January 25, 2013

God's Presence

Sometimes, when things are going wrong, it can be tempting to believe you're all alone in your problems. It's easy sometimes to feel like your back is up against the wall, and it's just you against the world...

But that's not true!

This past Sunday, at the little country church where I pastor, our attendance was particularly low because a lot of our folks were out sick. I know that's a reminder that many people need our prayers, but some of those who showed up seemed to almost take it personally that others were out. On one hand, they cared about their friends, but at the same time, they expressed the notion that if people really wanted to be there, they'd be there. It reminded me of the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 19, where he lamented, "I alone am left!"

But in the middle of the service, my wife chimed in with this beautiful observation, and it seemed to change everything!

The weather was bitter cold outside, and it had been a little cloudy on the way in to church that morning. I wonder how much that contributed to the way people were feeling.

The Sunday School lesson was good and upbeat, and we started the worship service off with hymns of praise, as usual. But when it came time to share prayer requests, even though there were only a few of us, the list of concerns seemed particularly long - especially next to the list of praises, though everyone in the congregation shared multiple praises!

We bowed our heads in prayer, thanking God for the blessings we had seen and turning over our petitions. We prayed for the sick, and for those who were going through hard times, and we prayed that God would use us to be the answer to others' prayers. We prayed for opportunities to share the Gospel, and for people to have open hearts to that message. And among other things, we asked God to let his Spirit fill our church in such a way that people who met us or passed us would be drawn to the light that shines in us. Let it shine in us!

After the Lord's Prayer, when everyone had returned to their seats, that's when Amber spoke up.

"I just have to share this!" she said.

"I don't know how to even say this, but...

The way the sunlight is coming in through the windows... 

It really speaks to me right now...

I just feel like... I can FEEL the Holy Spirit... 

Like the sunlight is the Holy Spirit shining in 
     to let us know that God is with us, and he hears us, and... 

I don't know... 

Does anyone else see what I see?      
Do you feel what I feel?"

Everyone enthusiastically agreed, and the bright light continued to bless us throughout the service. In fact, here's a picture I took on my phone after most everyone had left:

All too often, as I said before, it can be tempting to believe we're alone in our sorrows.
  • If you get sick and nobody calls, you can start to believe nobody cares. 
  • When there's a conflict with someone at work/school, you may think you have to handle it by yourself. 
  • When bills are due and you don't know how you'll have enough money... 
  • When relationships don't work out and someone leaves... 
  • When someone close to you passes away...

But the Good News is that we don't have to be alone - we are NOT alone! We have each other, sure - that's one great thing about family and friends, and it's one of the purposes of the church (Hebrews 10:24-25) - but more than that, we have the promise of God's presence!

Jesus came to earth to be Emmanuel - "God With Us" - and he promised that when he left, the Holy Spirit would come to be with us, to live in the heart of every believer! (see John 14)

One of my favorite passages in the whole Bible is Psalm 139, where David is talking about the depth of God's love. He talks about how God knows him inside out - God notices everything he does or says or even thinks - and then David talks about God's presence:
"Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you."
            - Psalm 139:7-12 (NIV)
It's comforting to know that God is there when we're worshiping at church - that's one thing - but it's another thing entirely to realize that God is with us no matter where we go - whether we sense it or not - no matter what we do, no matter what happens to us or what treacherous path we walk down. God is with us every step of the way!

His light is constantly reaching out to us...
...reaching into the darkness to be with us!

When we realize that, how can we worry?

How can we be afraid? 

How can we feel ANYTHING except JOY 
at the knowledge that we are truly blessed?!

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