This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: “Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength. But you would have none of it.*
The Blue Spigot launched in 2021 with a primary purpose: tell the stories of God’s work in my life. Today’s post will recall one of my own actions – a rash and impulsive decision that occurred forty-seven years ago on this day – Sunday morning, December 21, 1975.
Lousy Timing: Four days before Christmas, frustrated with my parents and myself, I drove away without telling them where I was going or when I would be home.
Great idea: I needed to be alone with God.
Don’t be too impressed. I was a twenty-one-year-old with all the focus and drive of an over-active squirrel. I lacked confidence but had plenty of conflicting emotions and self-loathing. Still working through my unexpected call to ministry two years prior, I struggled with an irrational sense that God was disappointed with me. With all that, my face was plagued by cystic acne – an ongoing condition about which my father had expressed embarrassment the day before.
I packed a few things and sped off, just wanting to get away. Where? Anywhere was fine, but I finally quit driving about ninety miles north and west in Guerneville, California, a small town on the Russian River in Sonoma County. I booked a room with a fireplace and a private patio at what was formerly known as Brookside Lodge. I still have one of their postcards.
I checked out the next morning and returned home, which relieved my parents; the family Christmas gathering was in two days. For much of that one night I sat awake by the fire. I had brought my Bible and read many of the Psalms. But I mostly devoured a new book, Authentic Christianity by Pastor Ray Stedman.**
The summary of this event in my journal only comprises two long paragraphs. Looking back, I’m surprised by the brevity, for my relationship with God was fundamentally affected by those few hours in Guerneville.
Three lessons – each one building upon the last – stand out for me. But they’re not just for me. I hope you will come to view these as essential for your own spiritual growth.
God Invites Us to Meet with Him
You’ve probably heard this claim: “Solitude is important to the development of your relationship with God”. But what’s also likely is your response: it ain’t gonna happen. Many folks don’t like being alone with themselves, so the sounds of silence get muffled by other sources of noise.
God understands that aversion. In fact, it came as standard equipment when you were created. Remember the line from Genesis 2? It is not good for the man (Adam) to be alone.
So, imagine something with me. Think of solitude not as something you should initiate, but as an invitation from your closest friend to which you respond in the affirmative. Feels different, doesn’t it, knowing that you’re actually not alone?
That’s how David lived. My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.” And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.”*** Whether the prompting is out of frustration or fear, gratitude or guilt, God calls us to seek refuge and find our rest in him. Our solace and comfort.
I now look at my time in Guerneville as the first time that I said yes to God’s invitation to come and talk with him. I still accept that invitation – most days, but not every day, and generally in the early morning.
But I’ve also learned the value of getting away with Jesus, of intentionally carving out a day or two. The picture above is where we have met many times over the past forty years – a bench among the redwoods at a sacred place for me: Mission Springs in Scotts Valley, California. We sold our family cabin in 2008, and I miss being able to go there for short retreats.
Listen for God’s voice
During the drive and later sitting by the fire, taking a cue from the Psalms, I poured out my soul to my loving and compassionate Father. That’s a healthy practice.
But what then? Do we just periodically dump our emotional cargo at God’s loading dock and wave goodbye? Or do we let the conversation take its natural course – a mutual exchange of speaking and listening with God?
That night I knew one thing: I needed to hear God speak. To me. But the choir of other voices in my head was badly out of tune and tempo. My own fickle ideas and interpretations clashed with the counsel of my frustrated parents and the concerns of a doubting pastor. All those voices were often overpowered by the dissonant strains of music, media, and movies that captured my attention.
My night in Guerneville was made memorable because of one thing: I heard the voice of God in the Bible, faithfully interpreted by a trustworthy teacher in the book I brought with me.
I’ll share the message I heard in the next section, but I want to pause to say this.
The power of that experience set me on a lifetime course of listening to God through his written word – primarily the Psalms, the Prophets, and the four gospel accounts of Jesus’ life. My psyche, my personal convictions and guiding principles – and yes, my political preferences – have been shaped far more by the practice of listening to God than by any other influence, including my college degree from that bastion of free thinking, Cal Berkeley. Just sayin’.
In John 10 Jesus declared himself to be the Good Shepherd, and three times he added this statement: My sheep listen to my voice. How does your weekly rhythm reflect Jesus’ claim that you listen to the voice of your Shepherd?
Believe Who God Says You Are
Here’s my takeaway from my Guerneville getaway. Literally.
The picture below is a copy of the back side of the postcard from Brookside Lodge upon which I wrote one verse.
“In God’s presence I have such confidence”. That was the gift given to me from those hours alone with God.
But please understand – I’m not referring to self-confidence, which is propped up and maintained by the shifting sands of the opinions, values and “likes” of other people.
What I heard from God during those hours of reading 2 Corinthians is that I have an unshakeable identity. Paul described it using several terms: a servant of Christ, one of God’s fellow workers, an ambassador of reconciliation, a messenger sent from God.
What transformed me is that I decided to take God at his word. I believed what he said as true and began to live into who he said I am. And that gave me what I have called “God-confidence” – which springs not from any illusion I have of self-sufficiency, but from him.
The same can be said of your confidence, of your identity. (No, it’s not just for pastors; it’s for all believers). And you don’t have to go to Guerneville to receive it.
But I do hope that you will say yes to God’s invitation to talk with him, that you will listen to him, and you will believe who he says you are.
But for that to happen, you’ll need to make a conscious choice, one summed up in the sentiment expressed in the opening verse of this post. I’ll post it again, but this time be sure to notice God’s lament in the final phrase:
This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: “Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength. But you would have none of it.
What will you do? Will you lean in to your Lord, and thus find a quiet confidence in him?
Benediction of Blessing
May God be your rock of refuge to whom you run in frustration or in fear, and in whom you will find rest and deliverance.
May you have the courage to take a spiritual hearing test, and get whatever “hearing aids” you need to be a better listener.
May you forsake your pursuit of self-confidence, and take God at his word and accepting your identity as a child of the King and an ambassador of peace.
* Isaiah 30:15 New Living Translation. To truly understand this verse, you’ll need to read the entire chapter of Isaiah 30. It’ll be worth it, I promise.
** Written in 1975, and now on its fifteenth printing, Authentic Christianity: Trading Religion and Rules for True Faith interprets five chapters from the book of 2 Corinthians. The book continues to resonate with believers around the world.
*** Psalm 27:8 New Living Translation.
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All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version, NIV. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. TM