During my last trip to Israel, my family and I collectively decided that we must make a visit to the Kotel (Western Wall) in the Old City (Jerusalem.) Making this journey however, is not necessarily a simple one.
Watch the video below to follow along on our adventure:
The Kotel Video:
We began by piling into our little red rental car and cruised up and down the winding Judaea roads into the city. As we neared Jaffa gate I immediately smiled as I took in the lively scene of musicians, juice stands, bagela (a type of bread) carts and families enjoying the sunshine.
I absolutely adore capturing the insanely unique mixture of modern and ancient elements Israel holds and sharing it with the rest of the world. There is truly no place like it.
Photos by: Liat Nesher
"In days to come Jacob will take root, Israel will bud and blossom and fill all the world with fruit." (Isaiah 27:6)
My mouth watered at the juice stands with fresh fruit and vibrant veggies on display squeezed down into golden liquid for a couple coins.
I find it incredible that after years of sitting desolate and barren the fact that Israel exports fruit all around the world is a fufillment of prophesy that's coming true in my generation!
A beautiful reminder that God can take the empty, barren places in our lives and in an instant turn them around to produce fruitfulness.
As we continued on our way my sensitive ears picked up on some guitar from down the street. I curiously walked and to my surprise saw a majestic looking orthodox Jewish guitarist plucking out the most original version of 'Hotel California' I've ever heard. I had to laugh and claim it as one of my "Only in Israel moments."
Only in Israel:
- Only in Israel do you stumble across an orthodox Jewish man playing 'Hotel California' on his old fender guitar across from a shopping strip.
"Sing praises to the Lord, who dwells in Zion!" (Psalms 9:11)
One of my favorite things about Israeli/Jewish culture is how much music is embedded into our every day lives.
Melodies have been carried down though ancient chanted prayers from generation to generation and become a treasured part of our worship.
It's common to see musicians set up with an instrument and mic singing their hearts out often to songs with themes of thanking God, blessings and overcoming the challenges of life.
While innovation, science and technology is highly valued and encouraged in our education system, creative arts are as well. Music, dance and fine arts are woven through the fabric of our society and stand out as carrying great importance throughout Jewish culture as well as within biblical history.
Our journey to the Old City continued. Parking as close as possible we walked through Jaffa gate immediately bombarded by merchant owners calling out “hey, my friend, I have a deal for you! Come inside.” *insert heavy accent here*
I simply smiled and shook my head. I was often mistaken for a nonchalant tourist with my dslr camera and blonde head of hair in the sea of people.
I dodged a taxi whizzing by as we debating our next action.
After chatting with a taxi driver and turning down his outlandish fee we decided to make the rest of the journey on foot travelling through the Arab market.
Tips to Survive the Arab Market:
You look straight ahead, watch your step and shut out any calls coming from inside the stores. If you give them any attention or hold even the slightest amount of hesitation they will seize the opportunity to talk you into buying whatever they're selling. With inflated prices and ridiculous, often degrading comments I tend to avoid engaging with the store owners altogether. It can be a great place to snag some cool souvenirs to bring back with you, just make sure you aren't getting ripped off!
Despite the overwhelming hustle and bustle of the marketplace I love all the glowing lights illuminating the colorful beads and highlighting the beautiful jewelry on display. I breathed in the pleasing aroma of the various spices and oils among the cheap t-shirts and postcards.
A perfect mix of ancient and modern living once again.
My brother, Avi, glanced up at the signs “I think we’re almost there, lets turn left next.”
I smiled at him and bobbed my head in agreement. I completely trusted his sense of direction that was… er.. slightly lacking in my own capabilities. Avi lumbered behind us staying quiet acting as our every trusty navigator down the worn, stone steps and silent bodyguard keeping a watchful eye on our family.
The stores began to dwindle down and an opening emerged that told us we were close to our destination. After passing through security we were finally here!
I clutched my prayer requests scrawled out onto a strip of paper as is customary when visiting the Western Wall.
I approached the looming wall and placed my hands on the ancient stones. There I began to be present with God alongside hundreds of other women simply there to seek our heavenly father.
In this season of my life I've been so incredibly humbled to a place of trust and surrender to God expressed through sincere worship and prayer because of circumstances forcing me into complete dependency in Him.
I'm still on this journey of trying to understand and fully grasp the Power found in God's Presence and in no way have it down perfectly but rather am sharing what I'm learning in the process.
As I reflected on my trip to the beautiful Old City with wonderful sounds, smells and sights I felt God speak to me some valuable truths about my own spiritual journey.
In order for us to reach the Kotel (Western Wall) we had to journey through the busy market streets. God showed me how that's a perfect analogy to my own walk of faith with Him.
I tend to struggle to reach a place of simply resting in Him, spending one on one time in prayer, being still and getting to know who He is. My tendency is to want to hustle, get stuff done and prove myself. I long to be productive and purposeful which causes me to miss out on the peace and power found in his Presence.
