I have been writing a series of blogs on what I believe God has been saying to me during this time of lockdown. This is the fifth part. It happened during my quiet time today.
My quiet times consist of prayer, Bible reading and a little music. I like to read the passage a few times and see if God draws my attention to a particular word or phrase from His word.
My passage today came from Acts 8.
The Apostle Philip is having a successful and really busy ministry in Samaria. His preaching is well received, there are miracles taking place and people are coming into a new living relationship with God. It is at the height of this success, God does something really strange. He puts Philip in isolation. That is where my quiet time began;
Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south[a] to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.)
(Acts 8 vs. 26 – NRSV)
To me, this is a very familiar passage and I have preached on this a number of times, particularly in a baptism service. As I looked at the words, I felt my mind heading in a particular direction, however, I felt that God was drawing me to the piece in brackets. It was here that God was speaking to me.
This is a wilderness road
As the lockdown began, the Church was in the season of Lent. I was speaking in and around a number of wilderness encounters. I spoke about Jesus being in the wilderness for 40 days and nights. I spoke about Hagar meeting the “God who sees me” (Genesis 16 vs.13). There were references to the people of Israel wandering in the wilderness through the Exodus and returning through the wilderness as the Exile came to an end.
When I write the word “wilderness”, I wonder what comes to your mind?
A dry, arid place.
A place without life.
A place you would not like to go
Maybe, you even think of a Spiritual Desert. A place where God seems absent.
Then today, as I looked at my quiet time reading, I found myself back in the wilderness again!
As I have spoken to people, over these past few weeks, some have said that they have felt like they are in an emotional and physical wilderness. Normal life, suspended. Plans, hopes and dreams on hold. Family and friends separated. The wilderness, they are experiencing, is a place of separation and isolation.
Perhaps, however, we can think of the wilderness in a slightly different light. Instead of thinking of it as a barren place, let us try thinking about it as a place where there are no distractions. When I look in the Bible I see that, the wilderness can also be a place of encounter with God. I think, that is why Luke (who wrote the book of Acts) draws our attention to Philip being on a wilderness road.
This got me thinking. What if our separation and isolation, our wilderness, is really a place of encounter with God? What if we really need this time without distraction in order to re-connect with God. Are we making the most of this opportunity or, are we trying to keep ourselves busy, to avoid God?
At our recent Housegroup@home, I quoted some words from St Augustine of Hippo, who said;
“God is always trying to give good things to us, but our hands are too full to receive them.”
(St. Augustine, City of God)
One of the positive sides of being in the wilderness is, our hands have been emptied.
As the story of Philip in Acts 8 unfolds, he meets the Ethiopian Eunuch. It is a God given meeting which leads to a conversation and a baptism. Two things that struck me. Firstly, the encounter would not have happened had Philip not been in the wilderness. Secondly, with everything else gone, the wilderness gave Philip the space to see the person that God actually wanted Him to see.
That is what I believe God is saying to me through Coronavirus;
When you are in the wilderness, God can really get your attention!
So, here is something that really worries me. Soon enough, lockdown will be released. I am sure, as soon as it is over, there will be a lot of pressure to get life “back to normal” as soon as possible. This means we will get busy. Get activity back into the Church. There will be a lot of catching up to do and I can imagine the stress and strain that will put on me and on others too. Experience tells me, the busier I become, the less I will notice what God wants me to see.
Perhaps when “normal” resumes I need, from time from time to time, to purposefully, take the occasional walk down a wilderness road.
Perhaps when “normal” resumes you need, from time to time, to purposefully, take the occasional walk down a wilderness road.
Some words of hope to finish with
The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendour of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the LORD, the splendour of our God.
(Isaiah 35 vs. 1 – 2)