A deep sadness would often come over me when people talked about meeting God outdoors.
Since I can’t easily go outside, I’ve frequently felt I was missing out on something integral to a strong faith. People would remark at the inexplicable closeness they had with God in nature. I longed to experience that myself.
Christian writers through the centuries have talked about the sacredness of finding God in creation. Oswald Chambers says, “If we are children of God, we have a tremendous treasure in nature and will realize that it is holy and sacred. We will see God reaching out to us in every wind that blows, every sunrise and sunset, every cloud in the sky, every flower that blooms, and every leaf that fades, if we will only begin to use our blinded thinking to visualize it.”
While I know we have a tremendous treasure in nature, my first-hand knowledge is largely limited to what I see through windows. I rarely venture outside to walk across grass and uneven paths because I could easily fall. But as I read and hear other people describe how they experience the glory of God in nature, I always wish I could experience his glory in the same way.
A few weeks ago, I was given that rare opportunity. Someone was going to take me to a beautiful waterfall near where I was staying, so I could experience it myself. I couldn’t wait.
When we got to the waterfall, I found a stone bench nearby where I sat down and marveled at the beauty around me. It was a misty fall day, with the sunlight filtering through the trees and the leaves floating lazily to the ground. I looked around, taking in my surroundings. I talked to God and soaked in the silence, anticipating a supernatural sense of his presence. I desperately wanted this to be an unforgettable experience.
I waited. I prayed. I took everything in. It was beautiful, but it didn’t feel supernatural or holy or even particularly spiritual.
I felt nothing. Nothing except a slight annoyance at the bee buzzing a little too close for my comfort. And the slight chill in the air that was making me shiver and the growing awareness of the hard stone, making my muscles tense. I didn’t feel particularly close to God there. I almost felt distant because I was trying so hard to feel something.
I stayed there for over an hour and finally went back to the place where I was staying. My body needed the warmth of indoors.
When I opened the door to my room, I cried out to God, “Why? When I have so few opportunities to be outside to experience you in nature, why did you not meet me? Why did I not have an emotional experience like everyone else does? Why did I feel almost empty out there?
I felt frustrated. Why does everything have to be so hard, I mused. Why does God show up for other people and not for me? Why couldn’t God do this simple thing?
I sat down by the huge picture window in my room and stared outside. It really was beautiful. I opened my Bible and read Psalm 19: “the heavens declare the glory of God and the sky above proclaims his handiwork…”
Why had those words felt hollow earlier? Staring at the autumn beauty behind glass, those words were now rich with meaning. I got out my journal and started writing. In those moments, God was glorious and magnificent. I saw his handiwork in nature as I noticed the tall pines swaying in the wind.
I felt God’s presence as I have many times before when I opened the words of Scripture. This is where God meets me. This is our place. This familiar place of sitting at a table, with my Bible open and a pen in hand – this is sacred space for me. This is where I hear God’s voice.
I wasn’t missing out. I didn’t need to go anywhere special to experience God. He wanted to meet me just where I was. In a way that was readily accessible to me. I didn’t need to feel jealous that other people climbed mountains and sat by beautiful streams to commune with God. God meets me in different ways.
Slowly I realized what a gift that morning had been to me. I had been angry and frustrated that I hadn’t felt close to God in nature. But God used that experience to show me that I didn’t need to go outside to be with him. He was going to meet me right where I was.
Robert Hamma says that “throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, the most fundamental thing that can be said about the sacredness of a place is that it is the place where God is encountered. It is not the place itself that is holy, but the encounter with the Lord.”
It is not the place itself that is holy, but the encounter with the Lord.
For many theologians, experiencing God in nature has been revolutionary and sacred. They meet God in a fresh and vibrant way as they sit amidst his creation. But for me, I hear God’s still small voice in the quiet of my room. Not surrounded by extraordinary beauty but in the semi-darkness, as I rise early to meet with God, I feel his presence and hear his voice more clearly there than anywhere else in the world. God meets me in the ordinary, in the everyday places of my life.
Psalm 23 says, “the Lord is my shepherd, I have everything I need.” When I have everything I need, I am not missing out on anything. One of the biggest lies Satan has told me is: “You are missing out. If you only had this, your life would be better.” Satan told Eve the same lie in the garden and he has been whispering it to all of us since then.
I am not missing out and neither are you. God has given us all that we need to know him deeply.
Psalm 84 says that he does not withhold any good thing from us, so we don’t need to covet what other people have. And as Christ-followers, we can be assured that what the Lord has given us, and even what he has withheld from us, will always be for our eternal joy.