Into the Depths of Living Water





Alex Tang



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Into the Depths of Living Water

a spiritual retreat


we have had a wonderful retreat.


Retreat notes



This is a Guided Retreat. Certain portion of the retreat will require you to be ‘silent’. What this means is that you do not talk to your friends (including spouses) during this period (colored blue in your retreat schedule) especially during meals time. You are in solitude and bring your solitude along with you wherever you go. Do not worry. You will be allowed time to talk. Please restrict your reading to the Bible and this retreat note.


What to bring

·        No expectations

Come with no expectations. Do not expect God to speak to you. No expectation of spectacular divine revelations, projects to complete, KPI to be achieved, or great stories to tell. Just come open and free to the Spirit.

·        No intention to fast from food

Unless you really want to fast, I usually discourage fasting in such a short retreat. The reason is that you will be distracted by your hunger pangs from what is happening during the retreat.

·        Intention to fast from connectivity

It will be good to ‘fast’ from your handphone and Internet connectivity. Do plan not to be contactable during the time of the retreat especially during the ‘silent’ part. If you are worried about emergencies during the time your phone is off, you can arrange for a member of the group to be contactable for emergencies only while the rest of you can keep your phone switched off.

·        Yourself

Bring yourself and other comfort items you deem essential to your well-being. This is a retreat, not a monastery. Prepare yourself by praying for yourself, other participants and the retreat itself. Prepare yourself for a divine encounter with your Beloved.



a word about retreats…

A military retreat is often considered as losing ground as the soldiers are involved in moving back or withdrawal. However, not everyone sees it as that. General Oliver Prince Smith during the Korean War declared, "Retreat, hell! We're not retreating, we're just advancing in a different direction”! A spiritual retreat is not losing ground. It is taking a step sideways to reflect upon and to consolidate the advances of our spiritual life.

Our lives are very busy. We are swept away by its non-stop demands. The insistent attention-grabbing noise of the mobile phones, television and social media drowns out the voice of God. Our bodies are stressed resulting in hypertension, heart attacks and strokes. Our souls are fragmented and disjointed. Our lives feel disconnected and surreal. We feel as if we are drowning in a strong flowing river, being swept away with no control over our lives. All we can do is to try to keep our heads above the water. And when we do have a moment to take stock, we wonder where the months and years have gone.

It is essential for those who are serious about their spiritual life to take time out for retreats. As mentioned, retreats are when we intentionally step aside to reflect about our life in Christ and to listen to Him who is speaking into our lives. Retreats are opportunities for us to

·        assess the state of our spiritual life

·        making important decisions

·        pray

·        listen to God

·        rest

·        recharge

·        recommit

·        renew

·        reassess our ministries

Retreats are of many different forms. There are the formal guided retreat (usually under a spiritual director), informal group retreat, and personal retreat. Personal retreat may be conducted by a person on his/her own. Frequency of taking a retreat depends on individuals. The length of a retreat may varies. It may be a 3 days retreat, a one week, one month or three months. In silent retreat, speaking is kept to the minimum. There are no fixed place for a retreat. We may have a retreat at a retreat center (which is ideal because they provide accommodation and food), a hotel/resort, a caravan or a tent. Or even in a home. Example of a personal retreat in 2011 < >

The focus of a retreat is not in how it is structured but in spending time with ourselves and with the Lord. The keyword is listen.

·        In a retreat, we listen to our bodies. Some of us are not very good custodians of our bodies. Often I find that most people sleep a lot during their retreat. This is because many of us are not aware of how tired we really are.

·        We listen to our lived experiences. Many of us need time to process our experiences. There are grief processes that need closure. Issues of deep hurt and wounds need to be identified and undergo the process of healing. There are areas of forgiveness that needs to be worked through.

·        We listen to the silence in our lives. These silence which is found between words speaks of our deepest needs, and of our innermost demons. Silence allows us to name and face these needs and demons.

·        We listen to the sound of our prayers. Our prayers reflect our inner spiritual life. This is especially true of our prayerlessness. Though we give a lot of lip service to prayer, time for prayer is the first to disappear in a busy life.

·        We listen to the word of God by reading the bible. Bible reading is an essential component of a retreat. In a retreat, we have time to read the bible slowly and reflectively. In normal days, many of us read the bible either to prepare a sermon or for cell group bible study.

