Stone Soup for Five: Why (and how) to have a personal prayer retreat

Why (and how) to have a personal prayer retreat

I've been on a journey with God in prayer for years, as I'm sure all of us have.  And because I'm trying to learn more, I've taken three personal prayer retreats.  Each was different and all were a scary step.  For each I had no idea how it would go or if I was able to pray for an extended period of time.  My first retreat was a at home in an empty house, the other was at a cabin away from home, and the third was a day of prayer at our church where everyone went to different places in the church and prayed from 9am till noon.

I want to show you a little of what the first two looked like and hopefully inspire you to try one. It was a rich time conversing with God and I hope to keep up an annual or semi-annual tradition of doing it!

Why plan a personal prayer retreat?

I'm always amazed at stories of the prayer giants like Jonathan Edwards, who famously said "I have so much to do today, I must spend the first three hours in prayer," and George Muller, who never asked anyone but God for money to fund the thousands of orphans he cared for.  

And since I'm no where even close to near either of them, I knew I could keep trying different things to stretch myself.  When a guys backpacking weekend arrived for my husband and sons, I decided instead of watching Netflix, puttering around the house, and eating out, that instead I would experiment with my first at-home prayer retreat.  At that time we were walking through some difficult situations  and I wanted to take that weekend of solitude and turn it into a personal prayer retreat.  But for it to be a success I knew there were some things I had to do to prepare...

Prayer Retreat at Home

Reduce visual distractions
I knew I needed any visual distractions to be taken care of before the weekend started.  So before everyone left, I did the laundry, put fresh sheets on the bed, vacuumed and cleaned up clutter and piles of stuff I needed to deal with.  Basically I went through the house and dealt with anything I knew would nag at my mind as I was trying to pray.  I didn't declutter the entire house or do any deep cleaning, I just took care of things that I might find myself doing without realizing it.

Reduce head distractions
I also had head distractions that I knew I had to deal with so I could be focused only on the task at hand.  I had to pay bills and deal with nagging things or write myself notes of things that I had to do after this retreat so I wouldn't forget.  I took care of the most urgent needs, and wrote notes on the stuff that could wait.  I also made a plan to put my phone far, far away from me (it stayed in the room farthest from where I was spending most of my time)  and I shut down and turned off the computer and my ipad.  NO DISTRACTIONS ALLOWED!

Plan meals
I didn't want to spend any time figuring out what I wanted to eat or be tempted to go out and grab something, so I planned out exactly what I'd be eating.  I wanted the meals to be simple and plain to add an element of "fasting" from yummy, more complicated meals and to be grateful for simple nourishment.  My breakfasts were 2 eggs, omelet style, and a piece of toast.  Lunches were a salad with spinach, feta, and tuna, and dinners were crockpot bean soup over rice.  All were quick, nourishing, and simple.  I wanted to eat just enough and leave room for hunger before the next meal that I could use as a reminder of what my focus was that weekend--prayer.

Plan goals
My main goal was to pray at the top of every hour for at least 15 minutes.  This seemed like a do-able amount of time in prayer.  Then I planned the other 45 minutes to be all focused around prayer.  So my only goal for this first retreat was to see if I could make it through 15 minutes of prayer for 12 hours of the day.  That was it.

Plan the time
The next part was planning how I would use my time.  I set a timer on our Echo Dot for 15 minutes at the top of each hour because I had my phone tucked away in my room.  If you don't have a Echo Dot, you could also use a stove timer, a microwave timer, or a simple wind up timer.  Just keep your phone away from your prayer area!
  • Prayer Time  At the top of every hour, I planned to pray for 15 minutes through just one section of my prayer binder.  There are nine sections so I knew it would take nine hours to work through that.  Then, after I finished praying through my binder, I would pray through scriptures I have marked for prayers in my Bible.  After that, I would pray through the Psalms of the Day and end the day there.
  • Non-Prayer Time  For the other 45 minutes each hour that I wasn't praying, I wanted to keep the prayer theme going... so I planned out options for those times.  I even made a list of things I could work on:  read my Bible, add scripture to my prayer binder and freshen it up (without going overboard with full on crafting!)  I had the books I was currently reading:  The Attributes of God by A.W. Pink and High King of Heaven.  I also had my Psalm 119 meditation project I had been working on that I could continue.  I didn't plan this time as carefully as the prayer time, because I wanted to leave room for whatever seemed to fit: a walk, a nap, more prayer, etc. The major rules here were no phone, no internet, no email, no screens at all!  This time was only for things that would keep me focused on prayer.

Implement the plan!
So when the time came, the guys packed up and pulled away and at the top of the very next hour I set to it!  I had made sure to have the meals ready to go in the fridge (tuna salad mixed up, lettuce rinsed and chopped, bean soup in the crockpot and rice ready to eat) so the only thing to do was pray!

Side note:  I closed all the blinds and locked the doors when I started my prayer time so if anyone came to the house (sales men who don't understand "no soliciting" or cult members) I could pretend I wasn't home.  This also makes it much easier to pace, cry, pray out loud, stretch, etc.

This worked really, really well for me!  It was easy to pray for 15 minutes through each section of my prayer binder, and as the day moved on, I found myself praying longer that 15 minutes multiple times!  I was so glad I planned and prepped the meals so even that small task didn't take my focus off of God and meeting with Him.

