The Presence is Here

Yes, God is with us. And the relationship He wants with me is way simpler than I have made it.

Enoch walked with God … Genesis 5:24 

One of the coolest things I have ever done lately was sitting in the big stuffed rocker beside my granddaughter, eating crackers and listening to music. We didn’t have to say anything, just being there together, savoring each other. I get that feeling about Enoch in the above verse. I don’t think Enoch did anything special. I think he and God just liked being together. Derek Prince put it this way: 

“Enoch just ‘walked with God’ (see Genesis 5:22, 24). As we go on further in the Bible, we meet the great father of faith, Abraham, with his most honorable title, which was ‘friend of God’ (James 2:23). He and God simply enjoyed one another’s company. I sometimes long to get away from all the theology and all the religious formalities and just have a relationship of being God’s friend—walking with Him and enjoying His company. I really believe God loves to be enjoyed by His people.” — Derek Prince 

I got a deeper revelation about this yesterday – maybe a deeper healing too as someone raised in a conditional love-based-on-performance home – as God sent my way this Prince quote and several other verses and messages from fellow bloggers. I love when He does that! Yes, God is with us. I just have to purposely remain aware of that. And the relationship He wants with me is way simpler than I have made it. He just wants me to know that he is sitting there in the rocking chair beside me, enjoying my company, walking along beside me on my dark path, loving me. 

“Just get down on your knees. There is an awful lot you do not need to know to find God. The light shineth, the voice calleth and the Presence is here.” — A.W. Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us 

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? Psalm 139:7 

“As the years advanced I learned to rely upon His presence and lovingkindness regardless of any trials; He assured me in the dark times, and I was able to sing His praises regardless of circumstances. Yet in the darkest times, when I had no voice to sing I silently lifted my hands in surrender to Him. I remember them even today, the overwhelming comfort of His presence reassured me beyond any words I could write for you. It was the presence of His Spirit beyond any doubt.” — Alan Kearns https://devotionaltreasure.wordpress.com/2022/06/21/singing-in-the-dark/  

Why are you in despair, my soul? Why are you disturbed within me? Hope in God! For I shall still praise him for the saving help of his presence. Psalm 42:5 

Image free download from Pixabay

Patches of Joy

A couple of weeks ago I published a blog called Grace Recognized. That is the definition of the Greek word translated “joy” in the New Testament – just recognizing God’s working around us. And many times, just as His voice is not a loud shout, but a still, small voice, His works of grace are found in what C.S. Lewis called “patches of Godlight.” I hope these quotes will bless you and help you recognize these patches of joy. 

“We – or at least I – shall not be able to adore God on the highest occasions if we have learned no habit of doing so on the lowest. At best, our faith and reason will tell us that He is adorable, but we shall not have found Him so, not have ‘tasted and seen.’ Any patch of sunlight in a wood will show you something about the sun which you could never get from reading books on astronomy. These pure and spontaneous pleasures are ‘patches of Godlight’ in the woods of experience.” – C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, San Diego: Mariner, 2002. 

I have a friend who is so deeply connected with God that he can see joy where I expect only sadness. He travels much and meets countless people. When he returns home, I always expect him to tell me about the difficult economic situation of the countries he visited, about the great injustices he heard about, and the pain he has seen. But even though he is very aware of the great upheaval of the world, he seldom speaks of it. When he shares his experiences, he tells about the hidden joys he has discovered. He tells about a man, a woman, or a child who brought him hope and peace. He tells about little groups of people who are faithful to each other in the midst of all the turmoil. He tells about the small wonders of God. At times I realize that I am disappointed because I want to hear “newspaper news,” exciting and exhilarating stories that can be talked about among friends. But he never responds to my need for sensationalism. He keeps saying: “I saw something very small and very beautiful, something that gave me much joy.”  

The father of the prodigal son gives himself totally to the joy that his returning son brings him. I have to learn from that. I have to learn to “steal” all the real joy there is to steal and lift it up for others to see. Yes, I know that not everybody has been converted yet, that there is not yet peace everywhere, that all pain has not yet been taken away, but still, I see people turning and returning home; I hear voices that pray; I notice moments of forgiveness, and I witness many signs of hope. I don’t have to wait until all is well, but I can celebrate every little hint of the Kingdom that is at hand.  

