his Chronicles, Volume One, Bob Dylan reflects on the
setting that he believes best enables him and others to compose
music. It is one, he explains, that is anything but stationary:
“You can write
a song anywhere, in a railroad compartment, on a boat, on
horseback--it helps to be moving.” He adds, “Sometimes people
who have the greatest talent for writing songs never write any
because they are not moving.”*
this observation--that musical inspiration best comes when one
is “moving”--deep into his book, just in passing, and doesn’t
elaborate further. Yet it gripped my interest, and on a broader
level, for I’ve often sensed that our most important insights
about life and personal challenges tend to come when we’re in
motion. Think about your own experience: Recall those welcome
times when the answer to a pressing decision or problem suddenly
became clear. I will guess the majority of them occurred when
you were on a trip, or running an errand, or taking a walk. It’s
less likely they happened when you were stationary--sitting at
home, or busy with your normal routine at work.
I’ve long been
intrigued that many of the most important epiphanies of the
great heroes of Scripture occurred when they were traveling. The
stunning revelations Abraham experienced, for instance--when God
revealed that he would be the father of many nations--took place
only after he left his hometown of Haran and “went out, not
knowing whither he went” (Heb 11:8 KJV).
Jacob’s experience. For long periods of his life, he was stuck
in one place--first Canaan, then Haran for twenty years, then
Canaan again for a lengthy period until, in old age, he moved to
Egypt. He grew increasingly sedentary as life moved on, and, it
would appear, increasingly depressed. Scripture, though, notes
six instances when God gave Jacob a cherished, direct
revelation. Four occurred at those rare times when Jacob was
traveling and moving from one location to another (Gen 28:10-22;
32:22-30; 35:9-15; 46:1-4 ); he had a dramatic encounter with
God in each case, and received profound assurance of God’s
blessing and protection.
other two occasions of direct revelation, God told him that he
should travel. God advised him to move from Haran back to
Canaan in one case (Gen 31:3, 10-13), and then later, instructed
him to visit Bethel, where Jacob had previously encountered God
(Gen 35:1). In both of these instances, it’s likely that Jacob
was seriously considering making the trip God told him to
undertake. The anticipation of traveling, then, may have
prepared him psychologically for the revelation he received.
notes a further occasion when angels appeared to Jacob, though
no mention is made of them or God speaking to Jacob in this case
(Gen 32:1-2). Yet Jacob was clearly elated by this encounter,
and took great reassurance from it. It also occurred when he was
. . . traveling!--on his trip from Haran back home to
Canaan. “Jacob . . . went on his way, and the angels of God met
him. When Jacob saw them, he said, ‘This is the camp of God!’ So
he named that place Mahanaim’” (Gen 32:1-2).
We find many
examples like these of Abraham and Jacob throughout Scripture, where
individuals received vital guidance or reassurance from God
while they were either on a trip or at its destination.
greater interest are two passages in the book of Proverbs.
Proverbs speaks extensively about the wisdom God gives us for
resolving decisions and problems, and of how critical it is for
us to seek it. The individual proverbs note many practical steps
we can take to gain wisdom, and often compare wise actions with
foolish ones. Two passages in Proverbs, though, advise us about
the setting in which we’re most likely to gain wise
insight. And in both cases, we’re told that it’s one in which
we’re on the go:
Proverbs 1:20-21: “Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in
the markets she raises her voice; at the head of the noisy
streets she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she
Proverbs 8:1-3: “Does not wisdom call? Does not
understanding raise her voice? On the heights beside the way, at
the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of
the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries aloud.”
personified in these passages (and here only in Proverbs)--as a
voice offering insight to the receptive person. Does this mean
we are likely to hear an audible voice responding if we ask for
God’s guidance? I doubt it. Nowhere in the rest of Proverbs, or
anywhere else in Scripture, is it taught that we should expect
to hear a supernatural voice revealing God’s will. The continual
message of Proverbs is that wisdom comes from our diligent,
practical effort to attain it.
Yet we also
enjoy harvest experiences in seeking wisdom, when we suddenly
have a burst of wise insight, and see the answer to a problem or
decision that has confounded us. These moments can come with
such great impact that we feel as though we’ve experienced a
divine revelation. We may be inclined to say that God has spoken
to us at such times. Undoubtedly, it is this sort of experience
that the writer has in mind in these passages, when he mentions
wisdom speaking and raising her voice.
writer is clearly saying, is that these episodes of
enlightenment will most likely take place when we’re on trips or
errands. We might expect to read the opposite: that they will
occur when we’re sitting quietly at home thinking or praying. But while
Scripture doesn’t rule out that possibility, these passages
suggest that our most profound insights will probably come when
we’re away from home and on our way somewhere.
