For Youth Workers Post


Will Penner

“In the Habit” session for use with devozine meditations for October 20–26, 2014.


“The first time I tried being around other people in complete silence was about fifteen years ago on a Sabbath retreat sponsored by The Upper Room, Youth Specialties, and the Youth Ministry and Spirituality Project. The leaders said that many of us spend a lot of energy trying to fill uncomfortable silences with shallow conversation and trivial activities. We were asked to begin the day in silence and to remain silent until lunch. The first day was a little uncomfortable; but by the end of the retreat, it was blissful. For the first time in my life, I had the freedom to be completely quiet, and I began to learn how to be alone without feeling lonely. As a father of five, I have few opportunities for silence and solitude; but I crave them, and when I have a chance to be alone and silent, I always return to my family refreshed, with the ability to be a better husband and father.” —Will


Will PennerWill Penner has been in ministry with young people for more than two decades in Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian churches, in public and private schools, and as a popular speaker at youth retreats, camps, and conferences. He has served as the editor of both leading professional journals of youth ministry and has authored or edited numerous youth ministry curricula and books, the latest of which is It Happens: True Tales from the Trenches of Youth Ministry. Most important, he is the husband of his amazing wife, Christine, and father of five fantastic children ranging in age from five to twenty-two.


  • Bibles
  • copies of the closing prayer
  • (optional) large sheets of paper and markers
  • Print-Friendly Version of this session



Invite group members to participate in a guided meditation. Ask them to sit comfortably and to close their eyes. Then read slowly, pausing after each sentence:

Imagine that you are completely alone. . . . You may be in a desert, a forest, a wide-open plain, a deserted island, a building, or a city. . . . But absolutely no one else there. . . . No one else will be there for a long time. . . . Imagine looking around. . . . Notice what you hear and what you don’t hear. . . . Notice what you smell. . . . Notice how you feel. . . . What is your greatest fear? . . . What are your other fears? . . . What feels exciting or energizing? . . . Where is God?

Allow a minute or two of silence, and then invite people to open their eyes. Invite volunteers to their feelings about being on their own.


Scripture: Matthew 4:1–11

The gospels regularly say that Jesus goes off on his own to spend time with God in prayer. In doing so, he continues a tradition established by Moses, Elijah, and other patriarchs of the faith. Matthew 4:1–11 is especially interesting because of when it occurs, how long it lasts, and whom and what Jesus encounters.

Jesus moves into the public spotlight for the first time when John baptizes him. The Spirit descends like a dove, and the heavens open for the declaration that Jesus is God’s beloved Son. Then Mark 1:12–13 records that Jesus “immediately” goes into the wilderness. The moment that God identifies Jesus as God’s beloved Son, Jesus takes off by himself. What would our lives be like if the moment we felt God’s Spirit speaking to us, we went off by ourselves for a significant length of time? What might happen to us that couldn’t happen any other way?

At other times when Jesus goes off into the wilderness, no time frame is reported; but this time Matthew includes a duration of time: “He fasted for forty days and forty nights.” Some scholars believe that Jesus stayed in the wilderness for 40 twenty-four-hour periods. Others point to the repeated use of 40 in scripture as a way of emphasizing that it was quite a long time, especially as he was fasting. One way or another, it wasn’t a couple of hours or even a couple of days, but an extended period of solitude that allowed Jesus to live into his baptismal identity as the God’s beloved. Considering the pace of contemporary life and the vast amount of sensory input we receive, including messages about who we are and what should be capturing our hearts and minds, we need more than ever to find some solitude so that God can affirm our belovedness.
       What are the biggest obstacles that keep us from being on our own for extended periods of time?
       How can we develop the ability to be on our own without feeling lonely?

One of the most interesting parts of this passage is the temptation account. Jesus has come off a “spiritual high,” being publicly affirmed as beloved by the Father; and immediately he starts wrestling with demons that try to attack his baptismal identity. “If you’re hungry, command these stones to become bread.” “If you’re really the Son of God, throw yourself down and see if the angels rescue you.” “If you’ll simply bow down to me, I’ll make you master of all you see.” Many of us fall prey to the same types of voices: “If you had more money, sex, power, then you’d feel good about yourself.” “If you believe this Christian nonsense, you must be naïve.” We all hear the lies that play with our hearts and minds.
       How do you fill in uncomfortable silences and solitary times?
       What are some of the demons you would wrestle with if you spent an extended time by yourself?
       In what ways would your spiritual life be strengthened if you were able to wrestle with them as Jesus did, rather than letting them fester in the background as you avoid being alone and silent?
       If you have not already experienced a time in the wilderness, you will. Realizing that we are in the wilderness helps us combat the feelings of loneliness and the demons that question our self-worth, our faith, and our identities as beloved children of God. What are some specific ways you can prepare for wilderness times ahead?


Invite group members to pray with you:

“Merciful Lord, thank you for never leaving us alone. Even when we feel as if we are in the wilderness with no one else around, you are there. We can rely on you, and you will never fail us. Help us to rest in your assurance, to be infused with your Spirit, and to be at peace no matter what comes our way. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.”


As Jesus spent time being tempted by Satan, he responded to each of his temptations by reciting Scripture. Invite group members to choose favorite scriptures passages. If they only remember certain words or phrases, suggest that they look them up in a concordance or type the words into a search engine to find the passage. When they have the verses, encourage them to record on large sheets of paper the references and a few words that describe the passages. Offer them an opportunity to read the passages they have chosen and to explain why the passages are important to them. Then invite them to spend some time committing the verses to memory and ruminating on them during a time of silence. Email the list of scripture passages to your group members, and ask them to choose one or more passages to memorize before the next week’s gathering.

—from devozine In the Habit (September/October 2014). Copyright © 2014 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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