Be still, and know that I am God.
While practicing a subsistence lifestyle and working as a landscape photographer here in Alaska’s remote upper Yukon River Valley, I have walked many thousands of miles through its roadless expanse. Regardless of my intended purpose or destination, God has always used my time afoot in His Creation to be the greatest schoolmaster that I have ever known.
Never do I walk solely for the purpose of enjoyment or recreation. Instead, it is always associated with the need to move myself between vital responsibilities, vocational opportunities, and subsistence resources. While doing so, it often strikes me that the nature of our walk with God must necessarily be the same. We must walk deliberately and live our lives with metered purpose--“making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16). Over time, limitations associated with my austere environment have magnified this truth and confirmed that we must learn to be stayed by the perfecting of vital activity--for according to God’s economy, there should be nothing unpurposed about our lives. “Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim” (1 Corinthians 9:26).
I can assure you that, even here at “the end of the road and beyond,” the raw reality associated with life on a fallen planet is ever-present--but, thankfully, so is the clarion voice of God’s word through the promptings of His Spirit. As vast and elegant as the landscape may be, and as deadening as the quiet may be, neither are sufficient to empty my mind of pressing concerns associated with life-sustaining needs and activities. At the end of each day, muscles are sore, the woodstove must be fed, and bills must be paid. Likewise, the commanded need to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” goes uninterrupted regardless of my environment (2 Corinthians 10:5). There truly is “no Heaven on earth”--nor does God intend there to be. He does not call us to a lifetime of mountaintop experiences--but, rather, He breaks us and molds us so that we may be of use to Him in the ordinary valleys as we live lives that make the Gospel believable to others (Matthew 9:37 and Philippians 1:27).1
I often experience reinforcement of these truths while engaged in my photography work. I must compete with the best in the world--and I am constantly in the hunt for exceptional images. As praiseworthy and compelling as any vista may be, however, its full identity is fleeting and can only be admired for the moment. This frequent realization reminds me that our greatest hope and satisfaction must always remain in the promise of Heaven--where ultimate beauty is ever present and everlasting (Matthew 6:19-21, 1 Corinthians 2:9, 1 Peter 1:3-4,13).
These things said, there is an indescribable calm and stillness that envelops the landscape of the Far North at various times of the year. This atmosphere is very conducive to intensified thought and introspection. Similar conditions may be found all across the globe--from desert environments, to rain forests, to sweeping plains, to lengthy beaches, and even to backyard gardens--and they are no less captivating or arresting than what I encounter here.
If we so allow, such times of suppressed distraction may serve very effectively to both amplify the conscience and act as a clearinghouse for it. In my personal experience, what most often transpires during these moments is a ratification of God’s pronouncements regarding the human condition and the human heart in the absence of His saving grace. “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matthew 15:19, see also Romans 3:10–18, and Jeremiah 17:9). It is a humbling but necessary experience--for apart from embracing these truths and being transformed, we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
Along the same trajectory, it is vitally important for us to know who we are “when no one else is looking.” Are we spiritually real? God may use our time alone with Him in nature to measure the integrity of our profession of faith. I have experienced such testing on many occasions, and it has always been very instructive. Such appraisals may come about as a deliberate act of our initiative, or they may be prompted by God’s sovereignty. He may engineer circumstances that cause us to respond in ways that reveal our true allegiances and priorities--and that expose the actual state of our spiritual foundation. Are we truly built on The Rock, or do we simply “wear the label without possessing the goods?”
One such instance of God’s testing in my own recent history involved a confrontation with an aggressive and menacing bear. The circumstances were such that “there was no way out”—and I fully realized that the bear “had me” if he wanted me. There was nothing that I could do to gain an advantage. In an instant, I was faced with several decisions to make. Did I trust in God’s sovereignty regarding all things? Could I truly believe that He saw this as a favorable event according to His kingdom purposes and His plans for me? Did I possess sufficient assurance of my eternal security and sufficient hope in heaven to allow me to remain calm and unpanicked? My inner responses on all fronts were both edifying and positive to a degree that rather surprised and encouraged me. The truth is that such undeniable validation could not have been arrived at as the result of any less dire circumstances.
Furthermore, the Bible commands that we examine ourselves to see if our faith is genuine. “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5)! Again, what better time to do this than when we are alone with God in the quiet court of His Creation? For often, it is during times of heightened awareness, such as when our hearts and minds are separated from all else save our Creator and His Creation, that we are most receptive to advances in our spiritual understanding.
If we are honest with ourselves, our self-examinations will always lead us to decide that there is more ground to gain with respect to our spiritual fitness. The Bible affirms this by commanding us to continually bolster our Christian character and witness--to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18, see also 2 Peter 1:5–10). In concert with this, 1 John 3:2 reminds us that Christlikeness is a lifetime pursuit.
Throughout our lives, God will afford us ample opportunities to re-discover the immeasurable treasure that we have in His gift of salvation. Time spent alone with Him in nature provides us with a priceless avenue for vital spiritual development. When God trusts us with the gift of silence, we can then begin to transact business with Him in the deepest recesses of our conscious being. As we walk before Him with renewed minds and remain sensitive to His judgment on sin as is evidenced by the cross of Christ, our steps will become ever-sure. “The steps of a man are ordered by the Lord, and He delights in his way” (Psalm 37:23).