From the Heart

An unusual—and unanticipated—thought came to mind recently when I was asked to describe what I miss the most about spending time in Israel, now that I no longer travel there.

To say that visiting the Holy Land is a once-in-a-lifetime experience is an understatement. Walking the land, meeting the people, and returning to my favorite places always felt like the renewal of a first-time awakening.

I loved being in the company of Christians making the journey for the first time. As we would motor past verdant fields carpeted with bright red anemones and places we’d known about since Sunday School days—where Jesus walked, taught, and ultimately changed their worlds—I’d see the awe in their faces and often the tears in their eyes.

Rounding the last curve above Tiberias that suddenly unveils a spectacular vista of the Sea of Galilee was, perhaps with the exception of viewing Old Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, the most impressive aspect of finally “being there.”

Looking back over all those unforgettable treks, I think of the singing. Yes, the singing. I wondered why, and then it struck me. The singing expressed what nothing else could in quite the same way. It revealed what was transpiring in the hearts of eager Christian pilgrims who came from diverse economic, social, and denominational backgrounds and held individual opinions. Yet there was a unifying commonality: We all sang the same wonderful songs of faith.

And we sang spontaneously. That aspect came to my attention most vividly one night as the group I was leading walked to the viewing room of a tower high above the shepherds’ fields outside Bethlehem. Through the soft moonlight shadowing the terraced olive groves were lights dotting the rustic little town where Jesus was born. We stood for a moment, and then someone began to sing. No one announced a selection or suggested a favorite. The songs simply came, one after another, until every familiar carol was sung. Those believers, young and old, knew them all.

I thought about the singing as the tour continued. At every significant site, everyone wanted to sing. Some didn’t do it very well, but all did it with unrestrained gusto. Then it came to me. These people had brought those songs with them over thousands of miles. Not in suitcases or satchels, but in their hearts.

They were singing from their hearts. And that says a great deal about what true Christians are made of and what sets Christianity apart from virtually every other religion on the planet. This state of heart expresses the very essence of faith in Christ and the undying love He brought to Earth.

Impressive is the fact that worshipers from around the planet are drawn to the land where Jesus lived, died, exited the tomb, and ascended back to His Father. A veritable tapestry of humanity stretches over the sites His followers revere. It is awe-inspiring and reveals the unity of the body of Christ, which knows no borders, political conformity, or divisive cultural constraints.

And though traveling to ancient civilizations can be a fascinating and mind-broadening educational experience, it is not like going to Israel. In other places, you see artifacts and relics of ancient ways of life. But there is little beyond the stones, crumbled cities, and tombs of once-revered figures who rose to prominence, endured for a time, then left—never to return.

True Christians, on the other hand, bring with them a love not confined to an exhumation of days gone by. We bring the love of the risen, living Savior and a desire to know more of Him at every turn in the dusty road. We bring our hearts to be filled with more of Him. And we find what we’re looking for because seeing Israel opens the Book for us and helps us read God’s Word with greater depth, perception, and reverence. It is a Book that points to Him.

So we sing. And little wonder that we do. The truth that He is alive and lives within us is irrepressible, filling us with thanksgiving, love, and an expectation that surpasses anything known or knowable in any other theater of life. Jesus lives, and so do we. Amen.

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