On Monday and Tuesday all the pastors and ministry directors for Bethany Community Church got away for a 2 day retreat to Camp Casey on Whidbey Island. We stayed in one of the historic homes that were officers quarters back in the days Camp Casey was a government fort. It was a great 2 days of planning, discussing and team building as we set the vision or the coming year. It’s an exciting thing to be on the same mission, with a common vision, with a group of dedicated co-laborers.
On Tuesday morning, when the morning sun was barely hanging in the sky, I awoke early before the rest of the house stirred. After a short time of bible reading and prayer, I headed out to the beach. The late afternoon sun we had experienced the day before was gone and replaced with a blowing mist. I headed straight to the sea and after finding a trail to the water, scaled over driftwood and boulders and made it to the crashing waves. It is one thing to read and pray in the quiet of an old home- it’s a much better thing to spend time with God alone in nature.
I started running down the beach, aware that so often on long journeys, the way feels more difficult at first. I’m not a runner by trade and so it always feels a bit like teaching a hippo to dance or something. I start moving and I always say the same thing: “this isn’t going to happen today.” I short-circuit my possibilities because running just feels hard. But here on the beach, with waves crashing on the left and soft sand and seaweed on the right, it felt especially difficult.
I was reflecting on this as I moved along the beach, huffing and puffing in the misty air, still watching each step on the beach in fear of tripping over driftwood. But then I looked up. And I saw the bluffs riding high above me buffeted by the light breeze of the morning mist. And I looked out over the sea into the Strait of Juan De Fuca where freighters were coming in from the Pacific. And I looked ahead and way, way up ahead, at the end of the bay I was jogging beside, was a point in the distance. That’s where I’m headed,’ I said to myself. The best journeys have a destination, don’t they? I needed to move somewhere, and setting my eyes on what lay ahead was the only way to have a goal.
This is the power of the Christian story friends. When we start moving towards God, when we set our eyes on Him, the journey becomes one of joy and transformation. As I jogged I was free to stop worrying about each step and simply enjoy what I was experiencing. Each mammoth boulder became a place to pause and look over the Strait, each new discovery a thing to bring me joy. A tiny starfish which I grabbed and threw back into the water. The rushing tide. A bald eagle perched in the Douglas Fir tree. As I moved, I was able to experience more and more beauty.
The rain and the mist, the gray orange dawn, the spray of sea, the bluffs beside me. It was all so beautiful. And that distant point, when I kept heading to it, became not just a distant goal but as I patiently made my way to it, it became my reality. I ran most of the time and walked when I got tired and eventually made the point, which looking back gave me a tremendous view of the ground I had just travelled. “Let us fix our eyes,” says the book of Hebrews, “on the author of our faith, Jesus Christ.” If our journey isn’t heading somewhere, it’s heading nowhere. On this day, from this distant point, I was reminded again of the call to Jesus. It’s a step by step walk, full of great views and at times, slippery steps of sinking sand. But the journey has a destination. God wants to keep drawing us closer to Him to experience Him in fresh ways and from these experiences; we have an overflowing and abundant joy which spills out onto the needs of this world. But we have to journey to Him first. Before we have anything to offer others, we must make the steps to Him.
In time I returned to the Camp and rejoined the team for the final day of discussions and vision planning, but for a brief hour, it was just me and God, a beach and a reminder: God is present and He loves it when I spend time walking and praying with Him.