Greetings from Rubble Town, especially to those who are rebuilding their lives at ground zero.
This month I'm going to write again about what I've been learning in the heart of darkness and in the middle of mess.
This month I'm writing about a lesson that's very fresh in my heart and very real in my experience.
I'm writing about the importance of rebuilding your nest near God's altar.
I'm talking about rebuilding and re-creating in God's presence, with his people, not on your own.
Let me tell you a bit of my story.
I came into this new year with a hunger that I'd not known in a long time - a hunger for the people and the presence of God.
I had been in a God-ordained season of hiddenness. Tucked away in the heart of my Father, I had embraced the solitude that he'd advocated and enjoyed a fresh revelation of the fact that he is jealous for me - profoundly jealous. Even if I sometimes couldn't feel his presence, I knew he was there, tenderly appealing to me, whispering words of hope and healing. I knew he was all around me. Like King David, I knew that there was and is nowhere that I can go from his presence.
But this season of solitude was not meant to last forever. I had been wooed into the desert for a restoration of intimacy with the Father. But at the turn of the new year I awoke with a new longing - a desire for his presence and his people.
When that came I realised that it was time to come out of the wilderness.
It was time to come out of isolation.
It was time to find an altar and build my nest there.
Immediately I was confronted by a choice. There is after all a vast difference between hiddenness and hiding.
Hiddenness is something that the Father allows at certain moments in our journey. When we find ourselves in the rubble - whatever that rubble looks like - he sometimes grants us time in which we go to him on our own so that we can hear his voice without the distractions of Job's well-meaning comforters.
But then there comes a time where divinely-permitted hiddenness can morph into a humanly motivated hiding.
That is not healthy.
His hiddenness and our hiding are galaxies apart.
Hiddenness is what sons and daughters embrace.
Hiding is what orphans crave.
When God hides us, it heals us.
When we hide, it often harms us.
So my biggest choice was not to collude with the orphan tendencies in my heart, tendencies that lead to self-imposed exile and isolation.
My choice was not to join the swelling ranks of those who have left local churches, protesting that churches aren't necessary or that they don't offer what they need.
I knew that I could never have the revelation of the Father while at the same time avoiding and even undermining his family.
I had to choose to respond in the Spirit as a son not react in my flesh as an orphan.
The flesh isolates.
The Spirit integrates.
It was time to reconnect with the people and the presence of God.
That was the choice.
King David knew a thing or two about rubble. His was very public and self-created. Yet after his heartfelt repentance (so poignantly recorded in Psalm 51), he clearly began to experience an ache for the people and the presence of God. He sensed the call to reconnect with the Father and with the Father's family.
This call came in the form of a yearning - one so powerfully and lyrically expressed in Psalm 84.
I find it hard to look at and read these words with dry eyes.
How lovely is your dwelling-place,
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh cry out
for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young -
a place near your altar,
Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you.
There's so much that I could say about this, but I'll confine myself to one thought.
David looked at the birds.
'They build their nests near the heart of God's presence, in the house where his people gather to worship.'
That's what he saw.
That's what he sang.
And that's what was awakened in me.
Okay, I'm just a tiny swallow - like those that used to dive and soar around my father's house in Norfolk when I was a boy.
But even swallows and sparrows long to build their home near God's altar.
If it's good enough for the birds, then it's good enough for me.
And here's the incentive.
The swallows and the sparrows build their nests near God's altar because this is where they can give birth. This is where they may 'have their young.'
What does that mean?
It means creativity.
The reason why it's so important to transition from exile to return and from isolation to community is simply this: the nearer you get to the presence and the people of God, the greater your productivity and creativity will be.
If we want to enter a season of new and indeed unparalleled creativity, then we cannot do that far away from the altar. It can only be done near the altar.
Furthermore, if we want to enter a season of new and indeed unparalleled creativity, then we cannot do that far away from God's people. It can only be done among his people.
God opens new doors for us in community, not in isolation.
As David said in Psalm 34 (the Message),
Blessed are you who run to him...
Worship opens doors...
So, to cut a long story short, my desire for the presence and the people of God has led to a major transition involving relocation.
The longing that was awakened in me has caused me to build a nest.
That nest was not primarily motivated by the landscape and the view (though both are breath-taking).
It was not primarily motivated by the need to be near great friends (though that was without doubt a factor).
It was motivated by a desire to become a part of a people where the presence of God is truly welcomed, where divine kindness is unmistakably evident, and where creativity is unleashed in connection, not isolation.
So if you're in Rubble Town right now, you may be in a time of God-ordained hiddenness.
But if that's somehow morphed into orphan-hearted hiding, then pray for a Davidic longing to rebuild your life near God's altar - the place where his people gather and where his presence is felt.
It is the place where doors open.
It is the place where tiny birds engage in great creativity.
It is the place where healing happens and where hope is born.