Scrambling over rocks, zigzagging between bear grass and other scraggly desert shrubs, his feet testing each step to make sure it was solid—finally he reached the summit. Wind howling in minor diminished chords, the storm sounded like the opening music to an eerie mystery movie. He sat quietly for what seemed like hours watching with eagle eye a small rowboat pinned by the wind in the middle of the lake while his best friends strained at the oars. Waiting. Waiting. More waiting. “Father, shall I go to them now?” he asked. “Not yet” was the quiet answer, which agonized him further… not enjoying watching his friends suffer, but in the deeper wisdom of the Father, he knew they must if they were to snap out of their faithless rut.
Finally, wind-whipped and facing the darkness, Jesus stood up and retightened his sandals for the descent to the water’s edge. Climbing down was a relief. He knew his friends would soon be released from the painful predicament with which they had been struggling. Sand sinking and oozing between his toes, he walked into the foaming waves. Then, with only a thought, he stepped onto the shimmering glaze of the waves and ambled the rest of the way to the tossing boat. Standing atop the very waves that threatened to capsize this little vessel full of terrified men, he pretended to walk by them as they fought against their perishing. One of them saw a shadow and screamed, “‘It’s a ghost…’ and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid’” (Matthew 14:26-27). God used the wilderness of this wild water to strip away facades and reveal the core of who they really were. These men were in great need of faith. Their foggy human-sightedness was getting in the way of liberating belief. Now from the stress of the adventure, Jesus had them in the palm of his hand. He came out to them like a potter to his wheel. God is about shaping his disciples into vessels for a noble purpose. Like sheep that tremble when the shepherd holds them tight to shear their wool…God uses the wilderness and all of its adventure and fearful circumstances to still us into faith and trust. Jesus loved them enough to wait on the mountain long enough for them to reach a point of desperation. Then he came to their rescue, and their formidable faithlessness met its match…the loving face and embrace of their Master who has authority over all creation.
When Jesus created the world in perfect community with the Trinity, he made some of it to be deserts, wilderness, and solitary places. Many of these landscapes have been settled and heavily populated, but still there remain places that offer uninterrupted quiet to connect with God and be still. The earth is no longer a ball of wild uninhabited spaces; it is also a globe full of megacities and urban sprawl. But in most places around the world solitary places can still be found. We need those places.