Monday January 12, 2015
Hearing God in the ‘lonely place’
This is the Christmas jigsaw I chose for my wife Alison and as you can see, it is a real stinker (she likes a challenge!). Life can be like that – sometimes the picture just won’t come together, and it’s a lot of little pieces that look the same and don’t seem to fit. When we get to a quieter, ‘lonely place’ with God, that’s when the picture often seems to just come together all by itself.
Matthew 14:13 (NASB)
Now when Jesus heard it, He withdrew from there in a boat, to a lonely place by Himself.
WE are more connected today than at any time before. In the area where I live, a lot of social and family life used to revolve around the Chapel, but it involved work and effort. Families would walk for an hour or more through the woods to gather on a Sunday and often spend much of the day there – most people were related. The rest of the time it was a disconnected and lonely existence. There was no transport to speak of unless you could get a ride with a carter, the going was on rutted tracks instead of roads, and the bus service (and in the country, telephone) only made their entrance after the Second World War.
Life was much harder then than we know now. If you got ill or had an accident a doctor was expensive, and for ordinary people there were few answers to life’s problems. On the other hand, it was much more usual to have a measure of faith in God. Those earlier generations would look to His providence in a way that is culturally difficult for us.
We are secure in being connected, we commute, we visit friends both locally and some distance away, we follow the Facebook notifications and keep up with a constant unspoken dialogue via email (both wanted and unwanted) and text messaging. Some people apparently cannot get round a supermarket without a mobile phone pressed to their ear. At the same time our attention is jostled by a stream of visual messages on television, online advertising and every kind of printed medium.
We have more means of communication than ever before. We probably have less ability to hear God than ever before.
None of those channels of information is wrong or evil, unless used in the wrong way. Some point us to God’s Word and may be used by the Holy Spirit to guide us into truth and even give us ‘a word for today’ which is more personal. But my point is, there’s a lot of noise and a lot of competing messages. The loneliness of that earlier age had a good side to it – time to hear, opportunity to reflect, space to talk to God and hear from Him.
Jesus often retreated to ‘lonely places’ for that very reason. Have we lost that ability in a welter of sound-bites?
God is always speaking. He loves us even when we’re not doing all that great at loving Him. His promises of guidance stand, whether we believe them or not, whether we ask for them and listen out for them – or not. His love is not silent or withdrawn or critical. Of course, we can withdraw from Him, and it has to be said that our bits of self-sufficiency and insisting that we know best do make barriers. However, God is still in the business of relating to us, and that would be strange indeed if it were done in silence.
God loves to encourage us in our individual lives. He likes to help us with the jigsaw puzzle, if we will step aside and let him. All the stories I could tell have the same point (and they all sound trivial after the event). If we make room for God, and get into a quieter, ‘lonely place’, that incomplete picture will come together in a remarkable way.