I remember being on a hike in the mountains of Wyoming with a couple of friends when I was about 25. We packed in and found a small lake to camp by. Tents up, little stove for food, clear night so we could see there were a gazillion stars. We hung our bags from a tree, so the bears wouldn't get our supplies. We were truly in the beauty of God's nature. My friend Paul said, "This is where my church is. This is where I feel closest to God." The air smelled like pine and was so clean you truly could taste it, the flavor you get out of the air of a freezer when you first open it.
I've walked the beaches of both coasts with friends and family and they have said the same thing. Their church is the solitude of the ocean and the waves washing up on the shore. Just thinking about those places and those moments puts me in a reverent and peaceful mood. I am grateful, hopeful, contemplative, and humble when I am facing the beauty and endless awesomeness of The Lord. I mean mountains, stars, beaches, and oceans combined with solitude will crush the everyday distractions that clutter of lives.
Church can be a poor substitute when compared to the natural sounds and mental solitude, immersed in the beauty of many places on God's earth. What can compare? Small groups? Bible study? Driving in your car with Christian music playing? For your own personal spiritual contemplation, communing with God's natural glory cannot be beat. I really chewed on the idea of this spiritual experience as my ongoing worship. Simple requirements; beautiful natural setting, solitude, commune with nature. I even came up with a fancy name for it, "The Church of Me."
Truth - There are contemplative events that open our hearts and minds to God and the Holy Spirit. They re-energize us and allow us to better listen to Him.
The Trap - Being alone in nature replaces the full gamut of worship.
I've been reading through "The Bible in a Year" program for a number of years now. (Spoiler Alert: Don't read the Bible front to back sequentially, you may lose your mind. The Old Testament informs and builds a base for the New Testament, but it's a dirge.) The program covers the Bible through covering texts of the Old Testament, New Testament, and then always concludes with a Psalm and a Proverb. I tell you this because what has become very apparent to me is how often prophets and Jesus himself, went into the quietness of the wilderness to be alone with God (Luke 11:1).They went to pray, to listen to God, and to rest. This is a very important part of the lives of many of those we consider to be spiritual examples. Jesus' himself frequently followed this practice. However, the practice of worship was not singular. His time in the temple, teaching to his followers and the masses as well as his counsel to the 12 were a part of his demonstration of how we should live our lives. Jesus did not exclusively live in nature, but he did seek time alone in natural settings. He was not only alone in nature, or even mostly in nature. It rejuvenated Him for His work in the uncomfortable, exhausting, and hostile world where the work for His Father needed to be done.
Twice a year our church has a 21-day prayer service when members come to church early in the morning for a period of quiet reflection and solitary prayer. It was originally at 7:00am, and when we moved the starting time from 7:00am to 6:00am, attendance doubled! There is even talk of moving the service to 5:00am. My voice is only a whisper in that conversation and I think 6:00am is just fine, but I digress. The point is that our Savior as a very core value in His life set quiet, reflective prayer forth. That being said, His life and service of the Lord was in the world, not away from the world. His time of prayer was to prepare Him and guide Him in service, not to exclude the world to singularly serve Him.
Beaches, mountains, your car with spiritual music, and other moments of solitude are not your church. They are reflections, peaceful meditations, and prayers. Your quiet allows the Holy Spirit to speak. Your mind, wandering or focused, in those places with an open heart will receive God.
Community worship cannot be replaced with the solitude of nature. It is important to study, which is what His disciples did when they asked Him questions and listened to parables. Worship, which Jesus taught not only at the Last Supper but also before and after His resurrection, gives us a model of the sharing of the Word. His Great Commission provided us the ultimate assignment with a great curriculum and set of examples to follow: The New Testament. Paul did not talk about his journeys through the wilderness, on the oceans or by the paths when he wrote his letters nearly as much as he spoke about the destinations and the people.
Nature as your "church" is really The Church of Me. It is not the church of Jesus. Test that premise. Read the gospels and follow Jesus. Where did He spend most of his time, in the forest or with the people?
Chocolate chip cookies- need chips and need dough. Reflection, meditation, and solitude are the chips. Think of them as daily journaling, walks, hikes, and so forth, things that add flavor to the cookie. The dough is the celebration of God in community. (Ok, all metaphors are imperfect and this last one is an example). We need all in our celebration, rejuvenation, and praise of Jesus. It’s not a trade; it’s part of the completion of worship.