My walk toward the Lord began on a path paved with something far lesser than gold.
His plan was a secret to me, so I didn’t realize when I took my first steps toward Him. For years I was lost and wandering, trying to find something that brought purpose to my life. I thought I could find my own way without any instruction. I found myself in the strangest places, none of which were holy. My feet were dirty with dust from the road and the filth of the terrible houses where I deliberately set out to ruin myself.
The walk was tiring and at times I slipped into dazes. Once I awoke to find I was piling debris on the street—pulling litter from the roadside into huge heaps ahead of me. My hands and arms and even my face and chest were marked with bloody scratches where I tried to climb over or crawl under my own mistakes. I tried pushing high with my hands, and then low with my shoulder. I couldn’t budge the pile. The shadow loomed over me.
My strength gone, I dropped to my knees and put my head on the pavement. My lips began to form a prayer, not of desperation or hopelessness, but rather one of gratitude. He broke me there on the street where I knelt. I was overcome with an awareness of my blessings. Everything he had given me became so clear, the gift of my children especially. How could I not praise him for it all? How could I not recognize where it was that I was walking? Straight into his heart.
When I opened my eyes, I was still kneeling … but now in a city. I was in the middle of its greatest street—golden, as pure as transparent glass. He led me here through a path of complete submission. Heaven was opened to me and for the children I am raising. On this golden street of a golden city, I closed my eyes to it all so I could pray again to my Lord. One day I hope not only to visit, but to make my home along this very street. I don’t know its name, but I understand where it is now.
By mid-afternoon, the ground thawed and the first snowfall lie in thin rows at the trails’s edge. I set out with a backpack and my Bible into the wilderness where out greatest enemy lives. My Lord and Savior met his tempter out here 2,000 years ago and won a victory where his predecessor, Adam, couldn’t. The spiritual battle is the same all this time later. The stakes are nothing less than eternity.
I am so familiar with these paths I could walk them with my eyes closed. While it might seem good to know the enemy’s lair, the tragedy is that I keep returning here to fight the same battle. No stronger than the last time I lost, boasting the same weaknesses and few strengths. My prayers lag and wane even though I am perfectly secluded and in a quiet place to send them Heavenward. I have no angels to nurse me back to health should I manage to survive.
Coming closer to the source of evil, I pass under the limbs of devilish trees. Crooked and thorn reminders grow just off the path. Finally, in a clearing, my heart starts to fill with His truth. My own strength is not what I need. My heart is a conduit to His. Enduring love, faithfulness, grace, courage, Whatever I need. Whatever I ask for. I can wield the same power of the one who defeated Satan before. When he steps out from the overgrowth to attack me, I will remind him of his losses. First, his defeat against my Lord, and now him losing the possession of my soul.
A doorkeeper stood waiting at the entry to the House of God. The master of the house told him through the Spirit that there would be one last wanderer to let in from the cold that night.
Behind the doorkeeper the glory of the Lord’s light cast his shadow long and narrow toward the edge of the woods. From out of the trees came a frail figure in poor man’s clothes. He walked slowly toward the doorkeeper with one hand shielding his eyes and the other clasping his chest.
“I am a stranger here and I know better than to ask if I can stay with you,” he said through short breaths. “But I am cold and tired and weary, and I’ve come so far on my own. I’m afraid I’ll die if I stay out in the cold one more night. May I come I inside where it is warm?”
The doorkeeper stood firmly in the doorway as the poor man tried to look behind him to see the source of the light radiating from inside.
“You may stay,” the doorkeeper said, “if you can tell me who you are in the Lord.”
The poor man thought for a moment, and then fell to his knees.
“I have been blind to myself almost my entire life,” he said. “It’s what led me into the wilderness. Like most people, I wasn’t awake to who I really was in the eyes of God. I didn’t realize I have a soul to develop or to protect. All I saw was flesh—what was before my own human eyes—giving in to all my weaknesses, never contemplating who was attacking me. But last night, when I reached the darkest place in the forest, I knew I couldn’t make it on my own. I realized I needed to call on the Lord’s strength. Suddenly, he drew me close to him, and I saw all there was to inherit. Eternal life. And at once this overwhelming feeling of gratefulness overcame me as I began to recognize and appreciate all the blessings I have in this world.”
Backlit by the lights of glory, the face of the doorkeeper began to shine warmly. He said:
“Brother, too few of God’s children look inward or to the spirits. They blame others for doing them wrong, they attribute their problems to their health or mental state. You are certainly among the rarest ones who finally come to see that their creator wants a relationship with them, and that you have a destiny to claim. But you still have not told me who you are in the Lord.”
The last wanderer replied: “I am nothing. Weak and broken. And yet I am still a son of God.”
The doorkeeper stepped aside and the light behind him filled up everything, seemingly lighting the world.
The poor wanderer rose to his feet. “Is that light from … Jesus …?” he asked. And then realizing who he was about to meet, he followed his question with another: “May I enter?”
“You are mistaken my friend,” the doorkeeper asked. “You are not standing at the door to his temple. He is standing at your door, knocking—for we are always welcome in our father’s house, but we seldom let him into our temple. Let Jesus in your heart and you will never walk in darkness again.”
The poor man’s heart filled with brilliance, then, and he took his first step through the doorway to forever light.
