Guest blogger, Edy Sutherland shares a story from a night hike she went on with a women’s ministry trip called, “Into the WHY’ld” in Sedona, AZ. Not only is it a great story (for men and women), but it also gives a practical idea from the analogy of a starry night how to teach Biblical outdoor content using the “Five Smooth Stones of Wilderness Theology” (mentioned in my book, Christian Outdoor Leadership). She also does a great job providing real life examples of what “opportunity teaching” looks like. You’ll love her post!
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. (John 10:27)
The Blank Trail Sign Analogy
The blank sign came in to view. Spontaneously, each one of us wondered the same thing. “WHY does God abstain from giving definitive answers to many of our everyday questions?” Does he answer basic questions such as: Where should I live?, Where will I get the money to…?, Who should I marry?, Would I continue in my present (fill in the blank), or What should I study in college?
I asked the group what they think, feel, and do when they pray to God and receive no specific confirmation. Some suggested that in their confusion, they take God to task, better known as “putting out a fleece.” They might cast lots, better known as “roll the dice.” Another said they will make a vow with God with no real intention of fulfilling it. Ultimately, confusion turns to frustration and the begin resenting God.
We all want what God wants for us … right? So what is a healthy way to ask, “Why God?”
Darkness Provides the Needed Contrast to See the Stars | And We Need Solitude with God to Hear His Still Small Voice
I took this women’s ministry trip on an adventure last weekend for one distinct purpose: to retreat and seek God in the darkness of his star-filled wilderness so we could ask our WHY questions, and listen for his answers. My intent as a leader was to show the group through the analogy of a starry night how to get away from the veil of city lights by going out into the wilderness where it is brilliantly dark, so that the stars will shine brighter. We need the contrast of darkness to see stars above. We need the wilderness to discern the still small voice of God. We need to sojourn in solitude at times to hear the still small voice of God, which can be like those faint stars we only see when we get away from the distractions and voices of life. Retreats like these can instill new habits for spiritual formation in our life so that our ears do not become dull to the voice of the Father.
At the onset of our adventure, only 5 minutes into our route the group was already confused. The map illustrated a turn to the right. Yet the sign was blank (how often we encounter this in remote wilderness areas!). On our first pass we missed the opening to the dirt road. We stopped to ask someone we bumped into and he explained that the road had a closed, locked gate. Tempted to turn back, we decided to press on anyway. Amazingly, when we got to the gate it was open.
Block Those Pop Ups!
God is faithful and true to meet us. The lesson learned that night was this: any time our motivation is pure, noble, and praiseworthy to experience Him; random obstacles will “pop-up” (like those annoying pop up screens on may web pages) preventing us from intimacy with God. We must learn to keep listening to his voice and press-on to take hold of that for which Christ took hold of in us (Philippians 3:12, Romans 8:39).
Debriefing the Experience
Around the campfire the next morning we made note of all the obstacles we met that night. There were many. We celebrated the victory of pushing through and pressing on to carry out our goal of finding God in the wilderness.
As a group, we made specific notice that the greatest obstacle to overcome is our comfort. The uncertainty of change is uncomfortable. It’s thrilling to come to grips with the vitality of God. He is a living God ever-present and ready to meet our needs (Hebrews 4:16, Ephesians 3:12). He wants to answer all of our “WHY” type questions.
We must learn to pursue Him with fervency and power over the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12).
A Reminder for Outdoor Leaders How to Facilitate Teachable Moments | It’s All About Awareness
I didn’t plant the sign to create a teachable moment. I didn’t depend on earlier “coined” lessons – although I had plenty to draw upon if I needed to. I allowed the Spirit of God in me to orchestrate the events of our adventure.
- Ask yourself if you and conditioned like a runner might be to overcome the obstacles to intimacy with God (1 Corinthians 9:24).
- As an outdoor leader, consider how you might demonstrate this lesson to your group? Here are a few suggested practices for you to use and to share.
- Use testimonial story telling of how you or someone you know overcame obstacles.
Use demonstrative word picture images like fly fishing.
- Send the group out individually to retreat in the wilderness to be with God. Ask them to journal a time they sought the Lord but didn’t encounter Him. Were there looming obstacles that prevented true intimacy with God?
- Use Bible lessons to explain how our thoughts are a great obstacle. The story of Elijah running to Horeb, the mountain of God (1 Kings 19:8-13). Our thoughts are not unlike the powerful wind, the earthquake, and the fire.
- Consider how our hard hearts or personality traits might prevent intimacy with God (Edy Sutherland, The Whee Factor, p. 142).