The Apostle Paul writes to his friend and coworker, Titus, and makes this request: "...do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, because I have decided to winter there" (Titus 3:12). In our world of swift travel, it taxes the imagination to think that a journey could take months or even years. Seasons had a profound impact on travel in the ancient world. “Wintering” was the practice of postponing a journey, due to a change in the season. You would plan a long journey knowing you might have to find a place to winter. With travel scheduled in seasons rather than hours, you had to consider where you would live when things turned cold.
Today’s speed and ease of travel threaten to obscure a very important principle. Because I can travel the globe in a matter of hours, I sometimes forget what true progress is. When facing serious set-backs like grief and injury, we need time to recover before our journey continues. Winter sets in, and we must decide how we’ll spend this delay in our progress. We’re so accustomed to quick travel that we've also come to expect quick recovery after loss.
Paul wintered until it was time to travel again. George Washington was forced by encroaching winter to stock up and rest his army at Valley Forge. The good news for Washington was that winter also stopped his enemy cold. Most armies ceased fire during the winter and found a safe place to heal and wait for better fighting weather. Robert E. Lee's favorite place to winter was along the Rapadan River in Virginia. His men would build log churches for nightly meetings, and local pastors would preach great revivals among the troops.
Winter can stop the progress of an army or a world-wide evangelistic ministry like the one Paul was leading. Winter forces us to rely on prayer, because only God can do anything about the weather. In fact, God does not limit himself to an airline schedule. He created us for a world that traveled at a snail’s pace—which means that our souls may, from time to time or season to season, need wintering.
I find myself peeved at set-backs and delays of even seconds in a fast-food line. I cluck my tongue at a long traffic light. Help me understand why I have greater access to the world but experience greater frustration with the briefest delays!
Could you be delayed from your goals for the whole winter? Could you wait for an answer to your prayer for three months or three years? Can you wait for some undisclosed length of time for the Lord to heal your wounds? Certainly he isn’t obligated to keep us informed of his timetable.
Paul tells Titus he’ll be wintering at Nicopolis, a small coastal city in Greece. The city was named for its founder, Emperor Octavion, in celebration of his victory—the Greek word for “victory” is nicos—over Anthony and Cleopatra at Actium. Having doubtless seen the monument to that hollow victory made from the empty hulls of ships destroyed in the battle, Paul settles in for the winter. He knows what it is to rest in real victory. Do we rest, recover, and winter in a place of victorious Christian living? I doubt many of us consider waiting, resting, and healing to be productive activity, much less victorious. I am impatient with delay in the winter of my discontent.
Currently I’m wintering in the seaport town of Mobile, Alabama. It is a place of victory, rest, and hope in Christ—but I get to choose if I will see it that way. My soul winters here until the seasons change and my journey continues. If we’re not careful, we’ll think just like that. Progress is delayed while I winter. In fact, wintering is progress for the soul. Wintering is movement toward prayer and seeking after God. As General Lee demonstrated, wintering is a great time for revival.
I am in a safe place to weep. God has planted my life among a great hearted people. I can weep unexpectantly in my Barbers chair and find a brother in Christ put his arm around me and quietly pray. Thank you, Lord, for my brothers and sisters in Christ at North Mobile. Thank you for their love and prayers. Thank you that in this winter of my sorrow I am safe in a victorious place in Christ, waiting for winter to pass and the sound of battle to begin again. Thank you that in this winter of my soul, I can rest, heal, and pray, finding my strength, wisdom, and direction in you.