I went out to the Palo Duro Canyon for some time with God. I felt compelled to give a little play by play about what that is like for me.
Before I tell you, the first thing you should know is that things never go quite as planned. I think God does this on purpose, wanting to have more control over my time with Him than I do. I’m usually cool with going with the flow.
For example, my current routine is to take my bike and ride to the Lighthouse and spend some time with Him there, somewhat exhausted but committed, both recovering and pushing forward (a good mirror to my life, in fact). But that plan was interrupted yesterday by a good friend who wanted to join me. There was a twinge of not wanting to adjust my plan, as there usually is, but then an excited submission to the adjustment, which I usually do.
This morning, bike unloaded, and excited to pick up my friend and enjoy this together, I got a text from him saying he couldn’t get back into town in time. There was (once again) a twinge of not wanting to adjust my plan, then and (again) excited submission to the adjustment. I loaded my bike and was off.
When I went through the park check-in, the thought emerged that I might should ride my bike on a new trail. So I grabbed a map from the Ranger. I drove down the canyon a bit so that I could pull over somewhere beautiful while scouting the map. I lowered my window and took in the postcard-perfect scene. I had the map, but couldn’t take my eyes off the the mist covering the valley, thinking about the temporary beauty I was witnessing, as it was doomed to be burned away by the fast rising sun. Then I noticed just below me a “spot”. It was just hard enough to get to and intriguing enough a place to make me get out, leave my bike behind, and head for it. So I spent my hour there.
As I said, never quite as planned.
As I settled in, I fell into the trap I always do. I’ll call it the “I gotta have an experience” trap. It’s so bogus, but so easy for me start running after. It manifests itself internally, making me strive to do the right, super spiritual thing so as to trigger an “experience with God” of some kind. I face this enemy every week. The phrase that stole it’s power this morning (one always comes, by the way, when I let it) was “Just let the silence do it’s work.”
That work took about 20 minutes. But gratefully, through this vain striving and and into a state of simply letting go, I began my experience.
Today it came in the form of some thoughts, some triggered by the scene I was sitting in. It sort of cheapens it a bit for me to list them, but I’m gonna list them anyway.
1. I saw a hawk fly in a straight line just below eye level from me. Then I saw two birds way below me flying in circles next to the curved cliff I was on. I noticed how the birds were using the wind swirling in the alcove to catch an updraft and slowly but surely elevate their flight. They did this until they got up to the elevation of the hawk and then they flew off in a straight line as well, at a whole new level. “That’s what I come here for,” I thought. To be elevated, and to fly straight.
2. I don’t want to admit to this one, honestly, because it means more work for me (inward work, not outward). See, I have had 3 young men ask me directly in the last 6 months to mentor them. They’ve asked politely, knowing that “I’m a busy guy” and not wanting me to feel any sense of pressure. I’ve humbly acknowledged the honor I feel by their request, but secretly, between you and me (and everyone in the world, now), I have not said yes or no because both feel wrong. I just can’t seem to be with the request. Don’t get me wrong, I want what I experience in Christ for anyone and everyone. Its too good not to share. I can even acknowledge that there are people who use me as a mentor of sorts, even call me that on occasion. But for someone to ask me formally to do so… shew…it has me frozen in my own values! Humility says I should say no, I have no life worth imitating, but discipleship says I should say yes, it’s in line with who I say I am. So, as God has the habit of doing, he brought this tension to the surface. I felt like God said, “They want to be like you, Brian.” I shuddered. I mean, come on, humility sort of demands that you not agree with that. It’s the super-spiritual thing to do, after all. But here I was, with no one to impress or prove anything to, alone with God and few birds, undeniably dealing with the thought that I need to stop diminishing myself by insisting to the world that I don’t have a life that I think is worth imitating. It sounds arrogant even typing it, and I’m sorry if you can’t see it as anything else, but I do not mean it that way. I’ve always said that my desire is to be so confident of who I am following and how I am living that I could say to others what Paul said to others, “Imitate me, as I imitate Christ.” So…a sort of plan to engage those guys in a mentoring sort of way sort of emerged. So I guess I should sort ask you to sort of pray that I sort of do something about it, please. I’m excited, just shell-shocked. This is new “confidence ground” for me, should I decide to accept it. And I’m not sure I have.
3. My wife came up. She and I have had our plates full (as we all do). And more urgently, she was getting sick last night, and had asked me to pray for her ability to make it through work today. So in addition to just honoring her request, I asked God to show me anywhere at all where I am not being as attentive to her as I am to be. He said not to worry at all, that I am covering every single base there is to cover and that she is just lucky to have a husband like me (and if you believe that, then he also told me that you were supposed to pay off my home mortgage).
4. A question came up. Who was it that Jesus prayed for and who was it that he taught us we should pray for? I could only think of two people groups right off the bat: he told us to pray for more workers in the harvest field of men because the harvest is so plentiful, and he told us to pray for our “enemies” (those who persecute you). There are probably others, and I took note that I should look that up later.
5. A teaching series came to mind that may have applications in my preaching job. “Revolutions” was the word, and the idea was that we are all on the verge of one on any day that we choose. Further, that if we just paid attention and were honest, there is probably “something trying to happen” that we are either actively resisting, purposefully ignoring, or just playing stupid about. It’s the second time it’s come up, but the first time I connected it to another idea that came up months ago about a series of teachings on fitness – spiritual fitness, physical fitness, financial fitness, emotional fitness, mental fitness, intellectual fitness, relational fitness. Is there a connection? Is this needed by our church family right now? I’m never certain at first. I’ll put it through the filters of my trusted community and the teachings of Jesus in the Bible and we’ll see where that goes.
6. Finally, starting at about 35 minutes into my time, from way across the canyon, I heard a cow. For the next 15 or 20 minutes, this lone cow’s mooing was slowly and progressively joined by what ended up having to be dozens of cows. It got loud and persistent enough that I couldn’t ignore it anymore. I started scanning for them, and finally I saw the tiny black specks spread out all over, but all looking like they were moving towards a common place. I wasn’t expecting anything spiritual out of this at all, but then a thought surprised me. “There are people on the planet who think that cows exist only to be worshipped, and others that think that cows exist only to be eaten.” Now, I happen to be one of the latter, and frequently prove it at local joint called Blue Sky. But beyond that, it made me think about how some people treat God as only something “out of this world” and never practical, and others treat Him only as something to serve or feed them and never as Someone to revolve their lives around. And then that reminded me of this blog by Wade Hodges.
So there it is, for what it is worth. A tour through a somewhat-typical-but-always-unique Brian Mashburn prayer time. There were some other noteworthy things, but how could I ever capture them all? A relationship with God is an amazingly simple and complex thing.