If you love somebody, what you long for more than anything else is that person’s presence with you. Photos are a comfort. Telephone calls, emails and texts are nice. Letters are good. Skype, Zoom and FaceTime are great ways to communicate. Yet nothing can compare to actually spending time with them in person.
What Adam and Eve lost in the Garden of Eden when they sinned was the presence of God. Even more than possessing the law, the distinguishing feature of Israel was God’s presence with them. The temple was not primarily a place of sacrifice but a place of God’s presence. The exile was such a disaster for the people of God because they were away from God’s presence.
God promised to be in the midst of his people again. This promise was fulfilled with the coming of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. He promises to be with you.
‘The Lord Almighty is with us’Psalm 46:1-11
The presence of God in the Old Testament was associated with Jerusalem – the city of God. ‘God lives here’ (v.5, MSG). In particular, it was associated with the temple – ‘the holy place where the Most High dwells’ (v.4b); ‘God is within her’ (v.5a); ‘The Lord Almighty is with us’ (vv.7,11).
When Jesus was on earth, he declared that his body was the temple where God was present (see John 2:19–22). On the day of Pentecost, God’s presence came to dwell with his people through the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ. In the New Testament, God’s presence is not in a physical temple but with his people – ‘a holy temple’ (Ephesians 2:19–22).
In life, it seems there is always so much that needs to be done and it is tempting to want to be active and get on and do it. But the Lord encourages you to ‘Be still, and know that I am God’ (Psalm 46:10). If you take time to be still and to listen to him, you see in this psalm some of the blessings that come from knowing his presence with you.
‘God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear’ (vv.1–2a).
‘There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God’ (v.4a). Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit bringing ‘streams of living water’ (John 7:38). This river is now not in a physical city but in your heart.
‘God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day’ (Psalm 46:5).
‘The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress’ (vv.7,11). ‘God fights for us’ and ‘protects us’ (v.11, MSG).
Lord, today I want to ‘Be still, and know that [you are] God’ (v.10). I bring to you my fears, worries and anxieties. Thank you that I can trust you. Thank you for your presence and the peace, joy, security and protection you bring.
‘The kingdom of God is among you’Luke 17:11-37
With the coming of Jesus and the coming of the kingdom of God, God has come to dwell among his people. Jesus is ‘Immanuel... God with us’ (Matthew 1:23). Jesus taught that the kingdom of God is both ‘now’ and ‘not yet’:
- God’s presence: ‘Now’
The Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God would come. Jesus answered, ‘The kingdom of God doesn’t come by counting the days on the calendar. Nor when someone says, “Look here!” or, “There it is!” And why? Because God’s kingdom is already among you’ (Luke 17:20–21, MSG).
The kingdom of God is God’s rule and reign. Jesus inaugurated the kingdom of God, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing the sick (for example, vv.15–18), and through his death and resurrection. With the coming of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, God is present among his people. However, his presence is not always visible. People today will not always be able to say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is’ (v.21), but a time is coming when his presence will be visible.
- God’s presence: ‘Not yet’
One day Jesus will return. This will be the day of consummation for the kingdom of God. Then everyone will see, ‘For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other’ (v.24).
This will be the day when the Son of Man is revealed in all his glory (v.30), then we will see him face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12); and ‘we will be with the Lord for ever’ (1 Thessalonians 4:17). We will experience the visible presence of God for ever.
Right now, God’s presence is not visible. People focus on eating, drinking, marrying, buying, selling, planting and building (see Luke 17:27–28). None of these things is wrong in itself. They are part of regular, ordinary life. The problem in both Noah’s time and Lot’s time was that most people did not listen to the warnings. Jesus urges you to be ready.
Paradoxically, whoever tries to keep their life will lose it and whoever loses their life will preserve it (v.33). If you are always trying to find ways of getting the most out of life for yourself – the most money, highest position, best reputation, most popular – you will miss out. If you lose your life in denying yourself and serving Jesus, you will actually find life in all its fullness.
As you live in this time between the first and second coming of Jesus, don’t forget to thank God for all his blessings. Of the ten lepers whom Jesus cured, only one came back ‘praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him’ (Luke 17:15–16).
It is easy to be like the nine lepers who forgot to thank Jesus. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude – taking time to thank Jesus for answers to prayer, his constant love, his forgiveness, his kindness and especially for the promise of God’s presence with you. Recently, while praying in Hyde Park, I decided to try and think of a hundred things for which to thank God. I got there very quickly and realised that I’d hardly begun to list all the things for which to give thanks.
Lord, forgive me for forgetting so often to thank you. Thank you so much for all your blessings…
‘The presence of the Lord’Deuteronomy 26:1-28:14
In this passage, we see part of the Old Testament background to the understanding of ‘the presence of the Lord’. The land that God had given as an inheritance was the place that he chose as ‘a dwelling for his Name’ (26:2).
They were to recite their history ‘in the Presence of God’ (v.5, MSG). They were to prostrate themselves ‘in the Presence of God’ (v.10, MSG). In the ‘Presence of God’ they were to pray for God’s blessing on his people (vv.9–16, MSG). They were to rejoice in ‘the Presence of God’ (27:7, MSG).
God had rescued his people from ‘misery, toil and oppression’ (26:7). This is a good description of life without the presence of God. He called his people to be ‘his treasured possession’ (v.18). He tells them to build a place of worship where they can rejoice ‘in the presence of the Lord your God’ (27:7).
Sin is what takes us away from the presence of God. Therefore, God warns his people to avoid idol worship, dishonouring families, theft, leading the blind astray, injustice, sexual immorality, murder and bribery (vv.14–26).
By contrast, if his people fully obey they will enjoy all his blessings (28:1–14). God promises to bless their homes, families, work and other activities. As Joyce Meyer writes, ‘Obedience is not to be an occasional event; it is to be a way of life. There is a big difference between people who are willing to obey God daily and those who are willing to obey only in order to get out of trouble. God certainly shows people how to get out of trouble, but He showers blessings on those who decide to live wholeheartedly for Him and make obedience to Him their lifestyle.
Of course, none of us have fully obeyed the Lord, except Jesus. His death and resurrection have made it possible for you to be forgiven and to enjoy the presence of God and a foretaste of all the blessings that are promised in this passage. And one day, when Jesus returns, you will experience them in all their fullness in the visible presence of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Father, thank you for all the blessings that you promise. Thank you for the forgiveness that is available in Jesus Christ. Thank you that I experience a foretaste of these blessings in this life and one day I will experience them fully, in the visible presence of God.
‘God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear.’
I feel better as soon as I read these verses, knowing that God is with me in every situation. I have to remind myself that I ‘will not fear’ even if tempted. I try instead to do as verse 10 says, ‘Be still and know that I am God.’
Verse of the Day
‘God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear…’ (Psalm 46:1–2a).
Joyce Meyer, How to Hear from God, (Faithwords: New York, 2003) p.222
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.