When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions.
Several thoughts come to mind this morning as I read these 2 short verses. First, a spectacle draws a crowd! Imagine, this man who had been traveling around healing people mentally, emotionally, physically and at the same time preaching and teaching things that stirred up the ire of the “religious” folks (aka the pharisees and sadducees). Naturally, the crowds were growing because some wanted to be entertained and many others came to get a need met. The verse says he climbed a hillside and those who were committed climbed with him. Once Jesus had healed them and met their need he was ready to do some “character training,” to teach and impart life-changing words to those willing to climb. See, we can go to church or pray every now and then because we have needs and Jesus loves us so much He will totally meet us where we are. A time comes, however, when if we desire to know Him and to let His words change us, we must be willing to climb to the next level. Many in that crowd following Jesus were showing up to see Him but not all of them were willing to climb the hillside. What I see in this verse is that He is looking for hearts that want to know Him enough that they are willing to go a little further than they have before. He isn’t going to ask you to climb a bigger hillside than you can manage…but eventually, if you want to know the savior intimately–in a life changing way–you are going to face a choice. Those that climbed the hillside with Him that day heard what is known as The Beatitudes. If you aren’t sure what that refers to check out Matthew chapter 5. These are some of the most well-known words Jesus spoke and they tell us the kind of heart God wants us to have.
Another thought I had this morning while reading these verses is that as Jesus climbed the hillside He looked for a quiet place. Jesus loves us so much and there are things He wants to tell us and teach us about our lives but we need to follow Him to a “quiet place” so we can hear Him. There are so many distractions in life, so much to keep us busy and many times we just don’t “feel” like climbing the hillside to the quiet place. However, once you get there He can speak words to your heart that comfort you, stir passion inside, challenge and encourage you. Honestly, just being in His presence, actually feeling the love of God, is enough reason to climb. There is no person, thing or position on earth that can compare to that. He made it that way on purpose! Once you experience the love and presence of Jesus you’ll keep climbing because no matter what else you chase after it will come up short.
Sounds nice but how do you go about it…how do you start out if you have never followed Jesus past where most of the crowd turned to head back home? James 4:8 says “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” To me, it’s much like any friendship you have. God knows your heart. He has witnessed every moment of your life and He created you with a certain personality so He wants you to come near to Him just as you are. Be yourself. Carve out some time in your morning, even 5 min to start, to be alone with Him. This may sound silly, but sometimes I just imagine Jesus is sitting in the chair across from me and I talk to Him like a best friend. Also, find a version of the Bible that you understand! Personally, I love The Message paraphrase but there is also the NLT (new living translation), NIV (new international version) and many others. Perhaps you want to start reading in one of the gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. Each is the record of eye-witness accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus. Further into the New Testament you read many letters inspired by God and written by leaders in the early church to encourage and instruct new Christians. Also, my Pastor recommends reading a chapter in Proverbs (old testament) every day…there are 31 so it’s easy to just go by the day of the month. These are just practical suggestions; coming close to God is never about how many verses you read each day or which version of the Bible you read…you could read one verse and be willing to go out and live it and that would change your life more than reading the whole Bible but never submitting to anything it says. Lastly, music has helped to bring me closer to God immeasurably. Music is very powerful and affects our minds and moods more than we know!
Reading this post, whatever hillside you see before you…spending a few minutes each day talking with Him, reading the Bible with an open heart, responding in obedience to things He has been showing you/teaching you…attending a church that is passionate for Jesus…I encourage you to follow Him up the hill to the quiet place…He has so much to show you, He loves you and it will be well worth every step.