My "off" times were also relaxing, restful, and wonderful.  I had two full days to repeat this process and it was priceless.  When I woke up the second morning I couldn't wait to get into prayer.  The Lord gave me insights into the struggles, convicted me of the log in my own eye, covered me with His grace, and met me right there.  

Prayer Retreat away from Home

So after the wild success of my first at-home prayer retreat, I wanted to test it on the road!  I spent some time researching places to stay that were affordable, and I realized that we actually have quite a few options fairly close by!  If you have a Christian camp or retreat center nearby they often have prayer rooms or spaces that are really inexpensive to rent.  We have two local monasteries that offer quiet and inexpensive rooms to rent too.  You can also search online for "pastor retreat," and/or "personal prayer retreat," with the name of your city, or look up a cheap airbnb options, state park cabins, or yurts.

Being away from home knowing that there was nothing I had to do but pray was wonderful.  I had gone through all the same planning steps above, bringing simple meals, comfy clothes, and an extra change of shoes (so I could go on walks and not worry about my shoes getting wet/muddy).

I found a retreat cabin for rent with an ocean view (so amazing!) and planned my prayer time before I left.  I arrived Friday evening, planned to have all day Saturday to pray, and clean up and head home Sunday.  Arriving Friday allowed me the luxury of time to settle in, thank God, and rest so I would be ready to go bright and early.  The place I was staying had a refrigerator/freezer, microwave, sink, and bathroom.  I packed only items that would microwave well (I made breakfast bowls and dinner bowls and brought salad stuff, keeping it simple and easy).

My prayer plan for this trip looked like this:

7:00  up, dress, coffee
7:30  morning walk, breakfast
9:00  Bible reading/meditation/reading

Then I repeated this cycle at the start of each hour until lunch:

  • Stillness, worship, thanksgiving (10 minutes)
  • Prayer for family member (40 minutes)
  • break/stretch/read a book (10 min)
At lunch I took an hour to eat/walk/enjoy my surroundings and then another hour to nap or read and rest.  (Amazing!)  Then I repeated the above schedule until 4pm when I then went for another walk, had dinner, and read.  After dinner, I went back to the schedule from 6 to 8pm, then took time to read and reflect until I went to bed.  I also planned my half a day on Sunday to get up early, go for  a sunrise walk, and then spend time in reflection, silence, and prayer.  

I really thought I'd have a hard time praying for 40 minutes, but was amazed at how easy it was with my prayer binder and my Bible.  Praying scripture is a great start and I was continually amazed when time was already up!

Prayer Retreat Hack
or How to Stay Awake

  • This is a common struggle that everyone has.  When I did my first prayer retreat, I used all of these techniques to keep me alert and focused.
    • Get rest the day before AND the day before the day before.  I've heard you are mostly affected by your sleep two days before the day, so try to get to bed at a good time two nights and the night before your retreat.  Plan ahead and set reminders!
    • Don't get too comfortable.  Don't lay down unless you're planning on taking a nap.  If you get drowsy on the couch, change to sitting on the floor, or a hard chair, or a bench.  
    • Go for a prayer walk, even if it's just pacing the room.  If you can, take a walk outside, but if you can't pacing in the house or the room helps.
    • Pray out loud.  It doesn't have to be a loud voice or even a normal conversation voice... even whispering helps keep you focused.  
    • Take stretch breaks and drink plenty of water.


  1. Wonderful post- encouraging and helpful.

  2. Thank you so much for this! I’ve been anxiously waiting for this post since you announced you would be sharing how to do a personal prayer retreat. You have helped me tremendously in my walk to pursue holiness and establish a more consistent prayer life. I’m very grateful for discovering your blog. May grace and peace be yours in abundance! DeeDee Lee

    1. Thank you for your kind words and encouragement! I'd love to hear if you are able to do a prayer retreat someday!

  3. Thank you.
    I rarely, if ever, comment, but I felt you need to know that you have been instrumental in changing my way of doing many things. Encouraged me to read certain books, s-l-o-w down and THINK and meditate/ponder. Doodle! :) But this? this post is MOST timely. I so very much appreciate the how-to's instead of "just take an afternoon, or a day, or a whatever, and pray!" yeah, no, if you're struggling in that area anyway, details are needed. I could blab and babble and embarass myself further for typing the way I speak - barely using punctuation - but I'll stop here with: THANK YOU! and may God continue to pour our His Spirit and blessings upon you!

    1. Haha! my name didn't show on the above comment -- Carolyn Stutz :D

    2. Hi Carolyn, thank you so much for your sweet and encouraging words. I'm right there with you on wanting lots of details! I hope this helps you implement a prayer retreat! Be sure to let me know how it went when you do!

  4. I have done day retreats using our public library as a free location, although obviously I had to leave to eat. I love the way you have outlined doing your retreat. I will have to try that approach next time. Perhaps I will even find a better place to pray.

    1. Oh, the library is a good idea! One of ours has individual study rooms you can reserve for 4 hour chunks! That's a fantastic (and free!) idea!

  5. Great information Kari, thank you for sharing it! If the Lord leads you to organize a prayer retreat, I would love to be a part of it. A prayer retreat sounds huge and necessary. Thank you!

    1. Thank you for your encouragement Lisa! Wouldn't a prayer retreat be fun?! I'll have to pray about that!

  6. Sounds heavenly! Setting one up on my calendar for this summer! Thank you, Kari!

    1. Wonderful! When you get back from it, hop back here and let me know how it went! I'd love to hear!

  7. Thanks Kari...will definitely give these a go in the summer. You are a blessing....


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