I woke up this morning in Princeton, New Jersey.

I’ve come to Princeton most years since I was a first-year graduate student at Pepperdine. In November of 1997 I went to Boston for the Society of Biblical Literature Conference. Toward the end of the conference, I hopped in the car and drove to see some of America’s most famous colleges. I was taken immediately with Princeton University and the little town that holds it. I began taking a spiritual/study break there the next year–and have tried to do so most years since.  I stay at Princeton Theological Seminary, in the dorms. It’s cheap but has great access to the library–which is second to none. It’s my first time to do this since the summer of 2009. So, I’m thrilled to be back.

I try to come in the late fall, early winter, when it was cold. That way, I’d have to stay inside and work/pray/rest. It was also great because the town was decorated for Christmas and there were all kinds of neat Christmas programs going on in the churches nearby.

The annual Princeton recalibration has been a vital part of my spiritual and emotional well-being over the years. I spend the week fasting, praying, resting, and planning/studying for the upcoming year’s sermon series. I also am able to do some long-range strategizing. Princeton is optimal for such a thing. It’s beautiful, quiet, has amazing cultural opportunities and world-class libraries. It’s geographically far away, and makes me feel contemplative (even smarter) just being here.

Many of the few good ideas I’ve had over the years came to me at Princeton. Most importantly, I always come back spiritually-centered, full in head and heart. I come back with fresh ideas, and some much needed long-range planning that seemingly can happen only away from the hustle and bustle. So, as I begin several days here, I wait on God to do His thing.

I have more tasks to accomplish this year. I will spend a few days working on next years preaching calendar and finishing a mid-range strategic plan for New Vintage Church. I also have some writing to do. A short e-book should be ready for publication by early January. Another larger, print book on a different subject should be ready by the end of 2012. While on the one hand I fear that having so much task to accomplish may defeat the purpose of this retreat. But, then again, I think I’ll be shocked to see how much spiritual/emotional energy getting those projects wrapped up will free up and leaven my ministry in the year ahead.

I’m so thankful for the opportunity to do this. Retreat isn’t likely to happen unless you make it a priority. You may have to put up some of your own money to do it. You may have to arm-wrestle your elders for it. But, you need to do it. Life balance, spiritual renewal, emotional health–all a vital to long-term ministry. Most of my friends in ministry have some version of my Princeton experience each year. It’s essential for ministers and those who will be blessed or suffer through their ministry that these study leave/spiritual renewals happen…if only annually. My buddy Jim Martin has been a role-model for me in this regard.

If you are in ministry, I’d love to hear what some of you do. When do you go? How long? Where? What do you do?

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