Running on Empty: Going Into Arabia

Fil Anderson December 6, 2015

This is the 7th week in our Sunday series, “Running on Empty,” by Fil Anderson. If you’ve missed the first 6, catch up here:

  1. The Condition of Your Soul
  2. Hearing the Voice of God
  3. The Fear of Insignificance
  4. What’s True About God & You
  5. Frustrated Desires
  6. Greenhousing Your Life With God

Part 7: Making Space In our Life For God

Going into Arabia…

Last week I said that a healthy, thriving relationship with God is not native to our toxic world. Therefore, for our relationship with God to flourish, it’s essential that we take seriously the greenhousing of our soul and its relationship with God. That means we must learn to pay attention and yield to the provision God makes for us as he provides the best environment in which we will grow in this foreign land. Our soul’s relationship with God will thrive only if we allow God to cherish and nourish us.

Thus, I’ve learned, my desperate need, from time to time, is “to go into Arabia.” The expression is found in a letter Paul wrote to one of the early churches (see Galatians 1:13, 15-17). There Paul points out that after his life-altering encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, he took some time to get away and sort through the issues in his life, to find what mattered most. He “went away into Arabia” so he could think about the ultimate questions of who God was, who he was, and what their relationship meant.

Wholehearted listening…

As I ponder this particular season of solitude and silence in Paul’s life, I imagine him sitting alone in the desert, listening for the sound that’s far more subtle than the whining of the desert wind, quietly and wholeheartedly listening for the whispering voice of God. When I reflect on those occasions when I’ve sensed that God was speaking to me, I’ve always found God’s voice to be a quiet, non-demanding voice. God doesn’t insist that I listen. God never speaks with raised voice. A friend of mine, a biblical scholar, translates the reference to God speaking to Elijah in 1 Kings 19 as “a thin silence.” God’s voice wasn’t heard in the noise of the powerful earthquake, the wind, or the fire; God’s voice was heard in the thin silence.

With my mind’s eye I can see Paul sitting in Arabia some nights until very late, accompanied only by the desert stars. And there, not writing, not planning, not traveling about, not preaching…not doing any of the things he’s most known for today…he quietly carved out the deep convictions of his soul. In solitude he hammered out the beliefs on which he would build the rest of his life. Paul wrestled with the things of God until God possessed him and he possessed God.

Most important & difficult

“Going into Arabia” and communing with God is the single most important, most difficult thing I’ve ever chosen to do. Yet I know of no other antidote for the plague that threatens all of us. The “barrenness of busyness,” more than anything else has robbed my days of meaning and a sense of God’s presence. An endless round of appointments and responsibilities and assignments and details wears me down. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not opposed to hard work. But I am opposed to running on empty.

For that reason, I’ve learned to recognize that when there’s no time for solitude and silence, my activity ceases to be effective. Without listing for God’s quiet voice, my ministry lacks power and authenticity. Without silence, my words lose meaning. When solitude and silence are absent from my life, the best of my intentions warp badly.

Going into Arabia is about being alone, quiet, and entering into the place of focused, concentrated prayer. It’s when the deepest part of me reaches out for the deepest part of God. Taking solitude and silence seriously is one of the surest ways I know to put some worth on my soul, a worth that, perhaps, is the dimension of our life we ignore most often.

  1. What comes to mind when you hear the words solitude & silence?
  2. If solitude isn’t a part of the rhythm of your life, what’s the reason?

Fil Anderson is a spiritual director, conference speaker, writer and retreat leader. He served on the Young Life staff for 25 years. Fil and his wife Lucie live in Greensboro, NC and are parents of 3 adult children. He is the author of Running on Empty: Contemplative Spirituality for Overachieversand Breaking the Rules: Trading Performance for Intimacy with God.

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