I returned home from ten days in Israel just a few weeks ago. It was perhaps the greatest adventure of my life so far. I don’t think I’ve even scratched the surface of all that this trip will turn out to mean to me. But here’s a taste.
I watched the waves of the Mediterranean crash against the ruins of Pilate’s palace, where Paul was likely held on house arrest. I floated in the Dead Sea, hedged in on one side by the mountains from which Moses viewed the Promised Land. I rode in a boat on the Sea of Galilee, singing “Spirit, lead me where my trust is without borders” where Jesus walked on water and calmed a storm. I stood in the synagogue built directly on top of the synagogue in Capernaum where Jesus taught. I looked out over the land where He spent most of His ministry and realized I perhaps understood why the Creator would choose this beautiful and simple, yet world-changing, piece of His creation.
I walked in the places where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, where Jeroboam built an altar that turned Israel’s hearts to idolatry, where David and his mighty men found refuge from the desert and from Saul, where Hezekiah’s tunnelers carved out a channel where water still runs 2,700 years later, where Herod the Great built up his ego and soothed his paranoia with massive fortresses, where John baptized Jesus in the Jordan, where Jesus withdrew into the wilderness to fast and face temptation, and where He rode a donkey down from the Mount of Olives and up to the Temple Mount during His triumphal entry.
I rejoiced coming into the city where David conquered, Solomon prospered, and Jesus turned the world upside down. From the place where Jesus may have wept over its people, I felt compassion for them, too. I joined with other young believers beside the place where the church likely first received the Holy Spirit to pray over this complex, beautiful, and most significant city as the sound of the sorrow, lies, and division within it blared from loudspeakers above.
I prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, wondering what words I could possibly offer in the place my Savior sweat drops of blood. I sang in a church beside the Pool of Bethesda, where Jesus healed a man, and marveled at what felt like my own miracle—that the group of believers who sang with us was from my own tiny, cornfield-encircled, Christian college alma mater. I felt the weight of darkness in the place where the glory of God once dwelt with Israel, its destruction prophesied by Jesus and its control now in the hands of a false religion. I listened to the desperate words of Psalm 88 in the room where Jesus was first questioned by Caiaphas—and thought of Immanuel sitting in the dark, on the cold stone floor, abandoned by His friends and arrested by those He came to save, waiting for the sentence He knew would be handed down. I saw the different places where it is believed He could have been crucified and buried—at one, pouring out praise for the fact that both tombs are empty, and at the other, shaking my head at the gross religiosity that has so many people behaving like a place has more power than a Person.
Of course, I won’t deny that this place—this promised land—was special to me, too. But it was because I encountered that Person at every turn. God is still active in the place where He first made Himself known. And He flooded my mind, heart, and soul with joy and awareness. I lived every moment engaged, engrossed, and enthused by the history and the humanity of stories I’ve heard all my life. I understood them better. I felt the reality of them. I stepped into them. Because they really happened. And I have never been more convinced of that in all my life.
These are the things, among many others, that I experienced on my trip to Israel. But some things happened beyond the experiences themselves. Things that I hope will stick with me as much as—if not more than—the memories of the places we saw and the history we heard. Amidst all of the amazing moments, this is what God was doing behind the scenes in my heart, mind, and soul:
My faith was reaffirmed. I know many people see the Holy Land and are still not convinced, but being there only strengthened my faith. I have questions, but they are questions borne of confidence and curiosity. I’ve seen archaeological and geographical evidence with my own eyes that shows the truth of Scripture. I know that in my humanity I will still need to cling to the prayer, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” But I’ve never experienced a more direct answer to a prayer for faith than I did in Israel.
The Bible came to life before my eyes. Scripture has been a constant in my life. I learned many of the stories as a child and knew them by heart. As an adult, I don’t just see stories in this Book anymore—I see His story. I find identity, understanding, truth, purpose, faith, life—because of what the Bible teaches me about Him.
During my trip, I quickly understood what people mean when they call Israel “the fifth Gospel.” It really is like I have read another book. Not one that added to what the Bible says, but one that has enriched my understanding of it. Now, when I read Scripture, I pay much more attention to the place names. Not only does the geography add some helpful historical context, but it’s like my imagination got a badly needed set of contact lenses. When I was in Israel, I imagined things happening in the places right in front of me. Looking out over the Valley of Elah, I saw Goliath pacing in front of Saul’s army, taunting them day by day, until David stepped out to meet him with a sling in his hand and a fire for God’s name behind his eyes. And now, I can draw on this memory and all the others, sifting through those pictures to time travel once again.
I saw the humanity of Jesus. I previously understood the theology of Jesus laying aside His divine nature to become human. Fully God, yet fully man. I got it intellectually—as much as you can understand such a paradox. But in Israel, the reality of Jesus as a human man was almost startling. The places He walked, the things He touched, tasted, smelled, heard, saw—they were all around us. Suddenly it didn’t seem like such a stretch of imagination for Him to have been there, in a physical body, with hands and feet, arms and legs, a voice, a laugh, a smile—walking down this hill, sitting on this rock, listening to the lap of the water on this lake. He was real. He was here. And that makes the rest of the story all the more wonderful.
I was inspired to live intentionally in every moment. The Gospels don’t record every moment of Jesus’ life and ministry, but from what we read, we know that He lived with purpose. He didn’t waste His time. Whether He was praying, teaching, healing, building relationships, or even resting—He had His Father’s will in mind. And with nearly every moment of my time in Israel feeling purposeful, unwasted—I carried back with me a desire to redeem the time in my daily life as well. As one of the leaders on our trip said, “Life is the summation of what we do with a moment.” Like Jesus, I want to be intentional in my words, actions, relationships, and in the individual moments that make up my life. Because I, too, want to have my Father’s will at the forefront of my mind.
I was reminded of the purpose and beauty of the church. From a boat out on Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee), I looked out at the shore, mountains encircling all around. Over the boat’s loudspeaker, the song switched from “Oceans” to a cheesy but beautiful version of “Sanctuary.” And I thought of Jesus making His way from village to village around this lake, to people who traveled to the Temple in Jerusalem to worship several times a year. Yet, with Jesus on the scene, God Himself was there. The sanctuary had come to them. And after He ascended, He would send His Spirit back to those few who believed. The presence of God with them always. They would be the sanctuaries. Their bodies would be the Temple. And I thought of all these little sanctuaries running up and down these hills and mountains and this country and preaching the good news to more little sanctuaries that scattered out to neighboring countries and continents and hemispheres and centuries. That was the Church then, and that is the Church now. We are the Temple of our God. We are the body of Christ. We bring His Spirit with us wherever we go.
I worshiped. With all this, how could I not? In a boat on the lake. On the shore. In a random multipurpose room with ugly curtains on the top floor of a hotel in Jerusalem. In a beautiful, ancient church. By the Garden Tomb. Walking a narrow trail on the side of a mountain near Jericho. Sitting in Gethsemane. Riding on the bus, looking out the windows with wonder for every mile. My mind stood gaping at every moment. My heart leapt for joy with every beat. And the Spirit within me smiled sweetly, pointed, and said, “Look, Laura. Look.” In awe, I looked.
In awe, I will keep looking.
If you’re interested in seeing pictures and reading more in-depth posts about each day of the trip, check out the blog I kept for the church here.