8.5.12 – Follow the Rock
This past week, as many of you know, I spent a few days in New Mexico—Ute Park, to be specific. You can see where I stayed on the screen there. It was a little four room motel, but I was the only person staying there, so it was a lot like having a cabin to myself.
Why go? And why not take anyone with me?
As much as I would have liked to have Martha and/or the boys with me, the whole point was just to be alone with God. So I sat out on the front porch of that motel with just my Bible, or sometimes just with myself. I read and I prayed. Studied through Colossians several times in preparation for our next series of Wednesday night lessons.
And I walked. I walked the dirt roads nearby, like the one on the screen now. Sometimes I walked along the paved road, but it was a major highway, so I avoided it for the most part—except that I did drive it to get to other places to walk/hike.
I did a lot of praying, but I also tried to do a lot of listening.
1 Kings 19:11-13
“Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. (NLT)
See, Elijah had just had his showdown with the prophets of Baal. He’d just outrun a chariot. But he was also drained, physically and emotionally. He wanted to just give up. He figured he was the only person left who still served God.
But—and this goes along with our recent Wednesday night lessons—God took him to a place where he could listen. Even then, God had to get Elijah—this incredible man of God—to the right frame of mind to listen.
I’m guessing the wind, the earthquake and the fire were scary things to Elijah. Those things got his attention, but we’re told God wasn’t in them. When God spoke to him, it was in a gentle whisper. Finally, Elijah was past all the noise and in a place where he could just listen to God.
As we saw on our Wednesday night lessons, in the Bible God frequently took his people out into the desert or wilderness to get their attention. Elijah. Jesus. Paul. Getting alone somewhere with God is a good idea for all of us.
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (NIV)
We don’t have to go into a desert or into the mountains like Elijah. But we do need to set ourselves apart. Maybe it’s just for a few minutes in a literal closet in our house, maybe it’s up here at the church building in the prayer room. It’s important to find a place where we can be with God with as few distractions as possible.
So, as I mentioned last Sunday, I decided to go to Cimarron Canyon in New Mexico. This little motel I went to was right on the edge of the canyon. My plan was to do some hiking, some praying, some Bible study, and to try to listen to God.
I had an opportunity to talk to another minister here in town that I know about this and while he liked the idea, he kept saying, “Three days?!?!” At first, I thought he meant that I wasn’t taking long enough. But then, I realized what was surprising him, troubling him, was that he’s a very social person and the idea of three days alone—without a computer, even!—was disturbing. I think he could barely imagine going that long without other people and really couldn’t imagine being without his computer for that long! (It was a weird thought to me, too, but I liked it!)
It’s hard for me to listen to God because he doesn’t necessarily speak to me in a voice. How does he speak to me? I’m still not sure, but I wanted to listen.
So I got in my car on Tuesday morning and drove over to a hiking trail that had been recommended to me: Maverick Trail. I decided to start there because of my liking for James Garner, It proved to be a pretty place.
The first third of the trail was the hardest. It was steep and while I walk a lot here in town I wasn’t used to walking straight uphill in high altitude. About the time I got to this spot I hadn’t gone all that far but I was out of breath and my heart was pumping hard and I was wondering: if I have a heart attack how long will it be before someone finds me? Turns out, about an hour later, coming down the mountain I met a retired hospice nurse and her husband, so I guess they would have found me.
To this point, the hike had been so grueling—on my flatland lungs, at least—that I hadn’t been able to think about much of anything. Just keep walking. One foot in front of the other. Which was kind of what I needed to happen: clear my mind.
My mind was pretty clear when I came to a fork in the road. You remember what Yogi Berra says, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
I was trying to determine which way to go, when I spotted a friendly face. If you look right there in the center of this picture, you’ll see the eye and ears of a little bunny, who was watching me very warily. He was sitting off by the left-hand path, so I decided to take that path. It looked like this:
My breath was coming much easier by then and my heart had slowed down to normal. I was high above the canyon floor, but I had my second wind and I was ready to go. I set off down the path, singing praises now and then—and discovering I wasn’t quite acclimated enough to both hike and sing, so I got quiet again.
Now, later on, the path would be marked like this: Sometimes it took a moment of looking to find that red diamond—sometimes it was a metal sign like here, sometimes it was just painted on the tree with a stencil and a can of Rustoleum. If you looked, you could usually find it.
For the first little while, though, the trail wasn’t marked. For the first few yards, it was pretty clear where the trail was, but then I would get to places where it was hard to tell where the trail was supposed to be. It was then, I started noticing the piles of rocks.
My first thought was to an old Louis L’Amour story called “The Lonesome Gods”. In it, he writes about some trails across the desert that would be marked by little cairns of rocks. No one knew who had left the cairns, but it was tradition for travelers to pick up a rock and add it to the cairn, as a sort of tribute to whoever had made the trail. I thought about doing that the first time I saw one of these little cairns on the Maverick Trail, but I didn’t.
But then, I came to a confusing portion of the trail: It may be hard to see in this next picture, but the trail looked like it went left—and I almost went that way—but then I noticed that the next pile of rocks was off to the right. Off to the right, from that perspective, didn’t look like much of a trail.
This went on for probably a mile or more. Whoever had put up the cairns of rocks had picked out the best trail, but they also had chosen some interesting spacing for the cairns. When approaching a pile of rocks, you couldn’t see the next pile beyond. But if you took a couple steps beyond the one pile, you could always see the next pile (if you looked, sometimes the colors blended in pretty well). I had come to trust whoever had piled up the rocks, though.
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. (NIV)
This was the message God was trying to teach the Israelites in the desert and I think this is the message God wanted me to hear/learn that day in Cimarron Canyon: trust me.
See, I want to look ahead. I want to know what’s coming. Personally, I want to know where I’m going to be next year or ten years from now. I have dreams and I want to know how to carry them out. As a congregation—and a leader in this congregation—I want a long-range plan and I want us to grow at a certain rate and …
And I realized God was telling me: slow down. Trust me. I will lead you where you need to go, but trust me now.
There were so many times where I got to a point where I couldn’t see a cairn of rocks ahead of me. Do I turn back? But if I just took a few steps forward on faith, the path was revealed to me.
A pretty place. But you know what? It wasn’t a spectacular place. There wasn’t a view of craggy peaks, or flowing streams. Just a nice, quiet, pleasant meadow.
Just a nice, quiet, pleasant meadow.
Sometimes, the place God is taking us at that moment in time isn’t spectacular. It’s not a “once in a lifetime” view. Sometimes, he’s just taking us to a quiet place where we can talk to him and—hopefully—listen.
And he promised not to forsake us. Really, all of my hike that day was pleasant. Even though I was breathing heavily, I was never really worried or in danger. Sometimes in life, we are going to go over some rough spots. We’re going to get sick, or someone close to us will. Sometimes they’ll die.
Are you willing to trust God? To keep looking for the next pile of rocks—even if they aren’t in the direction you want to go?
What do I DO with this?
And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (NIV)