced as a corporate discipline.

Having mentors and spiritual friendships with others we can confide in and receive mature input and feedback is an important part of discernment. I have spiritual friends who have been immensely helpful in discerning with me what God is doing in my life. In addition, during prayer retreats I have had spiritual directors and found them to be insightful guides. The Roman Catholic function of spiritual direction has in recent decades regained some acceptance in the life of the evangelical church and this augurs well for future.

When I read the report about Jose Flores Perairas, I thought, “Oh no another Pentecostal-Charismatic wreckage….another horror story where “hearing from God” is put in a scary light”. More fodder for the mocking secular press. The report only served up another example of why it is better to stay in the boat rather than try to hear and obey a living Lord. Why risk being like Peter who almost ended up being known as the apostle who drowned?  Yet Jesus is the one who, in the midst of our stormy seas, lovingly coaxes and invites us to ride the storm, which is why hearing from God is an essential despite the attendant risks. Just do it with the discernment of one who is deeply loved and highly favoured, and discern God’s voice with the spiritually intelligent.

Share this:

Read More →