This is a real discipline. It requires choosing for the light even when there is much darkness to frighten me, choosing for life even when the forces of death are so visible, and choosing for the truth even when I am surrounded with lies. – Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son (full quote here https://generositymonk.com/2020/01/27/henri-nouwen-learn-to-steal-and-lift-up-real-joy/

Lord, make me see thy glory in every place. — Michelangelo 

His Right Hand is Free

If God is holding me by my right hand I can’t use it.

Yet I am always with you; 
you hold me by my right hand. 
You guide me with your counsel, 
 and afterward you will take me into glory. 
Whom have I in heaven but you? 
 And earth has nothing I desire besides you. 
My flesh and my heart may fail, 
 but God is the strength of my heart 
 and my portion forever. Psalm 73:23-26 

When I was meditating on these verses I realized that if God is holding me by my right hand I can’t use it. And since I am right-handed anything I tried to do with my left hand would be awkward and malformed.  

The right hand in the Bible is a symbol of strength. Also, “The right side of a man is the side on which God ‘marches’ when assisting him in battle (Isa. 63:12; Ps. 109:31; 110:1, 5) and it is the right hand which God grasps as a symbol of election (Isa. 41:13; 45:1; Ps. 73:23).” i  

Wow, what amazing grace! He has grasped my right hand; He has chosen me! But, if my right hand is in His, I basically can’t do anything in my own strength. I would have to take my hand out of His. That explains my frequent urge to do just that – shake Him off and do it myself. Fearful that things are taking too long, that I’m missing out, afraid He has forgotten me.  

But His word assures us that He will never forget. Yet, I am always with you. He will never leave us or forsake us. And think of this: though His left hand is occupied holding on to me, His right hand is free. And so, “though my flesh and heart may fail” God is my strength and help. He is fighting for me with His mighty right hand. 

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and your right hand delivers me. The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Psalm 138:7-8 (ESV) 

For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. Isaiah 41:13 

Lord, keep my right hand in yours

iJewish Virtual Library “Right and Left” 

Photo, free download from Piqsels

The Good Gift

If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11:13 

At the beginning of the eleventh chapter of Luke the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray. The first word of prayer that Jesus teaches them is “Father.” And one of the only five things that Jesus teaches them to request from the Father is “give us each day our daily bread.”  

Jesus goes on to tell a story of another father (“my children are with me in bed”) who also has the required and requested bread. This father, when his friend comes knocking and seeking and asking for bread, is reluctant to get up and give it. But he finally does “because of the man’s boldness.” Jesus assures the disciples that if they ask, seek, and knock on the Father’s door it will be opened and they will receive. 

We assume he means bread because he has been talking about bread, and because he then goes on to talk about more food, asking the fathers in his audience, 

“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?” (Luke 11:11-12) 

And then Jesus, after bringing us along skillfully thinking about needed daily sustenance, makes this stunning conclusion: 

“If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13) 

What? Wait. I thought we were talking about food – actual food – bread, fish, eggs. But then Jesus says, what you are really hungry for, what you are really knocking, seeking, asking for, your Father will give you – Himself. The Good Gift. 

Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. Mark 10:18 

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:33 

Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. Matthew 4:4 

When Jesus promised, “How much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” he dealt the fatal blow to what is called the “prosperity gospel.” 

Once I was in the Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Chicago on a Saturday afternoon. I was in a doughnut shop and I witnessed an orthodox father come in with his two sons after service. With great delight, he told them they could pick out anything they wanted. I could see this was a weekly tradition and the sons came with great expectation. What struck me was that, as wonderful as the doughnuts were, their real delight was in each other. The father’s delight was in his sons. The sons’ delight was in their father and this wonderful being-together time that they shared each Saturday. They would continue to delight in each other if the doughnut shop closed down, if there were no more doughnuts at all. 

