I love travelling. To new places as well as familiar spaces. Meeting old friends and new. Seeing the sites, sensing the sounds, savouring the smells. It’s all part of the wonderful experience of journeying.
Sam and I have recently been on a memorable trip to Israel, with a group led by Dr Peter Walker. While travelling there, I read Sheridan Voysey’s new book, called The Making of Us. Subtitled ‘Who we can become when life doesn’t go as planned,’ it’s an excellent read, describing one of his journeys – along the north-east coast of England, from the Holy Island of Lindisfarne to Durham. In the book he not only beautifully describes the physical journey and the places he visits and people he encounters, but he goes deeper, exploring the journey of his soul, where he travels into uncertainty, questions his identity and begins to rediscover who he really is.
Sheridan Voysey’s book was a great way to begin our adventures in Israel. It opened up my heart to the joy of the journey, preparing me to be observant, questioning, attentive and open to the voice of the Holy Spirit. The trip was described as a ‘tour’ but for us it became more of a pilgrimage – a special and memorable spiritual journey to the Holy Land. We did more than just see the sites and hear the stories read in situ. Rather we were able to enter into the biblical narrative, seeing with greater clarity how God loves to visit physical places and ordinary people, and we encountered afresh the very presence of God for ourselves. It was incredible!
One thing that stood out for me was the wilderness. I gained fresh insight into the dusty, brown and stony terrain where prophets like Elijah and Elisha lived and worked as they journeyed from place to place while leading Schools of Prophets. It was the place where John the Baptist prepared the way for Christ. It was the terrain where Jesus went to fast, as he reflected on the book of Deuteronomy and then was tempted by Satan. The wilderness. It’s a place where people have travelled in order to journey into greater depths of faith, hope and love. It’s a stretching place of challenge and struggle, and yet also of opportunity and empowerment. I felt like I wanted to properly go there. To spend significant time there. To truly enter in. Into the wilderness. To explore and find even greater joy in the journey.
Now back home in the North of England, I know I don’t need to go back to the wilderness of Israel to encounter the Lord. There’s joy in the journey right here, right now. I can meet with him every morning, as I read the Scriptures and pray with tea-mug in hand. I can see his handiwork each day as I lift my eyes to behold the beauty of creation all around me. I can encounter him around the meal-table each evening, as we give thanks for his bountiful provision and celebrate with family, friends, visitors and strangers who gather with us. I can enjoy him with others in our small group as we meet mid-week, sharing life together and upholding each other in prayer. I can experience him in church every week, as we lift Christ high in praise, hear the Scriptures read and preached and remember Jesus by sharing bread and wine. I can even find God in the wilderness of my soul, as I welcome his Presence, listen for his Voice and find fresh wonder in his daily provision of grace.
There is indeed joy in the journey. Great joy. It’s found in the life of discipleship: following Jesus, day by day and week by week. Even though it’s really helpful, you don’t have to travel to Israel to find joy in the journey. It’s available to all who are simply willing to put one foot in front of the other, and follow Jesus.