Recently I attended a women’s retreat at a campground in the northern part of lower Michigan. The trees were just beginning to turn; as we drove further north, the display of color became more and more amazing. Here and there red leaves and pink, yellows and gold, and brilliant orange peeked out among the greens. As I gazed on the beauty around me, I was appreciative of our Creator God. Then it started to rain.
Light splashes here and there on the windshield became a steady drizzle, then a downpour. Gray clouds turned dark, and fog rolled in as the temperature began dropping. We could no longer see the color because of the darkness. It was still raining when we arrived at camp, and the ground was turning to muck. I thought of the umbrella hanging in my closet at home, and was glad I had packed a hooded, all-weather jacket.
I’d been waiting several weeks to hear from an editor about which of my suggestions she wanted me to write. A few hours before we left home, I learned she was expecting four articles from me ASAP. I realized I would not be participating in camp activities during my free time and packed my computer at the last minute. This was shaping up to be a difficult weekend.
We checked in and headed to our cabin. Our room would be warm, we thought, but the heat was not on and there were no controls we could adjust. The forecast was for 40 degrees that night. Brrrr! There was no cell service, and the foggy, wet weather blocked the internet. Could there be any more distractions?
When we entered the chapel for opening worship, we were greeted by two blazing fires in matching stone fireplaces in the front of the room. Not only were they beautiful, but within a few minutes they afforded ample heat to warm the large room. A very talented pianist began playing lovely arrangements of praise choruses, and we mentally played “Name That Tune” and hummed along as the women gathered. Worship began with a familiar chorus: “As the deer panteth for the water, so my soul longeth after Thee. You alone are my heart’s desire, and I long to worship You.” I really needed to worship. I needed to set aside thoughts of articles unwritten, rain still falling, wet pants hems and muddy shoes; and I needed to turn my heart toward praise.
A few minutes later we sang again: “Peace. You give me peace when the storms come and I’m afraid.” I wasn’t fearful of the rainstorm, but other storms troubled me. As we sang, I sensed God’s presence in that room, and His peace began to still my heart and my thoughts.
The speaker focused on John 17, Jesus’ prayer before heading to the Garden of Gethsemane. He would soon be arrested and brought to trial, and then face crucifixion. His time had come to suffer for the sin of the world. Jesus knew what He was facing in just a few hours, yet most of His focus in those moments of prayer was on His disciples and on us. Yes, Jesus prayed for future believers – that’s us. He asked God the Father that we will be in unity, so that others will believe that God sent His Son Jesus, and they will know that they are loved by God. “My prayer is not for them (Jesus’ disciples) alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23).
I wonder what Christians are doing to create unity among the various churches in our communities. Does the world look at us and see oneness in Jesus? Do not-yet-believers see us and understand that God loves them and has given His Son to pay for their sin? These are challenging questions.
Jesus also prayed that we would have joy in Him. Although the sun never broke through the clouds that weekend, the rain eventually slowed to a fine mist. I completed my writing assignments and had time to make a craft and take a short nap. My jeans stayed damp and my shoes were still muddy, but somehow those things no longer mattered. I was more focused on how much Jesus loves me. His love gives me joy. Several women gave their hearts to Jesus for the first time that weekend. The Bible says that the angels in heaven rejoice when that happens (Luke 15:7). And that gives me joy also.