Being around people gives me energy. I thrive in social settings. Large gatherings leave me feeling alive. Being an extrovert has served me well in ministry over the years, as church leadership requires a certain level of social engagement. For me, there is nothing more satisfying than meaningful collaboration with like-minded people.
Although I am an extrovert by nature, my favorite place in the entire world is a room above my garage. I sit there often. In those moments, my only physical companions are the Bible, my journal, and a cup of coffee. The ambiance consists of what little light makes its way through a small arched window and the sounds of Christian Celtic music playing softly in the background.
This room is my sanctuary, my prayer closet; a sacred space set apart for me to “be still and know.” Sitting in a place void of any interaction with people, I engage in the most important activity of my life: prayer. So, while I am an extrovert, I have learned through the discipline of prayer that spiritual vitality is discovered in moments absent of human interaction.
Intimacy Is The Key
Intimacy with Jesus is the key to success in life, and prayer is the key to intimacy with Jesus. Prayer includes so much more than talking to God or asking Him to do something for us. My favorite part of prayer is listening for His still small voice to speak into the innermost parts of my soul.
Prayer is deep calling unto deep (Psalm 42:7). It involves silence and solitude. It brings depth to our relationship with Jesus that is not easily shaken. It teaches us to process life with wisdom that comes from above. Through prayer, God reminds us that we are much-loved children and that His love for us is personal, steadfast, and never-ending.
Jesus modeled that intimacy with God is an essential part of life. My favorite illustration is found in Luke 10:38-42, when Jesus visits the home of Mary and Martha. While Martha anxiously prepared the house for visitors, her sister, Mary, merely sat at Jesus’ feet, taking in His every word. When Martha complained of her sister’s lack of concern to help, Jesus responded, “Only one thing is necessary,” and Mary got it right. Mary understood something Martha had yet to learn—engaging His presence was more important than anything else.
Embracing The Wilderness
I refer to my prayer room as “the wilderness.” That may sound strange but bear with me. While the idea of being alone in the wilderness is frightening for some, Scripture teaches that Jesus “often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed” (Luke 5:16).
Society teaches us to take the easy road. The temptation is to believe that easiness equates to happiness, that satisfaction without sacrifice is possible. Yet, Jesus teaches the opposite. He warns us that the well-worn path is one that leads to ruin. Jesus says the road less traveled leads to life, and few people are insightful enough to find it (Matt. 7:13-14).
The word “wilderness” may have negative connotations for some. We tend to think of the wilderness as barren and isolated, which does not sound enjoyable. However, Scripture reveals it as a solitary place where God shapes our identity like no other. Thus, efforts to avoid the wilderness causes us to miss deeper revelation from God that comes at best by way of embracing the wilderness.
The wilderness is a familiar place for God’s people. God called Moses from a burning bush on the backside of the desert. The children of Israel spent forty years in the wilderness unlearning Egypt’s pagan influences while learning to rely solely on God. Elijah received renewal from the Lord after fleeing into the wilderness in fear for his life. John the Baptist spent his entire adult life in the wilderness, preparing the way for Jesus. The Apostle Paul was led into the wilderness of Arabia as God prepared him for ministry. Jesus Himself spent forty days in the wilderness being tempted by the enemy.
Why should we think it would be any different for us?
A Testing Ground
Exodus is the story of God leading Israel out of captivity in Egypt. His purpose was more than just “getting them out” of slavery. He also wanted to “get them in” to a land flowing with milk and honey, and thus, keep His covenant to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God was bringing them out of one place and into another. Furthermore, Exodus 13 reveals there was a shorter road to the promised land, yet God opted for the forty-year route. In the process, God allowed them to build a relationship with Him.
One month into the trip, God led His people to the Desert of Sin, where there was nothing to eat. That is not easy. As soon as they arrived, they began to protest. So, God sent manna from heaven, and they dined on divine angel food in the desert. After this, the Israelites traveled to a place where there was no water. Once again, they found themselves in a difficult situation.
God was shaping them for the future. He knew they would never make it to the promised land until they learned to trust Him completely. Therefore, the wilderness was one long lesson on dependency—a testing ground for God’s people.
I think it is safe to say that most people do not enjoy tests. Tests make people anxious. In high school, my wife won the North Carolina State Medical Spelling Bee. The winning term was: “Sphenopalatine Ganglioneuralgia” (i.e., brain freeze)—that makes me anxious just reading it. The reason people do not like tests is because they prove whether a person “gets it” or not. Tests prove whether or not a person has learned and understands.
God’s desire for our lives is that we “get it,” and that we keep “getting it.” He wants us to learn to trust Him at every turn. At every stage, in every situation, in the good times and the bad, God wants us to realize that life’s circumstances do not define who we are because Jesus has already decided who we are.
Willingness To Withdraw
Intimacy with Jesus is the study guide for all of life’s tests. Intimacy is knowledge without the need for words; it teaches us that Jesus is enough. It brings a sense of divine familiarity that helps us navigate life even when God does not seem to be making things clear. Spending time with Jesus in a place void of distraction teaches us to discern the will of God like nothing else.
Closeness is an integral part of any relationship. For example, I know my wife well enough that I can make decisions that affect us both, even when I have not spoken to her, and she can do the same. I know what Heather likes, and I know what she dislikes. I know what makes her happy; I am intimately acquainted with her. It is the same with God. Establishing routine times of prayer creates a rhythm for us to become more familiar with God’s ways and how they relate to our lives.
I am convinced that prayer is the most important activity of the Christian life. Spiritual growth does not happen outside of a person’s communion with God through prayer. No matter how many sermons you hear, devotions you read, or classes you attend, prayer remains the primary means of grace by which intimacy with Jesus is established.
Jesus “often withdrew”—He was deliberate about it (Luke 15:16). Intentionality reveals a deep level of spiritual maturity in the life of a believer. There is a big difference in God leading you into the wilderness and you choosing to go. Jesus’ life was marked by His willingness to withdraw. What is your life marked by?
To withdraw means “to retreat from; pull-back; move away.” Interestingly, the Greek word, ὑποχωρῶν (hypo-cho-ron), literally means, “to slip away into the wilderness.” So what did Jesus withdraw from? Luke 5 reveals that He withdrew from the crowds, the activity, the notoriety, the pressure, and the expectations—and He did so often.
Life is busy. We often go to bed at night with our minds full of incomplete tasks. We live with projects half-done because there is not enough time in the day. That means if we are unwilling to let go of some things—silence the phone, stop responding to messages, get off social media, miss an episode of our favorite TV show, give up a hobby—we may miss gentle whisper of the Holy Spirit. If you are incapable of leaving something undone, Christianity will merely be another activity on your already busy schedule.
Jesus does not want you to make Him part of your life; He wants to become your life. Our lives become one with Jesus in the wilderness—a sacred space set apart for the sole purpose of spending treasured time with Him.
My “wilderness” is a room above my garage. The wilderness could be a park, the woods, the backyard, a porch, a swing, a field, a barn, or anywhere else you find time to connect with God regularly. The setting of the wilderness does not matter nearly as much as what happens when we get there. So, make sure you get there often.