At the age of 19 I made the decision to follow Jesus. I had come to understand that Jesus had died and lived for me. Out of gratefulness I aspired to a life of self-denial and to live for him. While noble, it highlighted the limited extent of my understanding of the gospel and also often led me to despair due to my inability to follow through with those aspirations. Maybe you’ve felt the same way; you’ve tried living for God and failed miserably. I have since come to learn that the New Testament writers had much more to say than, ‘Jesus died and lived for you; now die to self and live for him.’ They wrote about God being with us.
The Christian life is opposed earning but it is not opposed to effort. You will wrestle against sin, you will fight against lies of the enemy, and you will need spiritual disciplines in your life in order to carry your cross and follow Jesus. The gospel promise is that you don’t do that alone. God wants to be with you in your journey of faith. God has always wanted to be with his people. A quick synopsis of the Bible will show this to be true.
In the beginning God creates humans and walks with them in the cool of the day (Gen. 3:8). In Leviticus 26:11-12 God states his desire to, “..make my dwelling among you.. And I will walk among you…”. At the end there is a new heaven and a new earth and a loud voice says, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them…” (Rev. 21:3). Yet the greatest evidence of all is found in Jesus, the Son of God who’s name is Immanuel which means, ‘God with us!’ (Matt. 1:23; Jn. 1:14) It’s only a quick snapshot to be sure, but in it we see God’s desire to be present with his people.
God is ‘omnipresent’. He is everywhere at all times. This is pretty awe-inspiring and so it should be. It reminds us that God is unequalled. However we desire something more. This may be why we have affection with superheroes? Whatever your superhero of choice, (my wife loves Batman; my son Hulk and Captain America) we love the idea of a hero arriving at just the right time to save the day. This is what we long for: a God that is able to be present with us, particularly in our time of great need. Because lets be honest, the confidence in God’s omnipresence isn’t that helpful when experiencing deep struggles of despair and anxiety. The confidence that he’ll fulfil his promise to never leave you nor forsake you and being present with you, is.
This is what we find in the gospel. God promises to be with us in a way that is different from being present everywhere. It’s tangible, it’s real, it’s close and it changes everything! Isaiah 41:10 says,
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Is. 41:10
God’s imperative to ‘fear not’ was not just an unaccompanied command. It came with a basis for the ‘why’ they shouldn’t fear – because God was with them. Notice what coincided with God’s presence – strength, help and upholding – the very thing we need in times of suffering, stress and struggle!
1 Peter 5:10 likewise says,
10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 1 Peter 5:10
All throughout the Bible the promise of God’s presence was a great encouragement to God’s people. Such is the power of God’s presence. It can move you from instability to stability, from weakness to strength and from hopelessness to hopefulness. It is his hand that holds you up and helps you in your time of need. I don’t know how much weight you can lift but I know God can lift much more than you. ‘God with you’ means you don’t have to collapse under the weight of your struggle nor are you alone in it. God is with you and his hand will lift you up and carry you.
With this promise in mind I want to explore the means by which God makes his presence known to his people throughout the scriptures.
- GOD’S LOVE
When describing God’s love the bible ascribes adjectives such as: everlasting, eternal, faithful, unfailing, unending, steadfast (Ps 26:3; Isa. 54:8-10; Jer. 31:3). Correspondingly the Bible uses the same adjectives to describe God. This is why 1 John 4:8 says that ‘God is love’. God himself cannot be separated from his love. Additionally Paul says in Romans 8:31-39 that nothing can separate us from the love of God. What does all this mean?
If God is love and God’s love accompanies you always, then God is present with you helping you in all circumstances. This is true whether you feel it or not. The more you believe it the more you will feel strengthened by it.
God is able to strengthen and restore you in your affliction because his love accompanies you. Rather than leaving you or forgetting you, he is with you, helping you. To experience God’s presence you don’t need to go on a weeklong prayer retreat in the mountains. You can learn to savour God’s love in any and every circumstance you find yourself in. As you meditate on the truths of scripture in regards to God’s love towards you, you will experience the life-giving love of God and be strengthened by his presence.
14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. 2 Cor. 13:14
- GOD’S GOSPEL
Atheism is the belief that there is no God or supreme creator. Deism is the belief in a creator who doesn’t intervene in the creation. Theism is the belief in a creator who intervenes with their creation. All three worldviews have radical implications for one’s experience. The gospel makes all the difference. It is in the gospel that we see God is powerful as creator and that he is personal as redeemer. It reveals not only that there is a creator but also the very lengths this creator is willing to go to in order to intervene and interact within his creation.
Time and again in scripture the Apostle Paul connects the ‘going deeper’ in the gospel with the ‘fullness of the Spirit’. A clear example of this is in Ephesians 3:14-19 where Paul, after outlining the gospel, prays that the Ephesians would come to know the height, depth, breadth and length of the immeasurable riches of the gospel in order that they would be filled with the fullness of God. In other words, the greater our understanding of the gospel, the greater our experience of the gospel. And what is that experience? It is the filling of the fullness of God. It is the assurance and awareness that God is not only for you but that GOD IS WITH YOU!