Brown. Lots of brown. That’s what your eyes first see when you land in the Middle East. The geography has its own beauty, but even the rolling hills look thirsty for some green. What you can’t see from the plane is a wearied, misdirected spiritual thirst; I expected the dust oppression, but not the spiritual oppression. 

When my husband and I made our way across the world to Jordan, I was excited to hit the trails where Jesus walked in Jordan and Israel. These places would be the physical locations I’ve only ever read about in my Bible.

But the more we saw as we walked along the Jordan River, through the streets of Jerusalem and into the fields of Bethlehem, the more oppressed I felt. It was like at each site, invisible weights dropped onto my soul.

Each place we visited had something in common: People worshiped the places instead of God. This made me realize how easily we become distracted by whatever is around us. And we begin worshiping the distraction instead of God.

What Was Missing

I first truly noticed this at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, where people in the Jewish faith go to pray. Custom holds they are crying out to God to send the Messiah and restore their city and His temple. 

I cannot presume to know the hearts of those Jewish men and women, nor what they were praying for that day. But I do know my Messiah has come, and His Name is Jesus. So, alongside the awkwardness that came with observing those in fervent prayer, I felt deep sorrow. The distraction of the Jewish people is their city and the rejection of Jesus as the Messiah. And if their prayers reflected those distractions, then their hope will disappoint them when they eventually understand the truth of who Jesus is.

I noticed throughout the rest of the trip many distractions these historically significant places held among people of various religions. 

Those in the Catholic faith lit candles and kissed the ground where Jesus entered the world as a baby. Those in the Muslim faith erected their own temple where God’s temple once stood. And those in the Jewish faith prayed to reclaim a city that no longer belongs to them.

What was missing in all these places? The worshiping of God. Jesus. God’s gift of forgiveness. The fact that we don’t have to earn our way into Heaven by following rules, or pray for the Messiah to come. He already has.

Witnessing all this distraction burdened me. I ached for the men and women trying so hard to perfectly follow laws and regulations in their imperfect worlds. Who were worshiping the places of Jesus instead of Jesus Himself. And who were doing all they could to ensure the god of their religion was known above all else.

But as I looked around and saw very little trace of the Christian God, I knew in my heart He wasn’t actually missing from these places. I just had to look a little harder to see Him through the distractions.

My Wake-Up Call 

God never leaves us, and He never abandons us. Even in those cities where the devil has thousands of people believing his lies about who God is, God is still there.

I had to choose to believe that. And so I prayed. That was the only thing I could do, really. I walked to the Western Wall, placed my hands on the stones, and beseeched God to reveal Himself to these people.

And to the rest of us.

You see, I realized how Satan does all he can to distract every one of us. In the Middle East, he distracts with other religions — their rules, relics, rituals. In the U.S., he distracts with busyness, offensiveness, with self-love. We’re all worshiping something, and for so many of us, that something isn’t God.

This doesn’t happen because God is missing; God never leaves us, and He never abandons us. But it’s easy to focus on the distractions when we give up looking for Him. How often am I distracted by the things around me? How often am I not actually worshiping God because I’m caught up in whatever is right in front of me?

A Call to Prayer

Seeing all those people with misdirected worship was a wake-up call that Satan’s working to distract us even in the places where Jesus once walked. It gave me a burden to pray for those who need their own wake-up call.

And it reminded me God never actually leaves us. Our gaze might wander to other things and lose sight of Him, but He’s always ready to welcome us back, love us and receive our worship of Him and Him alone.

I don’t feel the spiritual oppression as intensely as I did in the Middle East, but I still bear the burden to pray for those distracted by other religions. That’s a burden, though, I will gladly carry.