The time we have on earth is a lot like living in a big backyard surrounded by an unscalable wooden fence. As believers, we know that an eternal life waits for us on the other side, light years better than anything we can see or understand from our vantage point here in the backyard. But because we can’t see through the fence, we depend on faith to assure us that there is indeed much more in store for us than the routines, struggles and earthly pleasures of our everyday lives. Every now and then, however, we are blessed to come upon a knothole in the fence. It might be something someone says at the perfect moment, a fleeting sense of wonder, or even a momentary vision, but these often-unexpected knotholes give us tiny, yet enlightening, glimpses into God’s miraculous work behind the scenes on our behalf. Sometimes we find them right after a difficult trial when our eyes are suddenly opened to see why God allowed certain events to occur. Other times, a glimpse happens right out of the blue through the power of a scripture passage, a timely word from a friend, or a moment of worship. Like precious evidence in a scientific investigation, these small insights build our faith over time and encourage us to keep going through the toughest of seasons.
Prayerful stillness is one of the best ways to find knotholes, especially if you find yourself sitting in the backyard staring in frustration at the fence line, instead of flourishing where God’s placed you. We’ve all been there… frustrated, discouraged, or maybe even feeling betrayed. We believe God must be working, but we’re tired of only looking at that big, stationary fence. We long for movement, change, improvement… anything, really. And if we’re not careful, our longings will eventually eclipse our desire for God Himself, and then we risk camping out at the fence line forever. And this is where prayer and meditative stillness comes in — not with a goal of finding the knotholes, but with an aim of knowing and depending on our Heavenly Father more and more whether we can see what’s on the other side or not. We can spend hours, days, weeks and even years asking why, when all God wants us to do is be still before Him, humbly listen, and then obey. Even when we take the time out from our jobs, commitments, and chores, we often remain busy in our minds. The to-do lists, over analysis, and worries, spin in our head, drowning out any chance of hearing His voice, feeling His comfort, or seeing His hand move. Prayer, scripture meditation, and solitude in God’s presence are the antidotes to an obsession with staring at the fence line and asking why over and over. God can reveal deep things in our prayerful stillness that we simply cannot perceive, or receive, when we’re busy with life’s demands or consumed with worry.
Jesus says, “Peace, be still” to our hearts, minds, and souls. In fact, peace is mentioned more than 400 times in the Bible, and Jesus talked about it repeatedly with the disciples. He knew that our tendency toward busyness would choke the life out of our spiritual health, so He modeled the practice of stillness and solitude (Luke 6:12, Matthew 14:13). He wanted to make sure the disciples understood that nurturing a deep intimacy with God the Father, was foundational to the abundant life He promised them. Repeatedly, He left the busyness of ministry and the demands of His closest companions to be alone with God. In the gospel of Mark, we see Jesus’ habit of quiet time with God at the very beginning of His ministry. “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, He departed and went out to a desolate place, and there He prayed. And Simon and those who were with Him searched for Him, and they found Him and said to Him, ‘Everyone is looking for you’.” (Mark 1:35-37) Notice that Jesus went far enough away from them to truly get alone with His Father. Also, He didn’t give in to the mental busyness associated with His work or relationships. We often forgo quiet time with God when the expectations of people around us are particularly pressing or close-by.
The backyard of your life might be a thriving pleasant landscape, or it may be undergoing a major renovation. It might be a place filled with weeds or as barren as a desert plain. But no matter what its condition, God planted you there or is allowing you to linger there for a reason. You may not see any knotholes in the fence and even feel like the boundaries are getting smaller, but He longs to create an oasis for you right in the middle of it all. Through intimate moments alone with Him, your heart can overflow with gratitude, sink into deep peace, and laugh with joy, whether you’re enjoying a season of plenty or climbing a mountain of hardship. The backyard of life can only have one Master Gardener, but we have to let Him come inside to do His work on a regular basis.