He’s not leaving.

Nothing in or of this world measures up to the simple pleasure of experiencing the presence of God. — A. W. Tozer

None of us is a stranger to loneliness. Even when we’re with people, we sometimes feel unattached, alone. But, if you and I are children of God, we are never alone. In fact, when Jesus came to earth, Joseph was reminded by the angel of Isaiah’s prophecy that this child would be called Immanuel, which means “God with us”. Then, after his living his life among us, Jesus said this to his disciples, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20b). He was leaving – and still promising to be with them.

The Bible is full of promises about God’s presence with us. Here are a few:

“Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you” (Joshua 1:5b).

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4).

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16).

Do we believe what we are reading? That God is really with us? That he will never leave us? That where we go, he goes? He hears our prayers, knows our thoughts, understands our needs, and directs our steps.

The first step toward experiencing God in our lives is to believe these promises are true. The second step is to cultivate an ongoing, prayerful conversation with our ever-present God. Over time, we begin to realize we are never alone. We’re never, never alone. He is with us, and he’s not going away.

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9b).

Unshakable Joy

“Joy has its springs deep down inside. And that spring never runs dry, no matter what happens. Only Jesus gives that joy.” – SD Gordon

I think God likes it when we laugh – true, deep-down, teary-eyed laughter! He wants his children to be happy, to live in joy. Sometimes God-given joy is light-hearted laughter and, at other times, it’s quietly internal. But, if we follow Jesus closely, there will be joy, no matter what circumstances we face.

This is what biblical joy may look like:

“. . . my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;” (from Psalm 16:9). I get the picture here of a dog wagging his tail so hard his whole body is in motion!

” . . . the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10). Have you ever noticed that you have more energy when you are joyful?

And even this one: “. . .we rejoice in our sufferings” (Romans 5:3). OK, that one’s harder. But it must be possible if Paul, who suffered a lot, can say this honestly.

Real joy isn’t something we can conjure up. It’s a gift – one given directly from God. Joy is part of the fruit the Holy Spirit grows within us. It starts small, and as we get to know Jesus better, it grows bigger, stronger, and more evenly consistent over time.

Creating (or pretending) joy is not on our spiritual “to do” list! Our job is to keep our eyes on Jesus. See him in his Word, in his creation, and in his actions in this world. He is here. He will reveal himself. The more we make Jesus the center of our thoughts and the more we learn to trust him, the more we will have genuine unstoppable joy.

” . . . the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control;” – from Galatians 5:22

Understand?

“Nobody ever outgrows Scripture; the book widens and deepens with our years.” -Charles Spurgeon

Do you understand the Bible? I’ve studied it for a long time and admit there are many things I don’t understand. And I think that I am not the only one!

Here are some examples straight from the Bible:

Jesus told his disciples of his coming arrest, death, and resurrection. They didn’t understand, but were afraid to ask. (Mark 9:32)

The man from Ethiopia was reading an Old Testament scroll when Philip asked him if he understood what he was reading. His answer: “How can I unless someone guides me?” (Acts 8:31a)

Job didn’t understand why all these bad things were happening to him. (Job 7:17-21)

From these examples, we learn three things:

  1. If we don’t understand something in the Bible, we shouldn’t be afraid to ask the Holy Spirit to help. James tells us God gives wisdom to those who ask.
  2. We should be willing to learn from teachers who know more than we do. That incudes people in the flesh, but also reliable resources in print or on line.
  3. Job teaches there are things we will never understand in this life. Mysteries will remain, but if we trust God, we can be OK with that.

There are some things in the Bible we cannot comprehend, not because God is intentionally keeping secrets, but because we, as humans, don’t have the capacity to understand the majestic mind of God. We also realize there are many things in the Bible we can understand and, with that knowledge, we obey what we read and we draw closer to our Creator. The rest will become clearer in time.

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” – Romans 11:33

Say “yes”.

“There is no one who is insignificant in the purpose of God.”– Alistair Begg

We are so bombarded with sales-pitches today, that we have conditioned ourselves to say “no”. There are times, though, when our conditioning might block us from doing what is really best for us. Our predetermined “no” may keep us from doing something God himself is putting in front of us. Let’s not always be skeptical!

God met Moses at the burning bush and told him he had been chosen to lead God’s people out of slavery in Egypt and into the land God had promised to their ancestors.

