Since this Sunday marks the start of the church year, it is time to reopen our Window on the World. The Window on the World is our weekly opportunity to give a biblical response to the world’s agenda. The window through which we always look at the world is the Bible. If we want to understand the world—where it has been, where it is, and where it is going—we need to view it through the lens of the infallible Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.
Tonight I want to take a long, loving, backwards look at my summer holiday. I feel like I am back in Miss Bingham’s 6th grade class writing a theme on “How I Spent My Summer Vacation.”
It all began on the Fourth of July on the roof of our apartment building, where we watched celebratory fireworks from Penn’s Landing and Veterans’ Stadium. The next morning we packed all the bags, all the pillows, all the snack food, all the tapes, all the sports equipment, all the diapers, and all the kids in the back of the car and headed for the Great Midwest.
Two days later I was lying face down on an inner tube, holding on to a rope attached to a motorboat, and skimming along the top of a Wisconsin lake at about 25 miles per hour. But not for long. My college friends are the kind of friends who enjoy having fun at my expense, so I soon found myself bouncing across a wake and flipping over into the water.
There I was, up to my neck in lake, waiting for the boat to come around and rescue me. And then… do you know what I did then? I thought about all of you. Yes, it is true. As I was treading water I spared an idle thought for the people I love back in the City of Brotherly Love. The thought went something like this: “If only they could see me now! Boy, am I glad I am out here rather than back there.”
Memories from the rest of my vacation are equally fresh. I remember the family of 10 ducklings with whom we shared our riverbank. I remember paddling out on the lake by moonlight to see yet another fireworks display, with bats swooping all around us. I remember seeing a solitary bald eagle soaring between high pines down the river. I remember praying and singing hymns with the family. I remember doing the kind of leisure reading I never have time to do: the American nature writer Annie Dillard, the Cambridge physicist John Polkinghorne, the New York baseball writer Roger Angell. I even remember using all my letters in Scrabble, although I cannot remember what I used them to spell.
I also remember having this thought run through my mind more than once: I need more of this. In all the hurry, hurry, hurry, hustle, hustle, hustle, I need more rest for my soul. I need to make more space in my life for the leisurely pancake breakfast, the quiet talk on the hammock, the slow walk to nowhere in particular, and the twilight search for the bullfrog on the lily pad.
To put it another way, I need to make more space in my workaday world for En Gedi. “En Gedi” was the name of our riverside cabin in the woods. Do you the story of David at En Gedi? This biblical text from 1 Samuel 23 was written out in fine hand and framed on our cabin wall:
Saul… went… in pursuit of David. Saul was going along one side of the mountain, and David and his men were on the other side, hurrying to get away from Saul. As Saul and his forces were closing in on David and his men to capture them, a messenger came to Saul, saying, “Come quickly! The Philistines are raiding the land.” Then Saul broke off his pursuit of David and went to meet the Philistines. That is why they call this place Sela Hammahlekoth (which means ‘rock of parting’). And David went up from there and lived in the strongholds of En Gedi (1 Sam. 23: 25-29).
En Gedi was David’s stronghold, David’s spiritual retreat, David’s rest. Because David was God’s anointed and a man after God’s own heart, God often protected David in the middle of battle. But there were also times when God pulled David out of the battle and gave him a haven safe from danger. There were times when God sent David to En Gedi.
My summer vacation was like going to En Gedi. And I was right: I need to go there more often. If En Gedi is a place of rest and safety, then all of us need to make our way there more often. We get worn down by the toils and troubles of life. What we need is rest from our work, relief from our labors, and a safe retreat from our spiritual opposition.
En Gedi does not have to be an annual event. God will always provide the rest we need if we will go to the place of rest. We can run to the strongholds of En Gedi whenever we are weary because Jesus Christ always holds out his arms towards us and says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).
We can rest in Christ on a Lord’s Day devoted to worship and rest. We can rest in Christ when we make extra time for our family and friends. We can rest in Christ as we walk down the street. We can rest in Christ during a lunch break. We can even rest in Christ in the midst of a crisis, if we will take our troubles to God in prayer. There is always space for us in the strongholds of En Gedi.
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Phil Ryken. © 2020 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org