“being on our way” involves is the most fascinating part. That
it may include major travel is evident when the writer refers to
wisdom speaking “on the heights beside the way” and “at the
crossroads.” But he also mentions wisdom speaking “in the
markets,” “at the head of the noisy streets,” and “at the
entrance of the city gates.” We may enjoy a blessed moment of
enlightenment, in other words, on our short trips--such
as for shopping or social purposes! On these trips, or at these
destinations, we’re in a special position to experience a
The fact that
moving about in our normal business of the day can boost our
receptivity to God’s wisdom is extraordinarily encouraging. It
brings purpose to the mundane traveling we constantly have to
do, and a basis for anticipating something special’s happening
on such trips. It just might be that on a drive to the mall or
the doctor’s office we suddenly see a matter clearly that’s been
from Proverbs even lead us to believe that God might surprise us
with life-changing guidance when we’re--heaven forbid--commuting.
The reference to wisdom speaking in the “noisy streets” seems
even more divinely inspired for our own time than for when the
passage was written!
Helps to Be in Motion
The writer of
these proverbs doesn’t tell us why we can be so open to
enlightenment when we’re “out and about,” but I suspect that
several reasons contribute. For one, when we’re on a trip or an
errand to a destination we want to reach, we tend to be more
optimistic than usual. We’re also more relaxed, and in more of a
right-brain mode. In these states, our mind is more likely to
think creatively and make positive connections between the
myriad of details we’re mulling over. The solution to a
difficult decision or problem may suddenly become plain.
we’re more physically invigorated when we’re traveling than when
we’re sitting still at home or at the office. This was certainly
true for people in biblical times, who for transportation relied
on walking or bumpy rides on horses, mules, or camels. With
better circulation comes better thinking.
And, as we
move along on a trip, our eyes are continually exposed to new
sights. This rapid change in visual detail can stimulate our
mind to process other information more quickly and effectively.
important--and most simply--traveling breaks the inertia for us.
If we’re stuck and unable to resolve a problem or decision,
anything we do to get our body moving helps to get our mind
moving as well.
It’s hard to
exaggerate the importance that traveling has played in my own
experience of Christ’s guidance. The decision to launch Sons of
Thunder, and the solution to major problems related to it, came
during a visit to Rehoboth Beach in summer 1966, when I was
driving the ocean highway between Rehoboth and Ocean City,
Maryland. My conclusion to marry Evie Kirkland was reached while
I was driving from the Maryland town of Mt. Airy to Damascus,
where we now live. I discovered the home we presently live in
while on a leisurely drive in upper Montgomery County, Maryland,
to pray about the matter of finding a new home. Countless ideas
for writing have come while I’m driving as well. My mind always
seems to work better then, and my heart seems more receptive to
the Lord’s inspiration.
This isn’t to
say that God only guides us when we’re in motion. There is a
vital place for stillness in the Christian life. Jesus
instructed his disciples, “when you pray, go into your room and
shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret” (Matt
6:5). He encouraged them to seek this privacy, in part, to avoid
prideful public displays of devotion, but also, I’m sure, to
remove distractions. We can have too much movement in our
life--to say the least. The pace of life is so frantic for some
of us, that we need to heed the timeless counsel of Psalm 46:10:
“Be still and know that I am God.”
contributes to stillness differs greatly for each of us. Jesus
himself often retreated to the Garden of Gethsemane for
meditation, where he may well have spent more time walking than
sitting. While I do plenty of praying at home, I have to be
walking around the house to do it; I can’t pray sitting for long
without losing my focus or dozing off.
respected Christian leader, Dr. Richard Halverson, confessed to
me that chaos and distractions actually helped him focus better.
He could just as easily have a deep devotional time sitting in a
subway station as in his home study.
Each of us has
a need to find the right balance between stillness and movement
in our life, and to find what circumstances best help us to
enjoy peaceful reflection and to focus effectively in prayer.
If we’ve been
Christian for any time, though, we’ve heard plenty of emphasis
on the importance of being quiet and still before the Lord. We
understand quite well our need to do this. Yet we’ve probably
heard little or no stress on the spiritual value of being on the
go. The fact that being in motion can boost our receptivity to
God is unspeakably encouraging, for the simple reason that so
much of our life involves being in transit.
Most of us can
learn to benefit much more than we do from this remarkable life
principle. Here are several steps that can help:
your life involves plenty of traveling, make a practice of
reminding yourself before each trip, whether short or long, that
being on the road may help you better understand God’s guidance
for some important matter. If there’s a decision you’re facing,
or a problem you’re trying to solve, pray at least briefly that
God will enlighten you on this matter while you travel. Then,
take some time while you’re on your way to pray or just reflect;
if you’re driving, turn off the radio, CD player and cell phone
for at least part of the trip. Enjoy the quiet, and be open to
inspiration. Not every trip will bring the epiphany of a
lifetime, to be sure, and many will pass without dramatic
enlightenment occurring. But on occasion, a welcome insight will
emerge that makes the whole effort worthwhile.
