AUTHOR’S NOTE: I wrote this article just over almost 5 years ago as God was preparing me to take a huge leap of faith. Within a few months after writing it, I quit my job and branched out in a new adventure. God spoke to me on my mountains walks with Him, and taught me faith lessons along the way that gave me courage enough to follow Him. I hope these words encourage you to listen closely to God in prayer, and then to step out boldly in faith with Him…
Most Christians get their marching orders from God each morning in what is widely known as a “quiet time”. Talk to any mature Christian, and most will tell you they spend several minutes or hours with God at dawn or there abouts. To hear many of them speak of it, it sounds quite ideal…
Imagine sitting alone with your Bible, a small candle flickering on the table beside you. A petite fawn pokes her head into your window, while looking at your Bible with curious interest. You look upward lovingly with glistening eyes at the Heavenly Father as He pours the wisdom of the ages into your soul. You breathe a sigh of contentment as your day is suddenly stress-free and perfect.
Just get that picture painted by Thomas Kincade, and you’ve got the stereotypical image of the Christian’s morning devotional time. And all the really best Christians have them – believe me, they’ve all told me so themselves.
Problem is, I generally feel like total crap in the mornings. Having the constitution of a creative guy means that I continually struggle with insomnia and have to drink enough coffee when I wake up to make your average crack addict envious. The real place I hear from God consistently is about an hour after my body rolls out of bed, when I hit the street for a run or a walk.
There’s just something about getting my body moving and the outdoors that puts all the things that would distract me out of my thoughts.
I live in Florida now, but this week I spent some time in my favorite place on earth, the hills of East Tennessee. We used to live there years ago, and it’s usually where we spend most of our family vacations. Every time we’re here, I head off down a particular country road for a walk as soon as I can sneak out the door unnoticed.
That’s because it is imperative that I go alone, since this is the road I take to talk out loud to God. You can’t do that really well in the city – people who wander down the road mumbling out loud to no one in particular tend to scare neighbors and small children. So this secluded, lonesome country road is my favorite place to spend time unhindered with God, and talk out loud to him like some crazy hobo who hops trains at the rail yards.
I always say there’s no better place to hear from God than a lonesome country road. My friend Lewis says if God is there with you, it’s not lonesome after all. That sentiment sounds a little Hallmark card-ish, but it’s true.
There is a lovely, melancholy feel to walking outdoors alone with no human interruptions. However, there are other potential interruptions…
When you walk on a country road, you need to carry a big walking stick. This stick is not as much to help you walk as for protection from the occasional country dog. A lot of the houses on the road have at least one, sometimes several mangy snaggle-toothed mutts that like to chew on strangers when the squirrels are hiding.
A good-sized stick can guarantee you safe passage, and also makes you look a little bit like Moses, too!
One problem I have is to truly keep my mind on God and not just start griping into the air about how much my life stinks right now. I tend to whine when I’m not getting my way, and although it always worked on my mom with my dad, I’m starting to think God is less responsive to it. I try to communicate honestly from my heart, but I always want to remember WHO I’m really talking to. He’s God, not just some relative you’ve got cornered at a family reunion. Whining and complaining will not move Him to
I always want to remember WHO I’m really talking to. He’s God, not just some relative you’ve got cornered at a family reunion. Whining and complaining will not move Him to action, though it may move everyone else out of your path. Most of all, it shows a lack of faith that God has your best interest at heart. It sounds like you think you need to “set Him straight” so He’ll get Himself in gear.
Even more important is that I SHUT UP every now and then to give God a chance to speak to me. Too often, prayer becomes a laundry list of gripes or requests from us.
To listen to us, you’d think God was some teenager working the drive-thru at Chick-fil-A, just waiting to take our order. To the contrary, it is we who should be taking orders from Him…
Remember – He has no need to be reminded of what we desire or need. Prayer is to remind US of what we need to put in His hands. We mention it in prayer so that we’ll remember it when He actually comes through with the answer!
