by: Joel Bates
If it hadn’t been for the darkness they would have seen me crying and then I would have had to try to keep it together. Praise God for hiding places.
Let me start from the beginning. Yet again, I was hiking late at night behind a troop of wilderness wanderers—this time missionaries-in-training, good people called to reach needy peoples. They had persevered and were descending the last ridge into a valley that would be our home during the 24-hour solo before the trip ended. Hiking in the dark was not new to our group, but as we ambled down the barely distinguishable path this night, a strange feeling came over me.
I peered into the dark forest, but saw nothing there. Looking up, I saw a million brilliant stars floating in a jet-black expanse, but they did not illumine my way. I paused and heard only the sound of crunching gravel beneath the hikers’ feet. What was I sensing?
My headlight beam created a hindering glare, so I shut it off. I momentarily became vulnerable to the darkness and whatever was out there. I saw nothing. I heard nothing. But, I knew something or someone was approaching, pursuing as we neared our destination. Unable to remain quiet, I tapped my co-leader on the shoulder and quietly shared, “We are not alone.”
He looked at me with fascination, “Yes, I feel it, too!” I could see him grinning!
“He is here,” I whispered. “The farther down the ridge we go and the darker the night, the more I feel Him.”
Sometimes, when hiking at night through a thick, tangled woods, my imagination causes the hairs on the back of my neck to stick out and makes every shadow looks like a bear. I was familiar with that misconception, and this sensation was far from that. I had a giddy sense that the divine Creator of the world was behind us, beside us, and before us, enveloping us in supreme solitude with Him. I felt hidden away from the world and all its worries. Even though we were vulnerable, being hours away from any help if trouble should befall us, I felt secure and protected in God’s unmistakable presence.
I was still marveling at and relishing the Lord’s presence when the group halted for a snack. So, as we sat on our packs and munched a granola bar, I could only think about Jesus sitting next to me. One of the sweet ladies in our group—a lady headed to impoverished parts of the world where she would join the suffering, dusty throng and, even more, become a living sacrifice, began to sing. Her voice was clear and sublime. Her words of praise poured forth and washed over me, and soon we all joined her in singing the familiar hymn.
“Then I shall bow in humble adoration and there proclaim, ‘My God how great Thou art!’” My voice stalled out, choked with emotion, and the tears just started falling freely. I had often happily sung those words in church, but I had never allowed them to penetrate my façade to reveal the depths of my emotions. Fellow worshipers would surely have perceived such lack of control as weakness! In the darkness, no one saw my tears; I didn’t have to try to keep it together.
That experience showed me that I need to grow, but until I do, I’m grateful for the darkness that shields me from expectations of others. I am grateful for the arms of Jesus that wrap around me when I’m sitting in the dark on some far away and forgotten trail with only the voices of other sojourning saints filling the space with praise. Praise God for hiding places!
Did Paul feel this way as he and Silas sat in darkness late one night, deep in the heart of a Philippian dungeon? Acts 16 tells how these two missionaries, when faced with great adversity, chose to sing praises to the Lord. God responded by sending an earthquake, and then things got really exciting. The jailer, who thought his life was over, met Jesus, and the whole household found new life in Him!
A dungeon seems like an unlikely place for a revival to break out, but Paul and Silas must have felt the intimate closeness of God in that dark place. Maybe they sang for joy because the great peril of their situation gave greater definition to their love. Maybe they praised because they were experiencing the overwhelming honor of having the presence of Almighty God with them in that place. Later in Paul’s life, he would write to the Roman church, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38-39). He might have added, “And no darkness will keep Him from us.”
Funny how Jesus shows up to sit beside us in the most unlikely places. Often I sense Him in the vulnerable times because my heart is more attentive when the times are tough, like when I’m descending into a valley in the dead of night. Maybe you’re experiencing a dark time, or a vulnerable circumstance. Know that the Father is near, and it is in these moments where a little singing and a few tears may be the perfect response.
“Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.”
Come along side us as we journey in and out of the wilderness, discovering our Creator in creation.