Several days ago my husband and I decided to spend an afternoon hiking. We were still recovering from jetlag, and we felt we’d benefit by setting aside ministry and office work for a few hours in lieu of fresh air and exercise. We packed a lunch, hopped in the car, and drove a half hour to a hiking trail we’d never explored.
We talked as we walked. Family concerns weighed heavy. Financial and ministry concerns, coupled with physical fatigue, added to that burden. We tried not to focus on the negative but on God’s faithfulness in the midst of the hardships and on the lessons we might learn as a result of these experiences.
About 20 minutes up the trail, I noticed an elderly woman approaching us. As the distance between us closed, I recognized her as a lady who’d ministered in Poland last July under our ministry’s umbrella. She’d attended the required training weekend with us beforehand, and upon her return, she’d invited us to her home for an incredible dinner and unforgettable prayer time to celebrate God’s goodness.
This woman—Ingrid, a widow in her 70s—glows with the love of Christ. Time stands still and heaven’s doors open when she prays. I suspect she was praying as she hiked the trail—communing with Creator God in His breathtaking creation.
At any rate, Ingrid recognized us at the same time I recognized her. “You’re back from your trip!” she exclaimed. “How was it?” We gave her a quick summary, and then she said, “How are you doing personally?”
My jaw nearly dropped. I can’t remember the last time someone asked us that question so directly.
I couldn’t answer. Tears filled my eyes, and I looked at Gene to help. He briefly explained our greatest ongoing concern.
Ingrid listened quietly and then she put her arms around us. She bowed her head, and then she talked to Jesus on our behalf. Every word she spoke lightened our load. Moments later, she said amen, gave us each a hug, and then we parted ways.
Was our meeting Ingrid on the hiking trail a mere coincidence? I think not. In 33 years of marriage, this was the first time we’ve gone hiking as a couple. We’d planned to do this trail three days prior, but a rainstorm postponed our plans. If we’d left home a half hour later that day, Ingrid would have already returned to her car in the parking lot and we would have missed seeing her.
How do I know God is near? Because I’ve experienced Him many times in similar ways. He puts people in my path at precisely the right moment. He sends an email of encouragement when I need it most. He ministers to me through a song on the radio, or a quote in the pastor’s sermon, or an inspirational article in my inbox.
God is near. Hagar experienced Him, too. Hours after she’d fled her abusive situation in Sarai’s home, she sat by a stream feeling exhausted, distraught, and very alone. But she was not alone, really, because God showed up. “Where have you been?” He asked. “And where are you going?” That encounter was so real to the young Egyptian slave that she named God: “the God who sees me” (Genesis 16:8-13).
Other biblical characters experienced God’s nearness, too—Elijah, Joseph, Moses, Gideon, Joshua, Paul and Silas. The list could go on and on.
Granted, sometimes God feels distant and silent. Where is He in the midst of suffering and loss? Why doesn’t He speak to us in our pain? Why does He seem withdrawn when we need Him most?
I don’t have easy answers for these questions, but this I do know—He promises to draw near to us when we draw near to Him (James 4:8). Even when emotions tell us that He is far away, the truth remains—He is with us. May this truth encourage you today, my friend.
How have you experienced God’s nearness recently?