·        We listen to the voice of God. This may be an inner strong impression, a strong conviction or even an audible voice. The whole process of a retreat is to slow us down so that we can heard the small still voice of God. As Elijah cannot hear God during the noise of wind, earthquake and fire, we often cannot hear him in the earth shaking and stormy events of our everyday life.

In a retreat, we step aside to listen to the whisper of a small still voice, to reevaluate our lives, pray and to obey. That is why it is essential for us to make time for retreats. This is especially if our lives are very busy. Allocating time for retreat should be part of our planning and ministry. I recommend that we plan for at least two retreats a year. We must realize that we serve out of our being. There is always the danger that we run on empty. We may get away by serving when we are spiritually empty but it will be a matter of time before we crash and burn. We must realize that when we fall, not only we will be hurt, more importantly many others who depend on us and look up to us will be hurt too. So take time out to step aside in our busy life and listen.




Sunday, 12 March 2017

Monday, 13 March 2017

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Quiet Time


Reflect on John 4:4-24

Reflect on John 7:37-44

8 am





Reflection #2

Water to Cleanse

2 Kings 5:1-17


meditate and pray on reflection #2*



read, meditate and pray

(individual prayer walk)


Reflection #5

Water for Life

Ezekiel 47:1-12


(small group prayer walk – not silent)





12.30pm – 2pm









Check in



Welcome and Introduction

Reflection on our spiritual status

Reflection #3

Water to Renew

Acts 8:26-40


meditate and pray on reflection #3*

(individual prayer walk)



Reflection #6

Deep Waters

Psalm 42:1-11


Reflection, Sharing and Review



5pm  Home





Reflection #1

Water to Refresh

1 Kings 19:1-18

Reflection #4

Water to Sculpture

Isaiah 8:1-8



meditate and pray on reflection #1*


meditate and pray on reflection #4*



                      Indicate ‘silent part’ of retreat


meditate and pray*





Reflection #1: Water to Refresh

1 Kings 19:1-18

1.     What is the Lord saying to you about how you are living your life now?

2.     Do you need refreshing? Why are you tired?

3.     In what areas [work/family/ministry/health/etc] are you tired? List out the areas that are wearing you out.

4.     Ask the Lord for discernment on what you can do about these areas of need.

5.     Give thanks in prayer for these areas.









My soul in silence waits




Bitter night for the morning light my soul in silence waits,

creeping cold darkness embracing are my soul’s contends,

endless corridors wandering lost escape seeks through gates,

fear of death and loss, regrets and pain, my soul’s portends.


Hiding from the scary world outside where evil seem to reign,

snatch thief pull and kill for bag and some dollars and cents,

corruption, bribery, loss of rule of law the country’s bane,

shooting children, random acts of violence makes no sense.


God’s apparent absence concerned my soul seeking verity,

random unfortunate events happening leave lives in shambles,

seeking reasons why bad things happen to good people clarity,

day by day, year by year, the Beast slowly to Jerusalem ambles.


In the depths of my innermost self lies my soul its longing,

to where distraction distract no more nor satisfaction,

to peace and contentment with the One my soul belonging,

Spirit peels aside the filthy scabs, real self extraction.


Death no sting, suffering no pain, end of hostilites,

introvert in extrovert realm not desperate straits,

always the faith never the fear, endless possibilities,

be still my heart and mind, my soul silently waits.





Quiet Time Monday 13 March 2017

John 4:4-24

Read and meditate on the text.

What is God saying to you this morning?







Prayer of St. Anselm (1033-1109)

O my God teach my heart where and how to seek you,
where and how to find you...
You are my God and my All and I have never seen you.
You have made me and remade me,
You have bestowed on me all the good things I possess,
Still I do not know you...
I have not yet done that for which I was made

Teach me to seek you...
I cannot seek you unless you teach me
or find you unless you show yourself to me.
Let me seek you in my desire, let me desire you in my seeking.
Let me find you by loving you, let me love you when I find you.