Moses’s response: Not me, Lord. I’m not the right guy for this job. I have no influence. The people won’t accept me as their leader. And, I’m not even a good speech maker. You need to find someone else.

As we know, God gave Moses some supportive tools, including miracles he could perform to show God had sent him and including his own brother Aaron to give the speeches. Somehow I think God might have been happier if Moses had just said “yes”.

God says,

“Love me with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.”

“Be holy as I am holy.”

“Love each other as I have loved you.”

“Go into all the world and tell them about me.”

He wants us to say “yes” to all those things.

Here are some other things to add to our “yes” list:

Discomfort

Uncertainty

Humble service

Change

Living by faith

Caring – a lot

Teaching others

Giving back to him everything he’s given to us

Showing compassion

If we say “yes” to these things, we also are saying “yes” to supernatural and unexplainable peace, hope, purpose, and joy. Let’s practice saying “yes” to God!

“For all the promises of God find their Yes in him.” – 2 Corinthians 1:20 .

In trouble? Desperate? Exhausted?

“When we come to the end of ourselves, we come to the beginning of God.” – Billy Graham

There are appropriate times for long prayers. Sometimes we plead with God for something or we pray and then spend time listening for a response. But there are other times when a short prayer will do just fine.

Remember when Jesus was walking on the water at night and in the middle of a storm? When Peter realized it was Jesus, he asked if he could walk on water, too. Jesus invited him to come. Once out of the boat, Peter experienced the ferocity of the storm, and he began to sink. He was in trouble. He prayed, but he didn’t start with worship or confession of sins. He just cried out, “Lord, save me!” (Matthew 14:30). Charles Spurgeon, commenting on this passage, says that when it comes to prayer, “Not length, but strength is desirable.”

There are other short prayers in the Bible, too. There was a Canaanite woman who approached Jesus about her daughter who had a demon. After their discussion, she pleaded, in desperation, “Lord, help me” (Matthew 15:26). And he did.

And way back in Israel’s history, we find Nehemiah, working relentlessly with many others rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem. While he worked, he was being taunted and threatened. He pushed on with the project, sending up this urgent prayer, “. . . O God, strengthen my hands.” The taunters were rebuffed, and the wall was finished in just fifty-two days! (Nehemiah 6:9b)

God hears all kinds of prayers, whether read from a liturgy or conversational in format. But, when we’re in trouble or desperate or exhausted, a short heartfelt prayer will do. Just call out to him!

“The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” – James 5:16b

Fears

“The presence of fear does not mean you have no faith. Fear visits everyone. But make your fear a visitor and not a resident.” – Max Lucado

I prayed my fears would go away. Then I thought of those that were logical to keep. And a couple of others that I didn’t know who I’d be without. I realized that my fears had become my friends. They are terrible friends!

“They all have to go. Lord, deliver me from fear, from anxiety. I mean it this time. I want to live a life of faith – reflected by calm, peace, serene acceptance, trusting you for everything, with everything, always.”

Is that what you want, too? A heart at rest? A mind at ease? I think we all acknowledge there are things to be afraid of, but most of what plagues us are fears we have that are irrational, unnecessary. Those are the ones that have to go. How? By recognizing that they come from our own insecurities, not from God. By focusing on God and all the promises of his love, care, protection, and peace. Fear is a big motivation to pray without ceasing! (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

It takes practice to do that, and I’m not there yet, but as long as we engage in the struggle for faith big enough to overcome fear, we’re not defeated. We leave room for God to work and for his great love to overcome our human fears. Faith and fear are uneasy companions, and faith defeats fear every time. Let’s not give up our quest for internal peace! It can be ours.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” – Jesus to his disciples in John 14:27

I did it my way.

“There will be no peace in any soul until it is willing to obey the voice of God.” D.L. Moody

If you’re one who prides yourself in doing things your way, beware. There are examples in the Bible where the “my way” approach didn’t work out so well. Here’s one:

In Israel’s early history, the Ark of the Covenant was captured by an enemy. When David became king, he was determined to get the Ark back. So he sent people to bring it home. God had given specific instructions about this Ark – how to carry it and who could get near it. I imagine David saw this as a one-of-a-kind situation – an exception – and chose efficiency over obedience. By doing it his way instead of God’s, a good man died while trying to steady the Ark so it didn’t fall off the cart. The problem was that it never should have been on a cart in the first place, and God was not pleased with the “my way” approach.

