Not long ago I was speaking with a young Christian woman for whom I have the greatest regard. She had recently returned from an overseas trip. As someone who has appreciated and benefitted from the opportunities I have had to go abroad, I was very eager to chat with her about her experience.
Before long I asked her how her quiet times had been while away. At this, her face fell. She sheepishly admitted that her Bible reading and prayer had been pretty hopeless. She had prayed on occasions when she’d felt nervous, but there had been nothing like a regular daily devotion. I was a little surprised because—while I know that many Christians struggle in this area—she was not somebody who I’d thought would encounter such difficulties. Sadly, it turned out that she had given a lot of thought to her travel itinerary prior to departure, but much less consideration to maintaining her spiritual growth while gone. Overseas, away from the routines of home, her times with God fell in a heap.
Australians are travelling in ever-increasing numbers. The statistics show this, as do the innumerable Facebook posts from places like Bali, Alaska and Tuscany. For many young people, an overseas experience is considered almost a rite of passage into the world. For older people, and particularly empty-nester retirees, the extended trip (or trips) to foreign lands is almost a given. Not only is this true within society in generally, it is true within the church. Now there are good reasons for Christians to go overseas in certain circumstances, while there are good reasons to stay at home in others. (A proper discussion of whether to travel is beyond this piece. For those interested, I consider this issue in my book – see below.)
I have loved venturing abroad (when it has seemed right to do so) and am very appreciative of those opportunities. I have met great people, seen incredible things, and learned a lot about myself and the world. Most significantly, in my particular circumstances, it has really benefited my relationship with God.
However, from my observations and from speaking with other believers, I am acutely aware that this is not the case for everyone. Travel can also present real dangers for the Christian. Because of this, and in the light of conversations like the one above, I now make a point of speaking with Christians before they go travelling. Whether they are a twenty-something about to embark on a one-month backpacking odyssey, or a retired couple taking a cruise, there are two pieces of advice I give them. The first is: make sure you have your quiet times. (For the second, you’ll have to wait for my next piece.)
I don’t think any Christian has ever resented my giving them this counsel. For some, I suspect, it is a welcome exhortation to give thought to something they realise they have been overlooking. For others, they simply appreciate that I am pastorally concerned for them.
Thankfully, God is with us wherever we go as believers. My favourite travel verse is Psalm 139:9-10:
However, we also need to consciously travel with God; to remain in him (John 15:5). A regular quiet time helps us to maintain and grow in this relationship as we read, reflect, relate, rely and apply. We read the Scriptures, reflect on them, relate to God in prayer, rely on him, and apply what he says to do.
Being abroad can actually help us in this area. If you are on the type of trip where you make your own schedule and priorities, there is no real opposition to you setting aside time to be with God. There are also often long periods when you’re travelling by public transport or waiting at bus or train stations that are tailor-made for Bible reading, reflection and prayer. Furthermore, we often encounter things which —whether because of their beauty or tragedy—can drive us to prayer.
Quiet times will help us live well anywhere. Not only will we draw closer to God, we will be better placed to avoid temptation and make wise decisions, we will be more aware of opportunities to encourage or witness to others that God brings our way, and we will be better able to understand and appreciate the things we encounter in God’s incredible yet fallen world.
If you are travelling, why not set yourself a Bible-reading challenge for your time away? You could read through a large section of Scripture—say, the four Gospels—or get to know a smaller section—perhaps the Sermon on the Mount. You might explore a particular theme, such as mission. You may find it helpful to use Bible-reading notes. One young woman told me she loaded some travel devotionals onto her phone before she left for overseas. And also, plan some of your prayer. Take the opportunity to praise and petition God in particular pre-considered areas.
So when travelling, don’t just plan your physical itinerary, plan your spiritual itinerary. This enables us to travel creation with the ultimate travel guide: our Creator.
Stephen’s book on Christians and travel—Travelling the World as Citizens of Heaven— has just been published and is available to buy online at www.matthiasmedia.com.
Image: Marcin Bajer (flickr.com)