Out of habit, he had risen early. He had done so religiously. Nearly everything Nathanael did was enveloped by religious ceremony and observance of the law. From the time he was born Nathanael lived in an occupied country and the only way to survive, as far as he was concerned, was through prayer, religious study and observance of the law. Like you and me, he had few places to which he could escape the turmoil and noise of the day. So, at the beginning and end of each day, this was his escape. This morning he was in one of those places, sitting on the ground, his back against a fig tree, his thoughts escaping his heart and rising in prayer heavenward. That was where he could be found. At first, Nathanael thought the sandaled feet approaching the meadow were of Roman origin. For a brief moment his heart quickened and then settled. Only his closest friends would know where he could be found. He told no one of his morning excursions. Still… he was not one to throw caution to the wind, reaching down toward his feet he pulled his sandals on and uttering a quiet prayer, he stood to his feet. Whoever it was they were coming fast and directly to the meadow.
It was almost comical the way Phillip burst into the meadow. He was sweating profusely and despite his heavy breathing, he was grinning like he had just pulled off the world’s greatest joke. When he saw Nathanael and the obvious fear etched into his face, Phillip slid to a stop and started to laugh.
“What? You thought I was a whole garrison of soldiers coming up the path?”
Nathanael leaned over and mockingly clutched his chest. “Phillip, you scared a year out of me!”
They looked at one another and started to laugh. Then, almost cryptically, Phillip said, “We found Him! No, wait. He found us. Or was it the other way around?”
He laughed at Nathanael’s obvious confusion.
Nathanael frowned. Sometimes Phillip frustrated him to no end. “You found who?” he growled. He could feel his fear slowly transforming into irritation.
“The one you’ve been coming to this meadow to pray for all these years, the Messiah!”
That stopped Nathanael short. There had been rumors, but… Could it be? There had always been rumors, especially of late and Nathanael wasn’t easily convinced. Besides, Phillip could very well be joking or even worse, fallen for a messianic con artist.
Phillip, as though he knew what Nathanael was thinking, continued. “We found have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”*
Disgust surged within Nathanael and he exclaimed, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?”
Phillip knew better than to argue and simply said, “Come and see.”
“This better not be a fool’s errand, Phillip!”
Turning to make sure he had left nothing behind, Nathanael followed Phillip back down the path, out of his prayer meadow and back into the world.
When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said to him, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.”
“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Phillip called you.”
Some time ago I experienced a loss that drove me to my knees. That loss turned into a blessing in more ways than one. It drove me to find my own “prayer meadow” and as is the case when the Father allows pain and sorrow to enter our lives, I was given an opportunity to see and experience Jesus in a more vivid and amazing way. However, to be completely candid, I was initially confronted with a choice - to seek Him in prayer or to simply walk away. I’m thankful I didn’t walk away. Instead, I walked to the “prayer meadow” filled with doubts, anger and frustration. What I found there gradually, sometimes unperceptively, changed my understanding of who God is and what it means to moment by moment experience the miracle of Christ.
Imagine what it would be like if each morning we went to our own “prayer meadow”. Found our own tree to sit under and Jesus was there waiting. I think He’d smile and say, “I’m so glad you’re here. I’ve been waiting just for you.” Over the next several weeks I’d like to share with you life’s journey from my own “prayer meadow” and back again. Not as an expert on prayer but rather a fellow traveler that has found strength for the journey.
Nathanael’s experience teaches us that when we have a “prayer meadow” in our lives Jesus sees us, He knows us. Every aspect of Nathanael’s life was known to Christ. He knew Nathanael’s heart. He knew Nathanael’s dreams and his propensity to want proof beyond the shadow of a doubt that Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus knew Nathanael came to see Him with doubt and criticism foremost in his mind. Yet, Jesus invited Nathanael to follow him.
I think of all the times I went to my own “prayer meadow” filled with doubt and even criticism regarding God and His apparent lack of interest in my life and the lives of my friends and family. Still, despite those times, because of Nathanael’s experience, I know Jesus sees us and continues to choose us in much the same way He chose Nathanael to be a disciple.
Which brings us to the following questions: What qualified Nathanael to be chosen as a disciple? Was it his religiosity or his devout commitment to the laws of Moses? No, it was Nathanael’s commitment to the “prayer meadow” despite his growing despair. His daily “prayer meadow” experience with God allowed him to recognize Jesus as the Messiah. Because of daily seeking God out beneath that fig tree Nathanael was able to put aside his doubt that “anything good could come from Nazareth.” Because of his daily prayer meadow experience he was able to recognize Jesus as the Messiah.
*Italicized sections taken from the account found in John 1:43-51, NIV.