On Monday I took a day away for prayer and planning. I love these days. I love the space to think, pray and read, and to get a fresh perspective on life and ministry.
I always vary the pattern of days away. Some things, though, are constants: always read a chunk of Scripture, take a least one book which speaks directly to my heart, write out a list of blessings and a list of sins, and spend time in praise and repentance. I give time to the needs of my own soul, spend extended time praying for my family, and then give time to praying through the church's needs, people, and Gospel development.
As to what else I do, that really depends on what's ahead of me in ministry. Yesterday it was planning for the preaching in the year ahead, praying and thinking through student ministry, and setting other priorities for 2011. A really useful day, and I'm praying that the fruits of communion with the Lord and plans made will bear fruit this year.
One of the books I took away was Patrick Fairbairn's Pastoral Theology. It is, if you don't' know it, a Pastor's manual. I love the 19th Century manuals on ministry. They have a depth, as well as a realism, which puts them way ahead so much of what it written today. Spurgeon's 'An All-round Ministry', Shedd's 'Homiletics and Pastoral Theology', and (best of all!) J.W. Alexander's 'Thoughts on Preaching' are all a real spur. Their writings are saturated with Reformed Orthodoxy, but full of wise reflection, and a willingness to give their own opinions or suggestions.
Oh, and just for the record, I did read some modern stuff, and went back to books I've enjoyed before by Aubrey Malphurs and Steve Timmis.
One paragraph stands out from Fairbairn which really needs to be written on the hearts of all us who are involved in Christian ministry:
"As the Christianity which should pervade and distinguish the membership of the church is emphatically a life, so the Christian ministry, in which it may be said to culminate, must be regarded as in the first instance a life, and secondarily as a work. It has to do primarily with a condition of being and a course of behaviour, and only afterwards with the ministrations of service. Not only must they two co-exist together, but they must stand related to each other in the manner now indicated; the life from the first takes precedence of the work, and throughout must hold the place of pre-eminent importance."
One last thing: if you take a day away, always take a notebook. Write down what the Lord is teaching you, and always, write down answers to prayer, and (in outline) prayers for the future. This habit sharpens your mind, feeds faith, and raises expectation of future blessing.