Commuting can aid our spiritual openness in the same ways other
travel does. I say can, for commuting involves a
different routine for each of us. You are more likely to be in
the mood for inspiration if your trip to work is a quiet train
ride or a pleasant country drive, than if you’re sitting in a
carpool van with five other people and talk radio blaring. And
if aggravating traffic tie-ups are common in your drive to work,
you’ll find it harder to maintain a devotional spirit.
open. When you set forth on your commute to work, you’re leaving
home, breaking the inertia, and getting yourself on the move.
You’re doing things that may position you better to listen to
God. Be open to his surprising you with special insight as you
commute, and expect the best in your trips to and from work.
your life has grown--to be honest--too sedentary, do what you
can to put more movement into it. Remember the potential
spiritual value of any traveling you do, including simple jaunts
like shopping trips. Take a leisurely drive for the purpose of
praying, reflecting, and seeking a better understanding of God’s
direction. Or take a walk or bike ride for the same purpose.
But what if
you’re disabled and have limited ability to get around? You are
not at a disadvantage in listening to God in this case--most
definitely not. God works with each of us in light of our
capabilities, and meets us where we are (that is the message of
Christ’s incarnation, that God comes to us where we are!).
What mobility you do have will work for you, so make the best of
it. And take heart that God will compensate for your disability
in numerous ways, including his means of guiding you.
personal retreat can be an outstanding way to reap the very best
spiritual benefits of traveling and escaping life’s normal
distractions. At least once a year, plan a time--an afternoon, a
day or two, or longer--for concentrating exclusively on your
relationship with Christ and his guidance for you. Spend your
personal retreat in a quiet setting away from home, where you
are not likely to be interrupted. And remember that your trip to
and from your retreat destination is part of the adventure; it
may even be the time when your most treasured insights come!
Finally, exercise can provide us some of the same benefits for
spiritual inspiration that traveling often does. Exercise--to
say the obvious--gets our blood circulating, breaks the inertia
and gets us moving. And, as we’ve noted, travel in biblical
times usually involved some form of exercise.
I recently read a stunning account of how
Nikola Tesla invented the AC induction engine. As a young
Serbian student, Tesla had wrestled with the concept of this
motor for several years while studying in Paris. But he couldn’t
solve the technical problems that had long confounded other
inventors, and a professor publicly ridiculed him for even
imagining such an engine could be developed. Overworked and
exhausted, Tesla suffered a nervous breakdown. A friend then
convinced Tesla to begin exercising for the health benefits.
While Tesla and his friend were on their workout routine one
afternoon, they wandered into a city park; at that point, the
engine’s design suddenly became crystal clear to Tesla.
“I drew with a
stick in the sand. . . . The images I saw were wonderfully sharp
and clear and had the solidity of metal and stone, so much that
I told [my friend], ‘See my motor here; watch me reverse it.’ I
cannot begin to describe my emotions.”*
until about a decade later that Tesla finally gained the
financial backing and resources to build his motor. Until then,
he merely carried its design in his mind and never wrote it
down, unflinchingly convinced it would work. His conviction
proved bullet-proof accurate: once built, his motor performed
flawlessly. During his lifetime, Tesla saw it become accepted as
the standard for electric motors throughout the world. It vastly
improved production for every major industry, and (Tesla’s
primary dream) alleviated the burdens of countless people in
their daily tasks. Today, if you’ve eaten food from your
refrigerator, used an electric shaver, enjoyed the benefits of
air-conditioning, driven your car, or filled a glass with water
simply by turning on a faucet, you’ve benefited profoundly from
the epiphany of a young student exercising in a Paris park on a
blustery February afternoon in 1882.
Tesla’s experience because exercising seems to have given him an
edge that helped him achieve the creative inspiration of a
lifetime. His was an astounding experience, I believe, of divine
inspiration--given to one who, as a near-candidate for the
priesthood, certainly understood it and was undoubtedly seeking
a Moving Experience
suggesting that exercise or travel will necessarily open any of
us to such an insight that changes the world. But it may open us
more fully to inspiration from God that changes our life, or
that helps us realize our potential in important ways. If you
are looking forward to a vacation trip this summer, anticipate
it not only as a time of leisure, but as one when God may break
through with guidance that you greatly need. And make a habit of
seeing daily travel and exercise as an opportunity to think more
clearly, with the mind of Christ, about your life.
And, as you
study Scripture, be alert to the many examples of those who
received critical inspiration from the Lord while they were on
the move. We see time and again how simply getting ourselves in
motion can make all the difference.