A few years ago, I took a week-long prayer retreat on a small island off the coast of Queensland. It was a time of crisis in my life, and I needed time to process, pray, and pursue God’s will for my present, but also my future. The afternoon that I arrived on the island, I took the sage advice of my pastor; I dropped my bags inside the door, and went straight to sleep. This might not have felt like a particularly appropriate or highly spiritual way to begin a prayer retreat, but actually it was both. Trying to seek God when I was emotionally exhausted and mentally spent would have been unfruitful; likewise – as my pastor encouraged me – taking time to rest was actually one way in which I was living out my being made in the image of God, and uninterrupted sleep was the best spiritual act I could have started my time with.
I’ve never really been one to pray in a way that expects God to speak to me in an audible voice; I know that God’s primary means of revelation has always been through the Word (both in Jesus, and in the written words of Scripture). Sitting on the beach with nothing but my bible, paper, and pen, I made plans to seek God by prayerfully reading through the gospels, writing as I went. I began at Matthew 1:1, and asked the Holy Spirit to comfort my grieving soul, speak to my troubled mind, and show me himself and his will for me through these accounts of the person and work of Jesus. You probably won’t be surprised when I tell you that God showed up. You’ll probably be equally unsurprised when I tell you that it wasn’t in the way I expected, nor was it with the answers I think I was subconsciously hoping for.
As I reached the end of the gospel of John, I was struck by Jesus’ call to Peter that bracketed the life of this disciple. Beginning in Matthew 4:19, Jesus sees Peter fishing and calls to him “follow me”. Then in John 21:19 after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Jesus once again finds Peter back in his boat and repeats the call to him “follow me”. In between these two calls is the life shared between Jesus and Peter, with Peter experiencing both the wonder of being close to Jesus and the overwhelming guilt of betrayal as he denies Jesus exactly as prophesied.
In the turmoil of my own life, I suddenly realised how true this was of me. I had accepted the call to follow Jesus, to sit under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit and the instruction of the Bible, and yet in a time of extreme hardship I had taken my eyes off Jesus and returned to the familiar comforts of sitting in my boat. For me, that meant expecting to find the answers within my own head knowledge, thinly veiled in acts of personal piety that I knew were the right activities to engage in. There on that beach, Jesus repeated his profoundly simple yet costly call to me, revealing these idols that I had made in trying to get it together on my own, and calling me back out of the boat.
It suddenly became clear that Jesus’ call to me contained everything I had been seeking in limitless measure; comfort, wisdom, and direction. All I needed to do was drop my nets and follow.