“Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you.” (Genesis 26:3)
The brief announcement promised that the trip to Israel would be an exciting adventure where we would experience the Biblical sights we had only imagined for years. We would travel as followers of Christ to learn more about his homeland and discover a richer sense of his presence in our lives. We made the commitment, saved our money, and signed on the dotted line. Would being in Israel actually change us? Would the impact even come close to touching the tip of our expectations?
Months later, we maneuvered by bus across Galilee and Judea and discovered that some of the vivid souvenirs we gathered at each stop were the lessons on incorporating the spiritual disciplines God
desired. The insights and perspectives shared refreshed us like the ice-cold beverages we gulped in the drenching heat.
At Mt. Arbel as the hot wind whipped against us and the uneven, gravely pathway slowed our pace, we climbed where Christ had slipped away for solitude. Little else, apart from wildflowers forcing their faces between grey boulders, marked the top of this desolate cliff overlooking the panoramic Sea of Galilee. Here Jesus had come to pray, to enjoy private audience with the Father and mute the clamor demanding his attention. Gazing across the landscape, we imagined Christ kneeling in prayer and lifting his arms to heaven in worship. This solitary place captivated us, and we lingered there, reflecting on the beauty and power of solitude for our own lives. After some time, we maneuvered silently down the rugged trail with a keen awareness that Christ had graciously met with us in this unaffected place where once he had prayed alone.
At the Good Samaritan Inn near Jericho, Brian and Sandee retold the story from Luke 10, and challenged us with the importance of genuine awareness of others’ needs. We are called to imitate that Samaritan, be involved with those whom we might share little in common, and disregard the high cost involved. Like that ancient traveler, our particular journeys should be marked by generosity, selflessness, and demonstrating compassion even when it goes against society’s norms. Jesus rescued us when we were beaten up by the side of the road. We are to do likewise.
Arriving at Tel Dan in the north, Bill taught that Abraham first entered Canaan here. God had called Abraham to follow him, and he asks us to do the same. He blessed the patriarch in order for him to bless all the nations. In like manner, God has poured out his blessings into our hands for us to share with the peoples of the world he so dearly loves.
In an unpretentious garden on Mt. Carmel, Cameron reminded us about Elijah’s domination over the 850 priests of Baal and Asherah and challenged us with this thought-provoking question: “Where in my life do I need to remember that this is an area only God can handle? And then let him!”
We swallowed gallons of insights from our guide, from our leaders, and from each other during our evening strolls, in the conversations at dinnertime, and late into the night. In a variety of ways God made his message clear: cultivate the spiritual disciples of solitude…prayer…worship…generosity…compassion…surrender. Make certain they are practiced, put into action, made a part of your daily lives.
We left Israel different than when we came. In his land, Christ exceeded our expectations; we felt him stretching our hearts wide open and pouring himself inside. We will never be the same. We don’t ever want to be. We are all altered, and will be, going forward.
Elizabeth Karram Mitchell