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Getting outside the camp

There’s a tumult of noise downstairs, squealing and toy-stealing and the rhythmic pounding of four chasing feet, as I tuck myself away, pretending to ignore it all.

I piece together study notes that were morning-scribbled weeks ago from the first words of Psalm 2. There is verse one and a reference to explore, boxed out to mark the importance. I read the words of Acts 24:25-26 in the light of Psalm 2:1. But then, I have to back up to the beginning of the chapter for context. And then back up another three chapters for the backing-up back story.

It takes me a while to see, but I realize that he has just astonished me once I do. I re-read the chapters in lengthy detail and wonder: “Is this a rabbit trail? Am I wasting my time here?” But I get all the way through the narrative and see how the story perfectly mirrors the psalm. I decide to keep it, turn back to Psalm 2, check the reference in my Bible’s margin one more time when I realize: God did it again. He pulled His signature speaking-move with me: the accidental cross-reference. And it’s possibly the most robust “accident” to date.

The original reference was Acts 4:25-26, where the words of Psalm 2 are collectively quoted by Peter and John and a number of their companions. But I had noted Acts 24 instead, where a chapters-long insurrection story is wrapped up with a tumultuous, angry mob and Paul’s ultimate, wrongful arrest.

I spend an hour, maybe more, looking into words like insurrection and sedition, tumult and dissension – words that aren’t a familiar part of everyday conversation.

Four days later, Wednesday happens.

Suddenly, I know: God had run four steps ahead of me.

I sit with it for a few days – re-reading the story, hashing out Psalm 2, trying to make sense of the timing of it all. As I do, I find myself empathizing with the arresting commander in Acts 21, right there in the middle of the Jerusalem mob.

The entire place is stirred up – the full city. Everyone is yelling. Some of them, admittedly, aren’t even sure what they are yelling about, but they go along with the crowd anyway. “The tumult was so loud and so confusing that the arresting commander could not ascertain the truth,” verse 34 reads. So Paul is taken into the barracks and, as he is, the mob follows angry and violent. So Paul has to be carried by the soldiers just to find a safe place for a rational conversation.

I feel myself desperately carving out quiet, backing into the barracks and away from the mob of social media to catch my breath, get my bearings. Because, when tempers fly, everyone talks and no one listens.

I look up the word barracks. It’s rendered “castle” in the KJV, a compound of two Greek words: para (beside or near) and emballō (to throw in, cast into). The word, parembolē refers to the barracks of the Roman soldiers which, in Jerusalem, is in the castle of Antonia. But it also refers to the Old Testament Israelite encampment. And just outside of it? The tabernacle sat set apart and alone, where the Ark of the Covenant rested and the presence of God dwelled. And before the tabernacle had time to be built, even then, Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet with God (Exodus 19:17).

It’s time we get outside of the camp. It’s time to get away from the noise, away from the tumult to find the quiet solitude. Because when voices escalate big and loud, fighting to be heard, the voice of God whispers small. And the only time Jesus ever cried out with a loud voice was when He was dying – outside of the city.

I don’t know about you, but as the war of social words rages on, I want to throw myself into the throne room of the King just beside it, set apart from it. Because entering His throne room never amounts to insurrection, but it is only ever entered through His outside-the-camp death and subsequent resurrection.

But what’s after? When you leave His sacred barracks and come back into the camp, the noise, the rest of your day – what then?

“Preach the Word!” Paul says in 2 Timothy 4:2. “Don’t hold back!” Proclaim and publish it and all matters pertaining to it. Be ready, perched upon it, presently and actively in it, in season and out. When it’s convenient and when it’s not. But, in order to do that, you must be proficient in it. And that comes from the regular practice of entering His presence and studying His Word – in season and out.

Run to His presence outside the camp through the rain and the dark. Through summer-warmth and springtime-blooms. Through injuries and anxieties and sometimes-unsure footing, so that you can hold yourself up to the light of His Word. And the chaos up to the light of His Truth.

I think about the running and the reading and the call-to-publishing of it all and realize: studying God’s Word isn’t running in a one-size-fits-all shoe. Sure, you can try, and might even get used to it after awhile – adapting to the blisters, learning to shuffle just right so the shoes don’t go flying. But once you get fitted with the proper shoe that hugs your running-stride and supports your Grandmother’s inherited arch, man, you can run for days.

Let me tell it to you straight: all the running outside the camp and Bible-reading in the world doesn’t mean a lick if you aren’t doing it in a way that’s custom-fitted to the way your brain retains the information. The one-size-fits-all reading shoe is worth about as much as a broken shoestring. Don’t be fooled by the name: a Quiet Time doesn’t have to be quiet-quiet if you’re an audible-learner. And being still and knowing He is God can be stilling your mind if you’re a kinesthetic one. (Turns out: even running is a form of worship.)

The downstairs tumult gets louder, more insistent, inching closer to lunchtime, and Josh’s job is calling. But there’s one last thing you need to know: the difference between you right now and Paul back then? Nobody is going to carry you to into the barracks. You’ll need to lace up your running shoes and do that on your own. And I might not be bearing you on my shoulders, but I can at least help get your running off on the right foot.

I’ve put together a handful of Quiet Time tips for each of the seven different learning styles. Whether you are visual, auditory, verbal, or kinesthetic; logical, social, or solitary. These learning-tricks will help to set you up for success as you prepare for morning-studying in the throne room of our King. (You can get it for free below.)

I’ll tell you what, all that noise is about to get noisier before the city goes back to its work. And this is the time we need to be getting to ours.

If you need me, I’ll be over here. Outside the camp.

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