I needed to hear from God. Life was at one of those crossroads that definitely called for His voice. I was running up against a wall of weariness, exasperation and the road forward showed no signs of relief.
So what do I do now God? I’m pretty close to being done! I don’t think that crashing and burning is Your plan for me – is it?
Where is the voice of God when we need it? This, of course, is a question God’s people have been asking since time began. And there are great stories of those who have heard from Him.
Some of my friends were signed up for a Cursillo retreat. A monastic journey guided by the spiritual rituals of the ancient church sounded perfect. But you have to be sponsored to go to Cursillo and besides, I needed to hear from God now, not in three months.
There are those who have found God by retreating into the wilderness. I have sought His voice in the wilderness too, but have always found that nature is far too exciting and distracting for me.
I go into the wilderness to fish, hunt and explore. I’m sure God is in nature but so is the next adventure. It’s hard to compete with adventures.
Others have gone to conferences and heard God speak through the voices of the great Christian communicators. But where is the right conference when you need it? And besides, after a few inspirational hangovers the sheen has come off that rose.
As life would have it, some friends had given us the gift of a vacation to San Diego, which we shoehorned into a busy schedule. It was February and a break from winter to the city with the best climate in the continental U.S. sounded like a welcome reprieve. If you can’t hear from God, at least a couple rounds of golf in the sunshine should lift the spirits.
And so we packed up and flew south.
But that February was different for San Diego. Rather than being the sunniest city north of Mexico, it was struck by deluges even as our home basked in the sun. Record-breaking rains pound-ed the city, sending torrents down hill-sides and leaving streets covered with debris.
We would not be golfing. Instead, we spent the next three days and nights shopping.
There are people who love to shop and there are those who… But I was outnumbered and found myself wandering through the stores and boutiques of San Diego.
Things were not going according to plan.
I had nothing to do but concentrate on not making life miserable for my wife and friends, who were clearly enjoying themselves.
No beautiful scenery – just endless concrete malls.
No comfortable places to sit – just hard mall benches, usually without backs.
No quiet contemplation – just the buzzing chatter of unappeasable consumption.
Not even newspapers to read – just stacks of massive glossy fashion magazines consisting almost entirely of advertising.
In one of my darker moments I sat in a wicker chair beside a women’s change room, contemplating Jonah in the belly of the whale as he sank into the bowels of the earth and sloshed about in the digestive fluids of leviathan. The cords of The Gap, Tony Bahama and A/X Armani were wrapping themselves around my neck and dragging me to the depths.
But it was there in a mall in San Diego that God spoke to me with an assurance as clear as I have ever felt.
The message, paraphrased, was this:
“You have not been abandoned, it is just hard to get your attention. I am not the God of the monastery, the wilderness or the assembly. I am not the God of ancient times and careful preparations designed to make Me speak. I am the God of all creation and I have promised to be with My people wherever and when-ever they are.”
And it was there in a mall in San Diego I was finally able to hear His voice.
In another time and place God said, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).
From my experience I would add, “…and where and when you least expect it.”
The next time I need to hear God’s voice I will go straight to the mall and sit on a bench in front of The Gap. Just kidding – I think.
—James Toews is pastor of Neighbourhood Church, Nanaimo, B.C.