As earnest seekers of God, we are often in search of the right place to meet with Him: somewhere where we would be closer to Him than at other places, often somewhere with the notional serenity of the Garden of Eden, with nothing interrupting our dreamed communion with the Father “in the cool of the day” (Genesis 3:8).  Sometimes the search takes us to some remote mountain top promising an all-night glory-cloud and a Transformation encounter (Matthew 17:1-6).  Sometimes we look to find Him in clear day on the boisterous Sinai peak with its blinding lightnings and deafening thunders; its smoky fires and the billowing voice of the Awesome One (Exodus 19:16-20).  To answer to our longing for the deep, we have at times been pointed to some grandiose ‘Temple of Solomon’ resplendent with uncommon regal decorations of burnished brass and glistening gold; a holy place with its irresistible history of thick glory clouds compelling worshippers to be prostrate in reverential praise (2 Chronicles 5:14).    

In all, where is the likeliest place to meet with God? Where is God’s surest address?  In the wilderness of fasting, where Jesus encountered devils as well as angels (Mark 1:12-13)?  On the tree top, from where Zacchaeus received the call of God (Luke 19:1-6)?  In the slimy belly of a fish, where Jonah had his transforming encounter that confirmed him as the missionary to Nineveh (Jonah 2:1, 10; 3:1)?  In Eden, where God surely visits, but the sly serpent also lurks (Genesis 3:1-10)?  In the holy temple of God, whereabouts also Satan was once found tempting the Son of God (Matthew 4:5)? Where is the surest place of encounter with God? 

Moses met with God on Mount Sinai with its awesome thunders and inapproachable smoke and fires (Exodus 19:9-16).  Prophet Elijah in his day of trouble fled to that same location (also known as Horeb).  There, similarly, he too met the noises and the fires, but on his occasion, on the contrary, “the LORD was not in the fire” – the similar fires out of which God had awesomely spoken to Moses in the past!  More strangely, on Elijah’s occasion, God posed this puzzling question, “What doest thou here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9-13), which sounds confusingly and inappropriately to me as asking a priest what he is doing at the hallowed altar of God?  Where else was he to have gone for refuge?   

What changed between Moses and Elijah in the same environment?  Might that puzzle explain why Jesus did not endorse the spontaneous offer of Apostle Peter to promptly raise three memorial sanctuaries on the Mount of Transfiguration, so as to ‘preserve’ the glory that had been encountered in that place (Matthew 17:4)? 

Certain specific locations are sometimes important to encountering certain blessings.  God sometimes gives ‘appointments’ at specific locations (Genesis 22:2; Jeremiah 18:2; Luke 24:49).  Even the undeserving could sometimes be favoured with divine encounters merely for being at a hallowed ‘address’ (1 Kings 8:27-49; Genesis 28:16-18).  However, sometimes, His purpose overrules with a sudden encounter at unusual locations. Anyplace may not always be The Place, and missing a meeting point could frustrate a possible encounter, but sometimes His presence overrules the place.  

Prophet Ezekiel reports thus about his first recorded encounter with the supernatural: “Now it came to pass … as I was among the captives by the river of Chebar, that the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God” (Ezekiel 1:1).  The heavens were opened unto Ezekiel not at some annual ‘Burning-Bush Holy Ghost Convention’ but “by the river”; not the famed River Jordan in Israel where Jesus had His similar encounter but the River Chebar in Babylon.  There, “among the captives” – among other exiles and prisoners of war rather than in the atmosphere of John the Baptist or in the company of fellow prophets and priests, Ezekiel saw visions of God (Ezekiel 1:1).  Where is the surest place to find God? 

Who in our conservative pews would have considered such a boisterous, open, public place as fit for so awesome an encounter with the Holy One?  Shouldn’t the prophet have ‘separated’ himself to an ‘upper room’ more fitting for that kind of Pentecostal encounter?  Shouldn’t he have withdrawn from every human so as to qualify him for such a holy encounter?  Was being “among” such common folks not an impudent distraction to so awesome an encounter?   

There are times when God purposefully leads away from the crowd for the transforming encounter (Mark 8:23; Matthew 4:1), but all transforming encounters are not restricted to ‘there,’ and it could be mere religious legalism to always insist that the distant and separated mountain top is the sole portal to divine encounters.  Apostle John had his revelations while isolated on a prison island.  There, he was “in the Spirit”; and from such a place, “a door was opened in heaven” unto him (Revelation 1:9-10; 4:1), but Daniel had a similar encounter while busy on his feet in the company of other mortals (Daniel 10:6-7).  Again, Jacob had his open-heaven encounter at night, in a barren wilderness, with his head on a pillow of stone (Genesis 28:11-13), whereas Saul encountered open heavens by day along a busy open street in Damascus (Acts 9:3-4).  Where is God’s surest address? 

There is a finding strictly connected to seeking, for “ye shall seek me, and [then] find me…,” meaning, “Ye shall find me when ye shall seek Me.”  In other words, one cannot encounter what one does not earnestly desire or seek.  The seeking, however, is more in the heart than in the place, for the same scripture says that the finding shall be “when ye shall search for me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13; Proverbs 8:17).  Not everyone who went with Hannah to Shiloh got the miracle that Hannah got (1 Samuel 1:9-20). Important as Shiloh was, the seeking (or the heart) was crucial. 

There are two issues: firstly, God encountering someone who was not looking out for Him, and secondly, someone encountering God in the process of their search for Him.  Saul meeting Christ on the highway to Damascus is an example of God encountering someone who was not at some Upper Room praying for a visitation (Acts 9:3-4).  Hannah getting her miracle at Shiloh is an example of someone encountering God in their desperate search for Him in a separated place (1 Samuel 1:7-17).  In the first case, specific locations might not matter, as the initiative is the Almighty’s; but in the second case, they could (Jeremiah 18:2), but bottom line: the heart, the search. 

Don’t fix your gaze so much on the distant spectacular smoky mountain of God that you miss the Great Shepherd down in the commonplace green plains.  Don’t get so religiously fixated on the admirable angel from above who stirs the seasonal waters of encounter, that you miss the Healer Himself by your side, saying, “Pick up your mat and get back home now.  I am not limited by the seasonal patterns and places (John 5:2-9). 

O Lord, may no busy traffic of feet, no ‘noisy environment,’ no absence of ‘seclusion’ be an excuse for missing a memorable encounter.   May Your Presence overrule even when I cannot find the ‘right place’ for the encounter.  My body remains Your temple, Your mobile sanctuary.  This day and ever, O Lord, may You so take Your place in this sanctuary that it shall be said even among the angels, “for the glory of the LORD had filled the house of the LORD” (1 Kings 8:11).  Amen. 

From The Preacher’s diary,
May 28, 2023.

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