Most days, I take my dog for a walk after lunch.
We head down to the creek and poke around for a minute, letting our skin soak up the sunshine, our lungs breathe in the fresh air, and we always check to see if the blue heron might be visiting that day. We may go all the way to the mailbox and around the far side of the creek, just to kill a little extra time. He always pulls that way, just to make sure I haven’t forgotten that option. If it’s cold out, we keep it short and sweet.
This simple ritual anchors my day, especially the ones where I do most of my work by typing and staring at a screen and reading tiny font in an old book. It’s become a moment of respite; it is also my mid-day heart check with the Lord.
As I walk, I try to turn my inner gaze to Jesus and recognize his presence. He is always present, of course, but during the busyness of my daily work, it is easy to get tunnel-vision on whatever I am trying to accomplish. When I walk, though, I can’t check to see what is happening on Twitter or think about whatever paper I might be working on (I literally can’t hold my phone and the dog leash and walk down a rocky path without something painful likely happening!). I can, however, take in the bright blue of the sky, the tangle of briar thickets, the crystal clear water as it rushes over the teal-toned creekbed, the baby calves playing in the field next door. I can pay attention and wait. I can listen.
And to be honest with you, most days I don’t “hear” anything back. Even if I pour out my heart in earnest prayer, or quiet the questions of my mind, or even ask for a response–most days I don’t feel anything special or different. I know that God is real (the creation shouts of his skill!) and I know that he has been kind to me (the experiences of my life attests to his presence) but I don’t always feel anything particularly “spiritual.”
If you talk to anyone (frankly, honestly) who has been walking with the Lord for a few years, they will echo this sentiment. There is an ebbing and flowing of the Spirit, like the intangibility of the wind. Yes, there will be times of intensity when you sense his presence in a very real way (and most often as not, these times coincide with pain or trauma or unexpected hardship) but there will also be times of silence. Almost as if the Lord is pulling away from us a bit.
This can’t be true, right?? I mean, we’ve all heard the sentiment expressed that if there is any distance between me and God then surely it’s my fault somehow…
But this doesn’t exactly match the picture we have of Jesus interacting with his disciples and friends.
In Luke 5, we witness Jesus call his first disciples and we see the crowds begin to swarm. How did he respond?
“…and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.” (v 15-16)
Likewise, we see the pattern in other places of Jesus pulling away from the crowds, and from his disciples, and getting alone with the Father.
“And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone…” (Matt. 14:23)
“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” (Mark 1:35)
“After bidding them farewell, He went up on the mountain to pray.” (Mark 6:46)
This isn’t necessarily about sin preventing us from perceiving the drawing of the Spirit, although that could certainly be the case. What I’m talking about is the maturing of our walk with the Lord, where we don’t constantly need the warm fuzzies to confirm that yes, the Spirit of God is still present with me (and is dwelling within me, even if only in seed form) and no, he hasn’t abandoned or forgotten me. It’s about our recognition of his right to draw away from us, even if only in our perception (and not actually a “distancing” of his love…oh no, his love is steadfast!), to draw us to a deeper place with him. If we remain with the crowds, or even with the few, we might miss what he has for us in that stilled place of intimacy.
In Mark 7:31-35, notice how Jesus restores a man in a particularly unique way–
“Again, leaving the region of Tyre, He went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, through the region of the Decapolis. They brought to Him a deaf man who also had a speech difficulty, and begged Jesus to lay His hand on him. So He took him away from the crowd privately. After putting His fingers in the man’s ears and spitting, He touched his tongue. Then, looking up to heaven, He sighed deeply and said to him, “Ephphatha!” that is, “Be opened!” Immediately his ears were opened, his speech difficulty was removed, and he began to speak clearly.”
So He took him away from the crowd privately. Did you catch that, too? Jesus drew the man away from the crowd and dealt with him alone, individually, from Maker to created one. He healed the man in the quiet place between them.
Oswald Chambers addresses this pattern in his usual blunt (and so appreciated!) way:
“There are vast areas of stubbornness and ignorance the Holy Spirit has to reveal in each of us, but it can only be done when Jesus gets us alone. Are we alone with Him now? Or are we more concerned with our own ideas, friendships, and cares for our bodies? Jesus cannot teach us anything until we quiet all our intellectual questions and get alone with Him.”
What are those areas of need in our life that only He can heal? What prayers have we been praying for years and can’t yet see the answer? Why does it seem that the Lord is quiet about these things?
It is quite normal for the Christian to wrestle with this dynamic and I find myself walking and praying similar prayers to the open air (you might be there too.) But we must also pay attention when we hear the question asked of us–
Are we willing to follow him out of the crowd to find out?
If you enjoyed this post or found it helpful, please share it via social media or email to encourage a friend along on the journey! As always, I’m so grateful for y’all!