Reflection #2: Water to Cleanse

2 Kings 5:1-17

1.     What is the Lord saying to you in this passage?

2.     What are the areas in your life that need cleansing? List them out.

3.     Why do you think these areas are keeping you in bondage?

4.     Repent and surrender these needy areas to the Lord.

5.     List down concrete steps to remove these idols from your life.

6.     Pray.








Reflection #3: Water to Renew

Acts 8:26-40

1.     In what ways are the Lord pointing to areas concerning your life in this passage?

2.     What areas in your life needs renewal?

3.     In what ways can you ask the Holy Spirit to renew you?

4.     In what ways can you regain your zeal for the Lord?








Prayer to the Holy Spirit

Augustine of Hippo


Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit,

that my thoughts may all be holy. 

Act in me, O Holy Spirit,

that my work, too, may be holy. 

Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit,

that I love but what is holy. 

Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit,

to defend all that is holy. 

Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit,

that I always may be holy. 





The Perfect Storm

In clinical medicine, there is a very powerful treatment called mastery inactivity. An experienced clinician knows that there are times in the management of a patient with a serious medical condition that the best treatment is not to do anything but allow time for nature to take its course. This is the hardest treatment to prescribe because it involves the physician not doing anything. The default mode is to do something. Order some form of treatment. Perform some form of surgery. Our hearts are restless and we associate activity with progress. Not to act is a sign that we are negligent or indifferent.

This is also what happens when we are hit with some catastrophes in our lives. In such situation, we are full of an urgency to act. An urgency to do something to get us out of the situation. Anything at all, even though the action may not be beneficial or at times may cause harm. An alternative option is to sit idly by and ride out the storm. Judy Brown creates a scenario in which we are caught in a stormy sea and where inaction may be more beneficial than reactive action.



There is a trough in waves,

A low spot

Where horizon disappears

And only sky

And water

Are our company.


And there we lose our way


We rest, knowing the wave will bring us

To its crest again.


There we may drown

If we let fear

Hold us within its grip and shake us

Side to side,

And leave us flailing, torn, disoriented.


But if we rest there

In the trough,

Are silent,

Being with

The low part of the wave,


Our energy and

Noticing the shape of things,

The flow,

Then time alone

Will bring us to another


Where we can see

Horizon, see the land again,

Regain our sense

Of where

We are,

And where we need to swim.


The Sea Accepts All Rivers, Judy Brown

This is what I called mastery inactivity. It takes knowledge and wisdom to discern when to act and when not to act. It requires mastery over our emotions as the default mode is to do something. It also requires faith. The sailor in the storm has faith based on her knowledge of the waves. We need to have faith that our catastrophes will blow over, that we need to remain calm in the eye of the storm. And we need to have faith in Him who is able to calm the storm and walk on water.

There are an ebb and flow in the rhythm of our lives; a time to act and a time to cease from action; a time to do and a time to rest; and a time to stress and a time to distress.  That is the only way to ride a storm. This is what Advent is all about. It is a time of inaction, rest and reflection. It is a flashback to more than two thousand years ago when the whole of creation kept still and held its collective breath, and waited for the Light. We live in a broken world, at the bottom of the cesspool, in the trough of pain and suffering. Let us wait together. Wait for a glimpse of the sky. Wait for the Light and then lean into it.

Soli Deo Gloria



Reflection #4: Water to Sculpture

Isaiah 8:1-8

1.     What is the Lord saying to you in this passage?

2.     In what ways are you suffering? List out the things/events/persons that causes your suffering

3.     In what ways are the Lord remaking you into a better person?









God, give me grace to accept with serenity

the things that cannot be changed,

Courage to change the things

which should be changed,

and the Wisdom to distinguish

the one from the other.

Living one day at a time,

Enjoying one moment at a time,

Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,

Taking, as Jesus did,

This sinful world as it is,

Not as I would have it,

Trusting that You will make all things right,

If I surrender to Your will,

So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,

And supremely happy with You forever in the next.


                                                           Reinhold Niebuhr, 1943






Quiet Time Tuesday 14 March 2017

Read and meditate on John 7:37-44

What is God saying to you now?









My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.

I do not see the road ahead of me.

I cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do I really know myself,

and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.


And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.

I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.


And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.


I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.


                                                                                 Thomas Merton

                                                             Thoughts in Solitude




Reflection #5: Water for Life

Ezekiel 47:1-12

Small group discussion (groups of 4-5 people). Recommended time 30 minutes.

1.     What is God saying to you from this passage?

2.     How can we bring ‘life’ to ourselves, our families and our communities?

3.     From what you learnt from the retreat so far, how can you bring or offer ‘life’?





Group Prayer walk (see Appendix 1).





