A few seasons ago, God called me into a season of prayer, meditation and discernment. After a time of betrayal, tests and trials, I was seeking God’s still small voice to lead me forward on the path to which I am called. Where do I go to spend this season? To our cabin in the mountains above Boulder, Colorado. For ten years, we have spent summers, and a couple of months of winter, here on the mountain in the wilderness. It is a place of peace, healing, restoration and a home where we give thanks for wonderful times with family and faithful friends. Our land is surrounded by National Forest, with views of the Continental Divide, the Indian Peaks Wilderness and Rocky Mountain National Park.
The mountains have been a special and holy place since the time nearly forty years ago when God revealed himself to me in these same mountains. Now I’m a city boy by birth and rearing, from Atlanta, far from these mountains. But, since my first trip here, the Rocky Mountains have been my spiritual home. I am not alone in seeking God in the wilderness. From the time of Christ, his followers have withdrawn to seek God through solitude, seeking peace and quiet in God’s holy places. Here is an article describing How Backpacking can put you in Touch with your Inner Saint.
From the beginning of his ministry, Jesus withdrew time and again to the wilderness, sometimes to the mountains, sometimes to the desert. Why did he withdraw? To commune with his Father. In Luke 4:1-2, we see that Jesus is baptized and then:
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.
As Jesus drew his Disciples to him, again he goes to the mountain. Luke 6:12-13:
One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles.
As his ministry unfolds, he is constantly surrounded by crowds beseeching him to do their bidding, but, in Luke 5:15-16 we see:
Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
When Jesus heard what had happened (John the Baptist’s beheading), he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.
As the people sought to make him an earthly king, John 6:15 says:
Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.
As the Jewish leaders plotted to kill Jesus, what did he do? See John 11:54:
Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the Jews. Instead he withdrew to a region near the desert, to a village called Ephraim, where he stayed with his disciples.
Where did the transfiguration happen? Matthew 17:1-2 informs us that:
After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them.
And finally, after his resurrection, Jesus gave to the Apostles the Great Commission. Where? Look at Matthew 28:16-20:
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
In the notes on Mark’s version of the transfiguration (9:2), my Life Application Study Bible says, “A mountain was often associated with closeness to God and readiness to receive his words. God had appeared to both Moses (Ex 24:12-18) and Elijah (1Kings 19:8-18) on mountains.” Christian Schwarz, German Lutheran Theologian and head of the Institute for Natural Church Development, helps us make sense of this search for God in the wilderness in his wonderful little book, The Threefold Art of Experiencing God.
This book gave me the best understanding of the Trinity I have ever heard. Swarz says, “God revealed himself in three different ways. What we now call the “doctrine of the Trinity” was originally nothing more than a category of experience. The early Christians recognized God as Creator, experienced Christ as God through prayer, and sensed the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives. In other words: they experienced God in a threefold manner-and as a result they thought about the Trinity.”
He talks about the “creation revelation.” He says, “ God revealed himself as Creator by leaving the marks of his handwriting on creation (PS 19:2, Rom 1: 19). One does not have to be a Christian in order to encounter this type of revelation. Whether I am a Muslim, Buddhist, atheist or Christian- when I turn to creation I can sense the fingerprints of the Creator.” If you want to see God the Father, look at his creation. God reveals his nature through the creation. I have many unchurched friends in Boulder whose adoration of wild places verges on worship, even though they are not ready to acknowledge that there is a God. With an unchurched population at 90%, you see more people headed towards the wilderness on Sunday mornings than to church.
When I get away from the works of man, I can much more readily see God in the creation. When I’m surrounded by an artificial, man-created environment, I struggle to feel God’s presence. I am much more inspired by the creation than the created.
Since we bought a place here in the Front Range of Colorado, we’ve been supporting an organization called Wild Bear Center for Nature Discovery. Their tagline is, “No child left inside.” They are promoting the idea that children today suffer from nature-deficit syndrome. I believe it. I remember my childhood playing in the woods across the street. We discovered all sorts of things ranging through the woods. Our imagination was stoked by the endless detail of flora and fauna.
I don’t observe many kids playing outside these days. When we lived in suburban Atlanta, the kids all seemed to stay inside playing video games. Mothers would not even let the kids walk two blocks to the bus stop in the morning. Now research is showing that time on the Internet is changing the wiring of our brains, shortening attention spans, and making it much harder to concentrate. I fear for the affects of nature-deficit syndrome on this generation of kids.
I heard Len Sweet speak some time ago, and he said, “We are raising a generation of vidiots. If you don’t put something on a screen, you will never communicate with them.” Now, people immerse themselves in virtual environments and have a hard time dealing with the real world. After the movie Avatar came out, I heard that people became depressed, because they wanted to live in that world. What happened to the fascination with the world we inhabit?
In my quiet time on the mountain, I have been reading Richard Foster’s book, Prayer, Finding the Heart’s True Home. This is the second time I have started this book. The last time, I put it down after two or three chapters. I wasn’t ready to hear his message. Now, a decade later, as I read it, I am finding much quiet wisdom in its pages.
Part II of the book is called Moving Upward: Seeking the Intimacy We Need. This section begins with a chapter on the Prayer of Adoration. Foster tells us, “Adoration is the spontaneous yearning of the heart to worship, honor, magnify, and bless God.” He goes on to describe thanksgiving and praise as the two sides to adoration. “In thanksgiving, we give glory to God for what he has done for us; in praise we give glory to God for who he is in himself.” Foster describes stepping-stones to adoration. He suggest starting simply, “We learn about the goodness of God not by contemplating the goodness of God but by watching a butterfly. Begin by paying attention to the little creatures. Do not try to study or analyze them. Just watch the birds and the squirrels and the ducks. Watch, do not evaluate, watch.”
Now, this was a revelation to me. I discovered that the many hours I spend just observing the flowers, the bees, the birds and squirrels, just reveling in the beauty of these little things, was a form of prayer. Now, this was quite edifying. My prayer time just multiplied. What was drawn to, and what I had learned to experience through nature, I now find is a form of adoration prayer.
Foster describes it this way. “When we do these kinds of things with some degree of regularity, we, in time, begin to experience pleasures rather than merely scrutinize them. We are first drawn into these tiny pleasures and then beyond them to the Giver of pleasures. As this happens, thanksgiving, praise and adoration will flow naturally in their proper time.“
Beyond Foster’s stepping stones, I find other values in my time in the wilderness. From our porch, we can see down to Boulder and Denver. At night, the lights of the city glow in the distance. From my first days acknowledging God as the maker of this world, I have found great value in sensing how small I am in the scheme of things. When I am out in the wilderness it helps me keep perspective. I find myself getting so caught up in the dramas of everyday existence in the city. When I come to the wilderness, I can see how petty many of my concerns are. Looking down on the city lights, I can see how small we look from the mountain. We are like specks of dust, like ants hurrying around busying ourselves with all the worries of a modern life.
Jesus spoke to these concerns in Matthew 6:25-34:
"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.