This past week I spent two and a half days on a spiritual retreat designed with at least two purposes in mind. One, it was an orientation for a group of “pilgrims” from various sections of the country (all pastors of one stripe or another) who are embarking on a spiritual renewal pilgrimage to the Holy Land. So we gathered in Atlanta, Georgia to get acquainted, bond, and learn something of one another’s stories. Of course, we also were prepped as to what to expect in terms of travel to Israel, our accommodations, daily schedule, and such. It promises to be all I have dreamed about for most of my ministry. While I have traveled the terrain of Jesus through the study of his teachings, I have never walked there. Needless to say, I am anxious to get started. It’s just a few weeks away.
Two, our time was so ordered as to help us understand the nature and discipline of a spiritual pilgrimage. We won’t be traveling as tourists, but, as I said, “pilgrims.” While there certainly will be an academic element to our pursuit (there’s much to learn), that is secondary. We go primarily with a pilgrim’s intention—to connect the external reality (place) with the internal experience (journey) that we as believers are on. In essence, all Christians should be about such spiritual practice—the discipline of unifying our outer and inner life, our body and soul.
Such a journey begins with a heart-felt desire or spiritual hunger. It requires a conscious decision to leave behind the status quo to depart for a more sacred space. Physically, that means our group will head to a “holy land”—a specific place related to the core story of our faith. Spiritually, such a pilgrimage happens when our hearts crave change and renewal. As Augustine wrote, “our souls are restless till they rest in Thee.” It is a journey within.
Each morning our group began the day with a time of quiet reflection. We embraced the silence. At the beginning and end of this quiet quest, we listened to the smooth, rhythm of a female soloist singing, “Be still and know that I am God….” Each morning my mind took me to the psalmist’s rendition (Ps. 46) and to Elijah’s encounter with God on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 19). As often the case, it is through the still and quiet that God appears.
I wonder how often you and I put our hope in the more momentous, “mountain-top” experiences. The trip to Israel is such for me. What I have discovered though, is that the real potential lies not in the physical itinerary, but on the inward journey—my willingness to hear the Voice within.
Throughout much of my life I have focused on the external. Preachers do that—worship attendance, offering totals, building campaigns, and other obvious answers to our petitions. Are you like that? Do you find yourself looking for some visible expression of God’s will?
Are you waiting now for that “powerful wind” of inspiration… or that “earthquaking” sense of power… or maybe that “fire” within so that you’ll finally be ready to address the immensity of the problem you face with equally enormous means? Or maybe you are hoping that God will just swoop in and fix it, or deliver you in some mighty fashion.
But what if it turns out that God’s way of working, or his plan for changing things through you and me is not quite so big? What if God is trying to communicate to us from within—through a still, quiet voice? Will you hear him?
I hope I will, especially in Israel! Will you pray that I will? I will for you!