My Father-in-Law loaned me a book a week or so ago with an interesting title, The Book of Mysteries, by Jonathan Cahn. Cahn writes the book based on Jewish wisdom literature and uses the motif of a student and teacher to convey his message. I have seen a lot of these and generally don’t do much more than skim them and give them back. Not this one (I ordered my own so I could give this one back).
Enough about the book. Why did I tell you about it to begin with? To tell you something about one of the “chapters” entitled ‘The Midbar’. Midbar is the Hebrew word for wilderness. Cahn like most of us when he thinks of wilderness sees only the barren, the austere, the severe and forbidding. Let me borrow a few lines from “the teacher” when he speaks about this place: “And when people go through hard times—times of loss, crisis, tragedy…separation, tears—they speak of going through the wilderness. And yet the wilderness is a holy place. It was in the desert wilderness that God gave his Law, his Word and where he revealed his presence. The wilderness is holy.”
Let me pause for a moment, when was the last time you thought of loss and separation as a holy moment? You see in ministry we are often called to accompany people through these wilderness moments. We can spend time grieving the loss, or become a guide to point out the places where God might be found. On a more physical level when did you look out at the austere, and forbidding wilderness area and think of this a Holy place? When was the last time you looked out in those uninhabited areas and knew that this was a holy place? Yet when we decided to begin New Trails we chose a wilderness location for this very reason. In the places where there is little to distract us that we are freed up to listen to that still small voice of God.
Let me go back to the book for a moment, for Cahn tells us that the word midbar (wilderness), comes from the Hebrew word davar. Davar, means to speak. When you combine the two concepts, the wilderness is the place where God speaks. God led the newly released slaves from Egypt into the wilderness so he could speak to them. Earlier he had taken Moses from the comforts of Egypt to the “backside” of the wilderness so he could speak to him. Then where does Jesus go right after his baptism? The wilderness of course to clarify his calling and purpose.
At this point, you might object, why can’t God speak to me from the comforts of a 4 Star motel room? Why doesn’t God choose to speak to me on the deck of a cruise ship? Now, don’t get me wrong, God is omnipotent and omnipresent and there is no reason why he cannot speak in those situations and I am sure that some of have heard his voice in those situations. However, it remains a fact that over the course of God’s recorded interventions in the life of his people, he has most often chosen the wilderness. There is no question when God wants to speak to his people he sends them out. Elijah in his depression was sent to the wilderness. David was shaped by the wilderness around Bethlehem to become the man God would use. What makes us think we are any different?
I invite you to go to those wilderness areas. Or better yet come and visit us at New Trails. On our own the wilderness is austere and forbidding place, but when you have a guide who knows what to look for, and how to navigate the wilderness suddenly things unfold in ways you never expected. In this austere, I would say beautiful space, what you will notice immediately is what is not here. There is very little noise, unless there is a storm coming. There is no TV reception, sure we could get it, but it only becomes a distraction. You will find limited cell service, and I can even arrange to take you to a place where there is no cell service. If you are willing to risk a bit you can find an even more remote place to listen to God, it is called the Black Elk Wilderness and it is practically in our back yard. If the Black Elk is not remote enough for you, we can head to Wyoming and the Cloud Peak Wilderness.
What I find is that in these areas, the normal distractions of day to day life are not existent. We don’t have meetings to attend. Instead we pay attention to the clouds, or the rock formations, or the way a tree and rock form an unexpected cross. (We have the photo to prove that) We are also empowered to listen to God. It is in these places that God speaks. When the normal distractions of life are reduced to how much water we have, to where is the next water source. When the distractions of life are reduced to how far do we want to hike today, and where is a good place to set the tent. When the only activity of the evening is to watch the sunset, and the wild life settle in around you, it is then you find time to listen to God in a way you cannot when there is a comfortable chair to relax in, or a TV set to distract you. Or the next port of call, and the all day buffet!
The wilderness, the place of His voice, is what we offer you at New Trails. Sure you can find some of these things closer to home, and you should regularly get out and walk a nature trail or even a path through a local park. Regardless of that you need an “immersion” in the wilderness on a regular basis. (Based on research that means at least 3 days) This winter, Deb and I, by necessity, are living closer to the “civilized” world, and in some ways we are mourning the loss of the wilderness. But then again, as my Father-In-Law puts it, (his favorite verse from Esther), we are here “…for such a time as this…” Now Esther was told that so she could save her people, for Deb and I, we are not entirely certain. For now, Deb and I are embracing this time, as part of God’s plan. We don’t know exactly what he has in store for us, only that he made this place available to us, he opened the doors, and so we are here listening for that still small voice. For us, this is not a retreat from the wilderness, but like most travelers through the wilderness, this time is an opportunity to “resupply”, to restock and prepare for the next season of ministry.
However, the invitation remains. if God’s voice has become faint, if the trail you are following has begun to fade and you wonder if you are still on the right path, it might be a good time to think about spending some time in the wilderness. At New Trails we have varied levels of wilderness immersion for you to consider. The invitation is the same. We can help you go from stressed and depressed to a New Trail of vitality. Your wilderness Rx filled here!