Lots of things have influenced my prayer life: books, people, liturgy, teaching, and experiences. But a teaching and experience combo on the top of a mountain in Israel stands out above the rest.
Mount Arbel is a mountain in lower Galilee with high cliffs and views in every direction. On a clear day you can see across the Sea of Galilee, to the heights of Mount Hermon and into the Golan Heights.
The journey to the top was intense. We fought our way up Mt. Arbel, removing layers of clothes as we entered the low-lying clouds. The hike kept us panting, but the scenery took my breath away. I chatted with my fellow hikers in between gasps, totally unaware of where our journey was taking us. But eventually we reached the top. If I close my eyes I can picture that first look: windy, chilly, rolling dark clouds, the Sea of Galilee, and tiny villages dotting the entire landscape.
We bundled back up and sat down. (I love that… went up on a mountain and sat down… to pray. Sounds familiar.)
We were reminded of the strenuous hike taken to reach this quiet place, and the journey that Jesus would have taken to get away from the crowds.
“Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.“ (Luke 5:15-16)
eremos topos – solitary/quiet place – in Hebrew: desolate or deserted.
“Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve—designating them apostles…” (Mark 3:13-14)
Jesus quite possibly spent the night on this solitary mountain top and then called His disciples. I found myself straining to grasp the lesson our trip leader was trying to communicate. It felt as though the rain and wind were doing everything in their power to keep me cold and miserable, but then something happened to change my entire attitude and perspective. It’s something so simple, and yet it’s a picture that will help me in my times of prayer for the rest of my life.
Our trip leader called out to a guy in our group. “Kyle, will you join me up front?”
Kyle, a tall twenty-something with red hair, obliged. Kyle was encouraged to name someone he looked up to or a celebrity he would like to meet. He chose the author J.R. Tolkien. Our leader, Matt, then took on the persona of J.R. Tolkien carrying a basket of bread for the illustration. “Kyle,” he said, “I want you to ask me for one of my loaves of bread. And by the way, you are homeless and very hungry.”
Kyle grovelled a bit reminding Mr. Tolkien just how much he loves all of his books. He went on to pay his respects, to mention favorite books, and then to gently ask, saying please several times, if he could have some bread.
Tolkien eventually relented and handed Kyle an imaginary piece of bread.
Except then our trip leader did something else a bit unexpected. You see, Kyle’s father was also on our trip. He was called to the front and asked to stand next to Kyle.
“Kyle, ask your dad for some bread.”
Kyle put his arm around his father and asked simply and without hesitation, “Dad, may I please have some bread?”
I’ll admit, I became a little choked up as father and son hugged and shared a moment on the top of the mountain of prayer. I lost it when our guide turned to us and said, “Just ask. You aren’t speaking to the CEO of a company or an angry dictator. You are talking to your Father. Ask. Ask. Ask. Ask. Ask. And He Gives. Gives. Gives. Gives. Gives.”
Mt. Arbel has changed they way that I pray because I have a better picture of my Heavenly Father, a reminder that He invites us to connect with Him, to seek Him, and to simply ask of Him.
One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
Jesus said to them, “When you pray, say this:
May your holy name be honored;
may your Kingdom come.
Give us day by day the food we need.
Forgive us our sins,
for we forgive everyone who does us wrong.
And do not bring us to hard testing.’”
And Jesus said to his disciples, “Suppose one of you should go to a friend’s house at midnight and say, ‘Friend, let me borrow three loaves of bread. A friend of mine who is on a trip has just come to my house, and I don’t have any food for him!’ And suppose your friend should answer from inside, ‘Don’t bother me! The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ Well, what then? I tell you that even if he will not get up and give you the bread because you are his friend, yet he will get up and give you everything you need because you are not ashamed to keep on asking. And so I say to you: Ask, and you will receive; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.For those who ask will receive, and those who seek will find, and the door will be opened to anyone who knocks. Would any of you who are fathers give your son a snake when he asks for fish? Or would you give him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? As bad as you are, you know how to give good things to your children. How much more, then, will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:1-13, GNT)