There was trouble when the morning dawned.
The fifteen of us arrived after a near-sleepless 10-hour train trip from Delhi to Varanasi, India the afternoon before. After lunch with our missionary couple hosts and some time prayer walking along the Ganges River, we finally settled down at our hotel after a home-cooked dinner. Most of our team didn’t know three of our leaders fell to a stomach illness in the early morning hours and required a trip to the local hospital.
We woke up to the disheartening news. I personally wondered if we’d continue with the original plan to boat along the Ganges and tour the city to witness the spiritual oppression that we were praying for God to lift off of the people of Varanasi.
Fortunately, our missionary friend took up the helm and led us that morning over the waters and in and through the city where Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam had convened centuries ago to pose a present barrier to those in need of the love of Jesus Christ.
As we floated on the river, the ceremonies taking place where people burn the bodies of deceased family and spread the ashes in the river rendered us speechless.
Walking the narrow, crowded streets, we could feel the hopelessness in the thick, hot air as we passed storefronts and carts with vendors peddling tiny figurines, incense and pujas (gifts) to offer to gods that don’t exist.
We witnessed aggressive monkeys slapping pujas out of the hands of worshippers and thought it fitting. Even the monkeys seemed to object.
While there were many smiles from locals, the eyes didn’t match. There was darkness there. There was void.
As the morning grew toward afternoon, a collective silence fell over us. We had all been praying together and on our own and yet, the oppression permeated the city like a fog.
Back to our missionary friend. No stranger to the weight of Varanasi, he knew what our team needed. After driving to a building on a hill overlooking the city, we filed out and seemed to breathe in fresh air for the first time. The incense-tinged smell of death and decay were gone. The noises below were muted. Our friend explained we were at a rare Christian ashram, a communal house for prayer. For the next two hours, the fog lifted and we were able to journal, worship, pray and reflect on the greatness of God and how small the problems afflicting Varanasi must seem to Him.
We all agreed we had been refreshed by this time and could trust in God’s love for the people below as we continued our journey.
Maybe you’re pressed down right now as you pray for family, friends, even problems that afflict you. Maybe the thick air of doubt, the smell of failure, or even the death of dreams plague you and your loved ones. Maybe your eyes aren’t matching the smile you put on your face to get through the day. Maybe prayer seems difficult in the middle of the fight.
Could it be that God is calling you to find a personal “ashram” in the busy city of your life by drowning out the noise and seeking Him?
You might be reminded how little those problems must appear to Him and will find His help when the morning dawns.
“To the choirmaster. Of the Sons of Korah. According to Alamoth. A Song. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns.” – Psalm 46:1-11
“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” – Matthew 6:6
And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. – Mark 6:31
“But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.” – Luke 5:15-16