Missie Branch, assistant dean of students to women and director of graduate life at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, is the worship speaker for the 2021 N.C. Baptist Women’s Retreat  — a one-day virtual event scheduled for Saturday, March 27. Missie recently took time to answer some questions about the retreat, its theme — “In the Secret” — and what she plans to share at the event.
The 2021 N.C. Baptist Women’s Retreat theme is “In the Secret” from Matthew 6. When you hear “in the secret,” what comes to mind and why?
When I hear “in the secret,” my mind automatically goes to my favorite Psalm, which is chapter 91. I memorized it years ago in the New King James Version, and it says it this way, “He who dwells in the secret place of the most high, shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” That secret place has been translated as “shelter” in other translations and it gives a great visual picture. God is a safe place, a place where I am stripped of all facades and am still accepted, wanted and protected. So now when I read Matthew 6 and I see, “And your Father who sees you in secret will reward you,” I am immediately reminded of the safety but necessary transparency and obedience that come from dwelling — intentionally being — in the secret.
Around the world this year people have had a lot of downtime. How have you been able to use some of your downtime to cultivate your secret place with the Lord? Has your life and walk with the Lord changed in light of this, and if so, how?
This is such a good question. Over the past several weeks, we have all been bombarded with what feels like two extremes, either go be productive, write a book, start a business, become a mogul or binge on Netflix, cook and eat a lot, and enjoy the downtime. For me, as an achiever, I started off doing every possible project in my house that I could! But one Saturday, I had a few friends over and we all sat on my lawn (definitely six feet apart), and we talked about what we are doing with this “downtime.” I was struck with this thought, “Missie you can ‘do’ all the things, read all the books and binge all the shows, but if you do not know your Savior any better, hear His voice any clearer or love Him any deeper, then you have been wasting this time.” That was powerful for me, and since then, I have been actively growing my prayer life. My conversations with the Lord are richer, longer, sweeter and more honest than they have been in a while. 
How would you encourage another woman to cultivate her secret place with the Lord?
I firmly believe that we need to be in relationship with people who challenge you to be better in Jesus. Those who you push and challenge you to go deeper in your studying, praying, learning and sharing of your faith. Sort of like the person who sets the pace in each race. If they are a better runner than you, they can push you to personal bests that you didn’t even think were possible. I would also recommend taking the spiritual disciplines seriously. Being devoted to weight loss, a clean home and even a life full of ministry is admirable, but not being disciplined to pray, fast, evangelize, read and meditate on Scripture, etc., leads to shallow and even a lack of fulfillment in Christ. If  the time and the resources are available, I highly recommend a book called “The Common Rule” by Justin Earley. He is advocating for a life that is much more intentional with our time, which allows for the cultivation of a life that can then be built around our secret place. 
In your walk with Christ, why and how have you found it important to maintain the secret place with the Lord? What are some practical tips you would recommend to others to grow in their secret place with the Lord?
What I know about myself is that by nature I am a complainer. I don’t always complain to people, but I can do a lot of it to myself. Years ago, I developed a habit of praying whenever I am doing tasks that I don’t like to do. I have never been a fan of doing dishes, so when they were my life, I prayed while doing dishes. And while the tasks, people or events that I am prone to complain about may have changed as the seasons of my life have, the habit of praying instead of complaining is a constant reminder of my need for Jesus, and it refocuses my mind to think on thinks that are true, honorable, just, pure, commendable, worthy of praise — like we are instructed in Philippians 4. So, as a tip, I would say find the areas in your life that need to be cut out and fill them one by one, with Scripture, prayer or people that will point you straight to Jesus. Doing this has given me a confidence in the Lord that I know I would not have had otherwise. This is the goal of the secret place — to see all of life in relationship to the Father and to uproot and weed out everything that would distract us from Him. 
What can this year’s retreat attendees anticipate as you teach through Matthew 6, the retreat’s focal passage?
Wow, Matthew 6 is compelling and full of practical application. Only the Lord really knows what I will say! What I know is that I love to study God’s Word, and what I love more is that it is accessible. All are welcome to it, there is truth in there for everyone, and that is true of this passage. I am admittedly not a scholar. I’m just a woman who sees the value in knowing and sharing God’s Word in a way that puts my life on display in an effort to encourage other women to do the same. I will teach what the Bible says and will be both encouraged and taking my lumps right along with everyone there. That is how the Holy Spirit works. He makes sure no one is exempt.
Anything else you would like to add?
I am so excited for this conference! I always am. Gathering year after year with these ladies in particular has become a favorite of mine. I learn so much, meet so many wonderful women, have incredible conversations and lots of fun. I feel honored to be a part of  this!

Join us March 27 for the 2021 N.C. Baptist Women’s Retreat.

Email [email protected] or call (800) 395-5102, ext. 5561