The winter is a sickness and the spring, when it finally comes, is like a fever breaking. Symptoms begin to show sometime in mid-autumn—shorter days and frosted morning glass. My home becomes a refuge from the weather and also a kind of spiritual retreat. I no longer take long walks through the hills in prayer but instead pray at my bedroom windows or lying under warm blankets. The cold does this to everything—reduces it to simplicity. Suddenly I become more aware of my gratefulness for warmth, my meals and even my faith. In the morning before I leave my warm bed, I read the words of the psalmist, lit by lamp light: “When the cold is unbearable, he sends his word to bring the thaw and warm wind to melt the snow.” Those words give me hope, even when the winter storms seem unrelenting and I begin to doubt spring will ever come.
Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you.”
1 Samuel 17:37
If I lost,
I would have lost with the Lord.
If I was afraid,
I would have been afraid with the Lord.
If the giant intimidated me,
the Lord would have been with me.
If I missed with the first stone, the Lord would have helped me aim the others.
Had I let the armor bearer dress me—had I worn the king’s coat of mail, the Lord would still have given me strength.
But I didn’t lose with my Lord.
With my Lord:
I was not afraid,
My first shot stuck down the giant,
and as I stood above the pile of his body,
my boy-sized shadow blotted the sun from him.
With my Lord, I lifted the sword,
and brought the head of his defier to Jerusalem!
For the last few weeks, I’ve had every intention of waking up early to watch a sunrise. But the steadily declining autumn temperatures and my warm bed hold me prisoner to my own sleep. This prayer below is an imagined sunrise prayer, written in the evening while dreaming about the earlier hours of quiet.
Dear Heavenly Father, Lord,
Let my knees wear a spot in the floor in this prayer space. Let my tears fall so hard, they stain the wood. Here, before the dawn breaks, I’m asking for your unfailing love to cover me for this day. Thank you for all the ways you are working in life, especially in drawing my children nearer to you and strengthening this household in Christ. Lord, I ask that you please move for the people I’ve been praying for—new and familiar—and use your hand to guide me through the troubles of this day about to come. You grant me so many of my prayers, I know you listen! I know you know my heart! Please, I pray, let me know yours. Every morning, it’s just us, and I pray you reveal yourself as brilliantly as the cresting sun.
Sick the lions on me. Drop me into their den and let’s see if they have the courage to feast. I’ve been thrown into their cave before by my enemies. And sometimes I’ve brought myself here. Quietly, Lord, seemingly without reason, you’ve tossed me a sword. You lowered me a life line. When I was my most desperate, you reached in and lifted me up. Safely in your palm, you hid me under your wing until trouble passed. Why do they surround me with their temptations? Worse, why do I work so hard to bring it on myself? My human eyes are blinded to your plan. When you set me down safe from the lions, I pray you give me strength to become what I am to become, so I can slay something more than my own demons.
My perfect moment in 2019 came before daybreak on Easter morning. I woke my children in darkness so they could ready themselves for church. The outdoor sunrise service was to start at 6 and I was anxious to experience the perfect moment of a brilliant peach-pink sky finally broken by the sun while we sat listening to the word being preached. But that wasn’t the perfection I found. Instead I was standing in the kitchen watching my daughter eat breakfast when I slid open the kitchen door and stepped out onto the deck and the morning darkness. The moon was still lit in the tree branches above me and the clouds were moving quickly as though they were being pushed by angels. It was silent out except for the singing birds who’d come back after six months in hiding. A feeling of renewal came over me there in the dark. I could hear my daughter scooping her cereal methodically, a few clangs of spoon against a ceramic cereal bowl, and I had this vision of that moment, 2,000 years ago, in a garden halfway around the world. Before dawn, Mary finding the tomb empty. Mistaking Jesus for a garden hand. The reason for her existence both confirmed and turned upside down — instantly. I imagined a setting just like this, and the sounds of the chains breaking and snapping from all of us in rhythm with my daughter’s inadvertent clangs. I could see and feel it in my soul. I spent the next several mornings awake at dawn, asking for that kind of clarity. The voice and Spirit of Jesus. Sometimes, it came.
Some of us have to be broken before reaching this point — before we have a heart for truth. Before we are willing to let someone teach us. Before we can be saved or put our hope in a source we can’t see. But that’s the paradoxical nature of the gospel. The act of putting up your hands in surrender is actually heroic, and it finally brings you into the loving heart of Jesus. The moment we quit relying on our own strength is the same moment we win eternity.
In the deepest thicket of woods, on the remotest of walking trails, we can feel closer to God than any of the places we find ourselves in on a normal day. Somehow, by escaping the noise and the everyday places so familiar to us, we can experience God with more intensely.
Jesus realized this himself as the gospel authors mention many times when he left his band of disciples to be alone to pray, whether it be a few yards away from where the men slept or higher up on a mountain where he could be closer to his father. These getaways were so frequent, Luke specifically mentioned them in his gospel: “But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.” (Luke 5:16, NLT)
We can all understand the need for privacy, especially if we have younger siblings who keep barging into our rooms or interrupting our time to ourselves. But there’s something more here for Jesus than just privacy. The wilderness was Jesus’ creation, as Colossians 1:16 tells us:
“For through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we see and the things we can’t see – such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him.”
The wilderness was Jesus’ best teaching tool and he referred to it in many of his parables.
Using Jesus as our example, we too should seek to find ways to be closer to our father. A walk around the block by ourselves or even a trail hike with friends can give us the serenity to feel God’s presence stronger, even if we aren’t entirely alone. What Jesus sought was closeness to the one hearing his prayers. That means simply taking a walk can be one of the best Christian acts we can learn to adopt.