Reflection #6: Deep Waters

Psalm 42:1-11





List at least five items/things you have learned from this retreat

1.     ………………………………………….

2.     ………………………………………….

3.     ………………………………………….

4.     ………………………………………….

5.     ………………………………………….



List at least five steps/actions you plan to take regarding the items/things you have listed above

1.     ………………………………………….

2.     ………………………………………….

3.     ………………………………………….

4.     ………………………………………….

5.     ………………………………………….






Further reflections

Appendix 1: Prayer Walk


Prayer Walk


There are many ways to pray. We can pray while remaining in a single place. Or we can pray while walking. Prayer walk can be of many type. You may walk with a definite map in view such as making a loop to end where you started, choose a direction at random or from one place to another. You may pray while you are walking or walk and stop and pray at a specific spot. You can prayer walk alone or with friends. There are no specific rules for doing a prayer walk. The most impressive example of prayer walk occurred in the walled city of Jericho at the beginning of the invasion of Canaan in Joshua 6:2-20. The Israelites marched round the city for six days and on the seventh day they circled the city seven times and at the end of the seventh circuit, they shouted and the walls came down!

I suggest doing a prayer walk with seven stops or stations. This can be done in a park, church grounds or even in a church hall. The theme for each of the seven stations are based on the Seven Mountains of Culture[1] that Christians need to reclaim. Christians need to infuse life into these areas which are now bearers of death. These are

1.      Arts and Entertainment

2.      Business

3.      Education

4.      Family

5.      Government

6.      Media

7.      Religion

It will be good if these stations has shade or shelter if you are outside to protect you from the sun and the rain. In a hall, it should have some chairs in a quiet place so that you will not be disturbed. There should also be place for you to kneel if you so desire.

You may want to end your walk at the place of rest. It may be a solitary place where you can cool down and give thanks to the Lord. Or a café while to enjoy a cup of coffee and gives thanks.3


Appendix 2: The Busy and Hurried Soul


I have often be queried why I titled my book Spiritual Formation on the Run. It was suggested that it should include ‘…run away from the busy life’ or ‘ to silence and solitude’. It puzzled me for a long time until it dawned on me that to many people, spiritual formation or spiritual growth is incompatible with being on the run or movement. To many, spiritual formation will only occurs when we are still and silent, like on a retreat in the mountains in the middle of nowhere. I do not know where this idea comes from but it seems to me that too many of us are exposed to Chinese kungfu movies where the grandmaster or sifu only attain enlightenment (usually implied a higher level of martial skills) by meditation while sealed in a cave on top of some misty mountain. I often wonder how he (usually it is a he) handle his toilet needs. I guess this is reinforced by the Christian division of hyperactive Martha who was busy being hospitable to her guests, and her quiet contemplative sister Mary who was sitting and listening to Jesus.


Luke 10:38–42 (NASB95) 

38Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. 39She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. 40But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” 41But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; 42but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”


Interestingly, this account was only found in Luke and happened immediately after Jesus told the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37). The parable highlighted doing good to all people irrespective of caste, religious afflictions and stations in life. Martha is associated with the active life while Mary with the contemplative one. Jesus seems to praise Mary’s choice as the correct one. If this is the only lesson from the passage, then Martha should come and sit at Jesus’ feet and everyone will go hungry without supper!


The houses in New Testament times are rather small so even when preparing food, both the ladies will be able to hear Jesus. The passage seems to imply that initially both Mary and Martha were involved in the food preparation. Then suddenly Mary left the preparation to sit at Jesus’ feet to focus fully on what Jesus was saying. Martha’s ire was that her sister was not helping her in the food preparation. Martha was busy and in a hurry. Maybe she wanted to produce an exception meal for her special guest. In her hurriedness, she was distracted and was not listening to Jesus. Jesus was speaking to everyone in the house, not just Mary. Jesus’ rebuke to Martha may be because she was not listening to him. This was because she was so distracted by her busyness. Martha should be preparing the food and listening to him at the same time as women are wonderful at multi-tasking. I am sure Jesus wanted to eat too. Jesus did not say, “Martha, stop what you are doing, sit down and listen to me!”