I’m not saying that God doesn’t care for our physical needs. Jesus said not to worry about what we would eat or drink, that, like God fed the birds, he would feed us. And I know he will. But He doesn’t want food and drink to be my “Good Gift.”

After the people saw the sign Jesus performed [feeding bread to the 5,000], they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself. John 6:14-15 

Jesus doesn’t want to be the King of Bread, the King of Stomachs, the King of Prosperity. Jesus wants to be the King of our hearts. If our “good gift” is prosperity, bread and fish and eggs, what will happen when the food is gone, when the supply is short and the bread lines long? But if our good gift, our delight, is the Holy Spirit – the Presence of God – then we will always have Him. For He will never leave us nor forsake us.  

He will be with us in the bread line. He will be with us when we lose our job, if we are homeless on the street. He will be with us in the cemetery, standing over the grave. He will be with us when we are mocked and persecuted. He will be with us in prison. 

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:16 

In him [Jesus] and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. Ephesians 3:12 

Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4 (ESV) 

Photo of doughnuts by Doriguzzi https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Duck_Donuts.jpg  

Air Plant

The Presence of God. That is where I will truly live, abide, dwell.

I used to love plants, seeing them grow and bloom. I loved having plants inside the house with me too. Our previous home was like the Garden of Eden. We could grow anything because of the rich black dirt outside and a sun room inside for house plants. But, when we moved to our current home, surrounded by trees, nothing seemed to want to grow. The soil is extremely acidic outdoors. A nut tree even makes it toxic. And it is too shady indoors for most houseplants.  

So, I’ve watched one plant after another fail to thrive, or wither and die. Many seeds refused to come up at all. Houseplants, too, valiantly tried, but most were spindly and struggling. After a while I gave up on trying to force things to grow where they were not meant to grow.  

Then I discovered air plants. I love them! They don’t need soil at all and they thrive even in low light. They absorb the water and nutrients they need mostly right from the air. Today when I was looking at one God said, “That’s what you are like. You have been trying to be what you are not, to put down roots where you were not meant to grow. But your life, your roots are in Me, in my Presence.”  

This reminded me of the Michael W. Smith song, “Breathei.” 

This is the air I breathe 

This is the air I breathe 

Your holy presence living in me 

Yes! The Presence of God. That is where I will truly live, abide, dwell. He is my air, life, light, sustenance. Help me Lord not to try and put down roots in the hostile, deadly dirt of this world, looking for something – love, acceptance, meaning, identity, peace – that only you can provide. Help me to remember I am a foreigner here, not meant for this toxic soil. Let your holy Presence be my very breath. Let me be an air plant breathing in You, breathing out your love. 

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 1 Peter 2:11 (ESV) 

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. Psalm 84:5 

I am a stranger on earth … Psalm 119:19 

The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life. Job 33:4 

i Full lyrics here: https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/michaelwsmith/breathe.html 

Photo by Sheila Bair 

Torn

This was the plan from the beginning, from the sealing shut of Eden – to make a Way back into the Presence of God.

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. Mark 1:9-10 

With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. Mark 15:37-38 

Did you see that? Did you ever really see that!? I didn’t. At the beginning and end of Jesus’ earthly ministry the way into the Presence of God was opened. Not just a casual opening of a window either. But a cleaving asunder, a rending, a tearing apart.  

The Greek word translated “torn” in both verses is schizó (σχίζω). It means to split, divide, rend, sever (literally or figuratively), break, open, make a rent.  

The Matthew 27 telling of the moment of Jesus’ death uses the word schizó twice and captures the passion and energy: 

And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn (schizó) in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split (schizó). Matthew 27:51 (ESV

This was the plan from the beginning, from the sealing shut of Eden – to make a Way back into the Presence of God. He has done His part and torn away the veil, the dividing wall between us and God because of our sins. Let us tear away what we stubbornly hold onto that keeps us from Him.

Let us be as passionate, and even violent, about it as He is. Jesus said, “if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off … if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out.” Let us love Him with our whole heart.

Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. Joel 2:13

Come into His Presence! Jesus made the way for you. 