In order to reach a place of being present with God and finding space to fully seek His face we battle with the distractions and overwhelming call of the world to accumulate more ‘stuff.’
Just like I had to ignore the enticing items for purchase all around us while walking through the market; we have to battle the daily temptations to live a performance driven life and the desire to feed our flesh with materialistic items that aren't the priority in our life.
Just as Death and Destruction are never satisfied, so human desire (the eyes of a man) is never satisfied. (Proverb 27:20)
I want to clarify that I don't think there's anything wrong with having nice things.
I do think however that our obsession with image and status gained through the possessions of expensive trinkets and toys (*cough* sports car *cough* Louis Vuitton handbags) can disrupt our journey and keep us from reaching a place of being in God's presence because we're so concerned with pleasing other people.
Do not overwork to be rich; For riches certainly make themselves wings;They fly away like an eagle toward heaven. (Proverb 27:20)
We are often fueled by an unhealthy desire to satisfy our flesh with unnecessary materialistic items that clutter our lives. This can mean literal physical possessions like that fancy sports car, big house or in ground pool; or it could mean that job promotion, those Instagram followers, that perfect grade on the exam.
None of those things are inherently bad in and of themselves but when they’re driven by the need to people please and receive approval from those around us it can bog us down and prevent us from reaching our destination.
For each one of us there’s a constant battle and balance between BEING and DOING.
We see this in the example of Mary and Martha.
"As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)
I think this passage of scripture is so powerful when applied to our lives. I see myself in this story. I cringe as I think about how often I will open up my heart to God and ask him to come into my home; my life, and instead of sitting as his feet, listening to him, I become distracted like Martha with preparing for the next step of work that needs to get done.
When we busy ourselves with working FOR God instead of being present WITH God we become burdened, overwhelmed, stressed out and exhausted. The danger in this is when we begin comparing ourselves to others around us and become resentful.
I’ve found myself going to God bitterly and spitting out ugly accusations “God I need help! I can’t do all of this on my own! I’ve been left to do all the work and I can’t finish it by myself.” It’s in that place of anxiety God settles my soul by gently answering “quit worrying and start worshipping.”
We are often too busy working for God that we miss the mark and forget about simply being with Him.
One of my favorite things I find that most relaxing is just being in the presence of people I love. In a relationship, friendship or otherwise it’s natural for us to want to be beside that person. You aren’t doing anything for them or talking to them but just sitting next to them and listening to what’s on their heart is often some of the best quality time available to us within relationships with others.
"And He said, "My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest." (Exodus 33:14)
While walking up to pray at the Wall I noticed a young woman in a tight tank top and high slit skirt among those praying. She looked very out of place in the midst of the modestly dressed women with high necked shirts and full, long skirts.
I am in no place to cast judgment on her in any way, there are many small rituals and traditions that visitors aren’t aware of. I was happy she was still able to visit the wall without being made to feel uncomfortable.
It did make me think however about the way I approach God.
I often go to God like that woman at the wall, unaware that what I was clothing myself in was inappropriate for the environment of meeting with God.
I come to him trying to show off, giving him a run down of everything I’ve accomplished, all the hard work I did and wait for his approval. That kind of behavior is out of place.
God loves us for who we are not just what we have to offer him.
"Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. " (Colossians 3:12)
Identity. (Who are we?)
Mission. (What are we called to do?)
The message God has been drilling into me in this season of my life is one of identity. It’s so important for us to understand who we belong to before we can fully step into our purpose here on earth.
Reaching a place of resting in God's presence and spending quality time simply hanging out and getting to know him seems like an "of course, duh" kind of a thing to do. But it's easy to get carried away in accomplishing and striving to fulfill our mission that we forget the way to stay true to ourselves is remembering who we belong to in the first place.
When we know our identity is a loved son/daughter of God we can walk confidently into our calling knowing who's on our side.
Forsaking all the distractions of this world to reach a place of connection to our heavenly father.
Before Yeshua ever began his ministry he made the choice to get baptized and to receive the proud love and approval of God, his abba (father.)
Once we embrace the joy found in the presence of God we find everything we need to live out our calling.
I recently re-watched one of my all time favorite movies The Greatest Showman. If you haven't seen it, you probably should!
While watching it the second time through I realized that the main Character's problem was one of Identity.
He craved the approval of everyone because he grew up being looked down upon. His never ending greed to gain the most luxurious home, status, fame and societal acceptance was driven by a deep desperation to prove his self-worth since he grew up in poverty as a child.
The underlying message of the movie and the one I'm trying to convey through this blog post really boils down to being confident in the love God has for us and remaining secure in our identity as a child of God.
As we walk on our faith journey, we need to remember to focus on reaching a place of experiencing God's presence. We must make a conscious daily choice to shut out the distractions and resist the temptations of the world that try to cheat us out of the real treasure that lies, not within our performance, but in the precious presence of God.
"You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever." (Psalm 16:11)