We all live very busy lives. From the moment we are rudely awakened by our alarm clocks to the time we fall asleep, we have to perform many tasks. Our ‘to-do’ list often runs to two or three pages. If being busy means that we have not chosen ‘the good part’ that most of us are in trouble. Not many of us have the opportunity to take time away to be in a retreat, to just sit and listen. There are bills to pay, houses to clean and kids to bring up.


There is a difference between being busy and being hurried. We can be busy without being in a hurry. Busy is an external condition where we have many tasks to complete. Hurry is an inner state where we are distracted because of the external busyness. This inner state of distraction means that our soul is confused, fragmented and disconnected with our minds, hearts and spirits. What is more significant is that the hurried or distracted person cannot hear the voice of God. What Jesus was trying to teach Martha (and us) is that it is not wrong for us to be busy (for which one of us is not busy) but not to be hurried and distracted. This is because when we are hurried and distracted, we cannot hear him.


This means that Christian spiritual formation and transformation may occurs in a busy life. However the process may be difficult in a busy and hurried life. Dallas Willard notes, “Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” Is it possible to live a busy but unhurried life? Gregory the Great was the first monk to become a pope. He became Pope Gregory 1 from 590 to 604 AD. Gregory was a Doctor of the Church and a Latin Father. He contributed a lot to church services and is known as the father of Christian worship. In his busy schedule, Gregory was able to maintain a powerful devotional life. John Calvin mentioned Gregory in his Institutes and praised his contribution to the church.


How do we become unhurried in our busy life? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Do not be a perfectionism

Martha may not be so distracted if she was not in such a hurry to prepare a gourmet meal for his visitors. Perhaps a simpler meal may allow her to slow down and listen to Jesus as she worked. Our home need not be so clean and tidy to be featured in Ideal Home magazine. We do not need to have that complete set of Minions from McDonald Kiddy Meals. Being less of a perfectionist may remove the strain of being a hurry.


2. Prioritize your to-do list

Not all of the things on our to-do list needs to be completed. The world will not come to an end if we do not complete it. If Christ comes again then we do not need to complete it. Prioritize and do the most essential things first. Be realistic in assigning the amount of time to complete each task. Group similar tasks together. A bit of forward planning can help to eliminate hurry from our schedule.


3. Take ‘minute’ retreats

A ‘minute’ retreat is to take a minute of your time during a busy period, close your eyes and calm your mind, slow your breathing and take deep breaths. Visualize a quiet room within your heart where you can meet with Jesus and say hello. This will break the vicious cycle of stress caused by your business. Stress tend to induce hurry in our inner life. You can close your eyes and do a minute retreat at any time and in any place. Except maybe when you are driving or skydiving.


4. Keep things in perspective

In a particular busy period, ask yourself will what you are doing matters in five years’ time? Will it matters in a year’s time? Next month? Often answering this questions bring things into perspective. Having things in perspective helps to eliminate hurry. One of my favorite quotes from Facebook is a paraphrase of the Serenity Prayer: “Lord, give me coffee to change the things I can change and wine to accept the things I cannot, and chocolate while I figure out the difference!” Not taking ourselves too seriously and having a sense of humor helps us to slow down and not to hurry.


5. Let go and let God

The need to be in control and a busy life is a guaranteed recipe for a hurried life. Most of us are control freaks. We need to learn to let go and let God take control of our life and of our schedule. Learning to let go means learning to say no. Letting go means focusing on things that has eternal value rather than chasing after things that offer temporary satisfactions. This also helps us to be more patient with events and people.


A hurried life is a distracted life. We can be hurried even when we are not busy. Even during our vacations we are hurried and busy. A distracted life is an unhealthy life. It harms our bodies leading to hypertension, diabetes, obesity and heart problems. Our souls are also being harmed. We are restless. We feel disconnected and lost. There is lacking a sense of being anchored or grounded. We became swayed by every events that come our way. We are irritable and short fused. And we cannot hear the voice of God. Listening and hearing to the voice of God is what Jesus said as ‘only one thing [is] necessary’. So, take a deep breath and stop being in a hurry to finish reading this post!



[1] Nobody knows who originally categorized these ‘seven mountains’. It has been attributed to Bill Bright (founder of Campus Crusade for Christ), Loren Cunningham (founder of Youth for Christ) and Francis Schaeffer (founder of L’Abri).



Soli Deo Gloria





"treat, heal, and comfort always"

 "spiritual forming disciples of Jesus Christ with informed minds, hearts on fire and contemplative in actions"  


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