This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord. Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence. Ephesians 3:11-12 (NLT) 

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out (cried out loudly and urgently using a shout that expressed deep emotioni), “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive … John 7:37-39 (ESV) 

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life. Revelation 22:17 

Salvation

icf. HELPS Word-studies for 2896 krázō, by Discovery Bible 

Image copyright by Derek Bair

Not Chicken Hearted

Does the heart empowered by the Presence of God stand and love no matter what?

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. Psalm 42:5 

According to Barnes Notes on the Bible, the word translated “downcast” means to sink down under the weight of sorrow; to be depressed and sad. The word translated “disturbed” means literally, to growl as a bear, to be agitated, troubled, or anxious in mind, to moan internally. I’ve done a lot of both growling and moaning lately. 

That last part of this verse says in the Hebrew: I will yet praise him for the salvations of his face. 

“For the help of his countenance – literally, ‘the salvations of his face,’ or his presence. The original word rendered help is in the plural number, meaning salvations; and the idea in the use of the plural is, that his deliverance would be completed or entire – as if double or manifold.”i 

It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them. Psalm 44: 3-4 

  
The Psalmist, like me, was downcast, depressed, despairing, trying to inspire and encourage his soul to wait, to be patient, to hope expectantly. Ah, that is hard. Charles Spurgeon commented on this verse: 

“Why art thou cast down, O my soul? As though he were two men, the psalmist talks to himself. His faith reasons with his fears, his hope argues with his sorrows. These present troubles, are they to last forever? … Why this deep depression, this faithless fainting, this chicken hearted melancholy?” — Charles Spurgeonii 

“Chicken hearted melancholy.” That made me laugh, and reminded me of the 1961 exercise song we were forced to sing as part of President Kennedy’s Youth Fitness Program: “Give that chicken fat back to the chicken and don’t be chicken again!” Maybe what I should be singing now is, “Give that chicken heart back to the chicken and don’t be chicken again!” 

Ruth in a recent blog from Planted by Living Water (https://plantedbylivingwater.wordpress.com/2018/03/24/antithesis-of-love-1-corinthians-13/ ) listed the antithesis of love as defined in 1 Corinthians 13:7-8.

This anti-love:  

  • runs from difficulties,
  • is unbelieving, cynical, and suspicious, 
  • feels there is no hope, and 
  • gives up. 

Is the opposite of love to be chicken hearted? Does the heart empowered by the Presence of God stand and love no matter what? Is it like the Ukrainian President refusing to leave the city under siege and reassuring the people after the long, dark, terrifying night, “I am here.” iii 

The psalmist commands his failing soul to hope, which means to wait expectantly for the promised salvation. That is the opposite of despair, isn’t it? As my pastor asked in his sermon this past Sunday: am I walking around in anxiety or anticipation? A lot of times I walk in anxiety, but “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” I think it is time for me to stand on the Rock, grab onto His hope and pray. And that is only possible by the salvations of His Face, the Light of His Face, for He loves us.   

Lord, let it be! Help me to stand and keep loving in the light of your Face. Work in me persevering faith and expectant hope, no matter what is going on around me. 

“A loss of the present sense of God’s love is not a loss of that love itself; the jewel is there, though it gleams not on our breast; hope knows her title good when she cannot read it clear; she expects the promised boon though present providence stands before her with empty hands. For I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance. Salvations come from the propitious face of God, and he will yet lift up his countenance upon us.” — Charles Spurgeon 

Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Mark 9:24 

I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. 

iBarnes Notes on the Whole Bible, by Albert Barnes 

iiTreasury of David, Charles Spurgeon https://archive.spurgeon.org/treasury/ps042.php  

iiiUSA Today on Twitter https://twitter.com/USATODAY/status/1497635825860820993  

Image in the Public Domain

Sandstorm

This is where I am in the valley. I can’t see, can’t even open my eyes to try.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4 (ESV) 

I was meditating on this verse lately and found this revealing commentary: 