Obedience to God can be hard because what he asks may not always make sense to us, but we realize he sees things we cannot see, and he has standards of right and wrong that only he has a right to define. If we are wise, we humbly accept his way as the way we will follow – even if it means we have to give up something we really want to have or do.

We have ideas for living our lives that seem reasonable to us, but if our way includes things that are not part of God’s way, we’re asking for trouble. His way is always right – no compromises, no “just this once”. Our way is never better than God’s way.

“Be careful to observe my commandments. I am the Lord.” – Leviticus 22:31

He wants to be found.

“When your world is rocked, you don’t want philosophy or theology as much as you want the reality of Christ.” – Lee Strobel

If you’ve ever lost track of a young child, your concern moves to panic pretty quickly as you search for him.

When I read about Joseph and Mary trekking back to Nazareth with their neighbors and extended family after celebrating the Passover in Jerusalem, I think of that sense of panic. They had walked for an entire day before they realized 12-year-old Jesus wasn’t with them. They apparently assumed he was part of the Nazareth group, hanging out with friends or cousins as they walked.

Of course, the story ends well. They go back to Jerusalem, then spend a day in the city searching for him before they find him in the Temple discussing theology with the religious leaders.

What struck me, though, is that Jesus was missing and they didn’t know it. If Jesus went missing on us, how long would it be before we noticed? That won’t happen, of course, because Jesus has promised never to leave us, but too often we live as though he has walked away. We forget to talk to him, to ask him for guidance, or to thank him for his goodness to us.

The reality is that sometimes his presence is so real we feel we can reach out and touch him. At other times, we’re not sure he even hears our prayers. The life of faith enables us to believe his promise never to leave us and, when it feels like he’s far away, he can be found.

Jesus has not gone missing. He’s here. He’s close. He’s waiting for us to reach out to him. He wants to be found.

Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.” – 1 Chronicles 16:11

The Horse and I

“Let God have your life; he can do more with it than you can.” – Dwight L. Moody

I don’t know much about horses. But, here I was at a ranch for a weekend with my daughter and granddaughter. Because my granddaughter loves horses and wanted me to experience them, too, we all signed up for the trail ride. And I learned something.

We were shown how to use the reins and told not to let our horse get too close to the horse in front of him and not to let him eat foliage along the way. So, determined to do it right, we set out. I pulled on Cairo’s reins when he got too close to Hoss, and I steered him away from the plants along the trail. Eventually, though, he got tired of being micromanaged. He tossed his head and snorted a couple of times. He was not happy!

So, I decided to quit fighting him (he’s bigger than I am!), and I let the reins go slack. He settled into a pattern he was comfortable with, and we finished the ride better friends than we were when we started.

Are you a little bit like me? Wanting to hang on tight to the reins, to steer, to be in control? Sometimes, I think everyone around us would be better off if we stop trying so hard to be safe, right, and in charge. It would be good for us, too, just to realize that God is the only one who can change people or protect us.

And, best of all, when we yield to him, we can enjoy the ride!


“I do not occupy myself with things
    too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
    like a weaned child with its mother;”
– Psalm 131:1b-2a

Some things take time.

Biblically, waiting is not just something we have to do until we get what we want. Waiting is part of the process of becoming what God wants us to be. – John Ortberg

David was anointed by God when he was young, tending his father’s sheep. He knew he would be king, but God had some preparation to do before that could happen.

David was brought into King Saul’s circle and, while there, became a popular public persona. Saul, though, was not impressed, and he planned ways to kill David – so much so, that David ran for his life.

It must have been frustrating moving from place to place, living sometimes in desert caves, always on the alert for Saul’s armies as they chased him. But what happened to David in these intervening years?

He grew up. He went from being a young boy to being a mature man.

He became strong. He fought many battles, growing in courage and confidence.

He learned to lead. There were 600 men who became his defenders. They were described as bitter, in-debt, and distressed. But they were loyal to David, and he led them to become more than they ever dreamed they could be – God’s ragtag army.

He became discerning. There were two times David did not take an opportunity to kill Saul. He knew there was a better way and was willing to wait for God’s plan. His actions show wisdom and spiritual understanding.

God didn’t waste the desert years in David’s life and he won’t waste yours either. If you are waiting for God’s next move, be patient. Know that he is using this time to prepare you for what is yet to come. Trust his grace.

“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;” – Psalm 130:5