The concept of “listening in prayer” is the missing ingredient for many Christians, I’ve discovered. If we never let God respond with His still small voice in our hearts, how are we ever supposed to learn, to adjust, to change? That’s the thing I look forward to in my times alone with God – the insight He offers, the knowledge He desires to give anyone who asks. But to receive that, we have to stop talking once in a while. And we have to believe in Him enough to have faith that He really will speak if we listen.
I’ve walked and talked to God here in every season of the year. It’s summer here right now, so the view is nice but not overwhelming. In the fall, the trees and mountains are breathtaking with their blazing colors. In the Spring, there are lots of yellows and lavenders as everything is blooming. Even in the winter, there’s a sad melancholy to the barren trees as the mountain wind cuts through you.
I see beauty here, regardless of the season. And in the same way, I’ve learned that God’s presence makes every season special in its own way. It’s easy in life to get focused on the circumstances surrounding us, and to hope for a particular kind of season to bring us fulfillment and happiness. But real joy is found in just being with God, no matter the season. Even during a dull patch of time, sensing God’s closeness can make the day special.
So I guess I need to focus less on how to change my circumstance and get out of the season God has me in. I need to focus more on listening to God within that circumstance…within that season.
Today I’ve walked my usual route, which takes me about 20 minutes one way down the road. I’ve survived the onslaught of “the house of a hundred dogs” (probably a meth lab, I’m thinking) with stick held high so all can see and back away accordingly. I’m really feeling like I want to walk further than usual and spend more time with God. But I’ve now come to my usual stopping point where this road intersects another.
There’s a continuation of the road across this intersection, but I’ve never followed it any further. Might be bigger dogs there that are not impressed by my trusty stick, or more meth labs. It is pretty heavily wooded, so I can’t really tell what might be coming around its bend.
This is the point at which I have always turned back…
But today for some reason, I feel like I’m supposed to go on. Honestly, I’m at a point of frustration with my life where I find myself saying “so what” to many supposed threats that I’ve let hold me back in the past. We don’t normally think of frustration as a tool God uses, but He has been using it overtime in my life.
I think that when God is waiting on us to step out in faith…to MOVE…He allows the level of discomfort where we are sitting to increase. Finally, our irritation outweighs our fear of change, and we grumpily step out beyond the safety of our well-traveled, familiar surroundings.
That’s pretty much where I am right now. I’m irritated by my own apprehension of the unknown. I’m mad at myself for giving in to it like some bully on the playground of my life. I’ve got my stick with me, ready to do battle. And I’ve got my trusty cell phone, so I can take good pictures of the paramedics who’ll come when I’m bleeding to death from either the dog bites or the gunshot wounds. So I take a deep breath, say “so what” (or its equivalent under my breath), and walk across to the further section of road.
So I take a deep breath, say “so what” (or its equivalent under my breath), and walk across to the further section of road…
As I make my way down the road and the trees clear, I’m not hearing any dogs at all. Then I round the next corner, and BAM…I gasp as I see a beautiful mountain sprouting up right in front of me. Mountains are my favorite things (next to raindrops on roses…and maybe whiskers on kittens), and I feel closest to God near the mountains. I take a few minutes to drink it all in, and pull out my cell phone to snap a quick picture.
But then I think to myself how stupid I am for never walking this far before. All those other walks and I had turned back, when this beautiful scene was waiting for me all along! As I came to the end of the road (it met up with a highway), I turned back and God started lecturing away at me…
“This is where you are in life right now. For too many years, you have let fear dictate how far you would follow me. You focused on your own ability to protect yourself and your own puny tools (my “sticks”). The problem was you needed to be focused on Me instead – on My ability to protect you and my resources. There are beautiful places I want your life to go, David. But until you get tired enough with the way things are…and frustrated enough to move forward past your fears, you’ll keep missing out on the great adventure your Daddy wants to take you on.”
When God speaks and says “Go on and take a step farther”, do we respond?
Or do we just turn back and return on the same safe path we’ve always walked along, fighting off the same puny attacks with our same puny weapons?
So, do you have the faith to go farther with God?
I think I’ve got the combination I need now: faith + frustration. Those two take me a lot farther than I used to want to go. But I think that’s the way God planned it all along.
All photos taken by David Gipson while walking along Cummings Chapel Road in Sevierville, TN