“The valley of the shadow of death . . .–This striking expression, to which the genius of Bunyan has given such reality, was probably on Hebrew lips nothing more than a forcible synonym for a dark, gloomy place. Indeed, the probability is that instead of tsal-maveth (shadow of death), should be read, tsalm-th (shadow, darkness), the general signification being all that is required in any one of the fifteen places where it occurs. It is true it is used of the ‘grave’ or ‘underworld’ (Job 10:21-22). But it is also used of the ‘darkness of a dungeon’ (Psalm 107:10), of ‘the pathless desert’ (Jeremiah 2:6); or, possibly, since it is there parallel with drought, of ‘the blinding darkness of a sandstorm,’ and metaphorically of ‘affliction’ (Isaiah 9:2), and of the ‘dull heavy look’ that grief wears (Job 16:16).” — Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers 

“The blinding darkness of a sandstorm.” Wow. While I can relate to all of the above metaphors, this speaks to me right now. This is where I am in the valley. I can’t see, can’t even open my eyes to try. I am being sand blasted and refined in pitch darkness. All I can do is cling to the One who will never leave me, and fear no evil from His unfailing love.  

for you are with me … 

Image in the Public Domain, free download from Picryl 

Even If

You cannot say 

“but” or “except” 

to God’s Word 

for you will be sitting down 

at the dusty, choking side  

or veering off  

on the rocky, deadly way 

You can only say 

“yet” and keep going 

but not alone 

You can only say 

“even though” 

but hand in hand 

You can only say 

“even if” 

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the LORD! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! Habakkuk 3:17-18 (NLT) 

If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up. Daniel 3:17-18 

… sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. 2 Corinthians 6:10 

Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. Psalm 73:23 

Image by Sheila Bair

He Moves Mountains

When God comes on the scene our mountains crumble.  

He moves mountains without their knowing it and overturns them in his anger. Job 9:5 

I love that phrase: He moves mountains without their knowing it. Some commentators say that “without their knowing it” means suddenly, or “before they know anything.” But the meaning that caught my heart was, “God does not know it, meaning, it is so trifling to God that he can do it without thinking.”i God just has to show up for the mountains to melt: 

The mountains melted like wax at the presence of the LORD, At the presence of the Lord of the whole earth. Psalms 97:5 

God says through Ezekiel (38:20 ESV) that at his presence “the mountains shall be thrown down, and the cliffs shall fall, and every wall shall tumble to the ground.” All the mountains, every wall. 

We all have mountains in our lives, some of us suffer very big mountains, and their removal is no trifling matter to us. But God moves mountains without even trying. 

Job says that God overturns the mountains in his anger. When he is angry at injustice or angry because we are being beat up by the enemy of our souls. This is echoed by David in Psalm 18. 

In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears. The earth trembled and quaked, and the foundations of the mountains shook; they trembled because he was angry. Psalm 18:6-7 

I love this image! But Habakkuk says something even more wonderful for many of us stuck in despair in hopelessness. 

He stood, and shook the earth; he looked, and made the nations tremble. The ancient mountains crumbled and the age-old hills collapsed. Habakkuk 3:6 

The ancient mountains – the perpetual, continuous, seemingly forever mountains – those mountains that have always been there, handed down through the generations. The cycles of addiction and abuse, the seemingly permanent soul-wounds, the misery, futility, failure. They crumble, they melt, they fall down. The word translated “stood” also means “to take a stand,” to arise, appear, come on the scene. When God comes on the scene our mountains crumble.  

God is so powerful to save that we need only the tiniest bit of that power to move our mountains. We do this by faith. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” 

This is so hard for those of us who have embraced the lie. The lie that there is no help for me. It is hopeless. It has always been this way. Nothing will change. It’s impossible. We have to ask him to show us these lies that have sunk so deep and mangled our souls. We have to reject them, ask forgiveness, and let the truth repair and restore our hearts. 

For while God moves mountains without even thinking about it by just showing up, he also moves mountains by taking a stand against our enemy, by arising to help us, by responding to our cry for help. We do have help. It’s not impossible. Cry out to him. Let him be there with you. Dwell in his mountain-moving Presence.  

“Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered!” Psalm 68:1 (KJV) 

Image, Detail from photo by Derek Bair, all right reserved

%d bloggers like this: