I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there. If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me. I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night — but even in darkness I cannot hide from you. To you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to you. Psalm 139:7-12
My wife likes for me to go shopping with her. But, like most men, I don’t share her enthusiasm for fashion fittings, bargain hunting, and price comparisons. Eventually, I will venture off on my own in search of the tool section, electronics department or, if I’m in a clothing store, simply a chair.
But after my wanderlust is satisfied, comes the most difficult part of the process – relocating and reconnecting. Sales clerks will often perkily ask, “May I help you, sir?” I usually respond, “Yes, help me find my wife!” The problem is not that she is lost (she knows exactly where she is and where she wants to be), but that something has distracted me and I have lost sight of her. The resulting disorientation can be frustrating and time-consuming, albeit necessary, to remedy.
This oft-repeated escapade begs this question from me in the spiritual realm: If God is always with us, what keeps us from continually experiencing His presence? In scripture, I see many instances of where a person’s preoccupation with some distraction has disorientated them to the point where they almost completely miss the immediate presence of God.
Busyness – “As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.” But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:38-42).
The piercing screams of tyranny of the urgent often drown out God’s still small voice that bids us to come and walk with him in the garden in the cool of the day. Like Alice in Wonderland’s White Rabbit we scurry around announcing to anyone in earshot, “I’m late, I’m late for A very important date. No time to say hello, good-bye, I’m late, I’m late, I’m late.” In the process, however, we also can miss the presence of God who never hurries himself nor will he ever hurry after us. God is near, but will we slow down to see Him or rush right past?
Sin – “Listen! The Lord’s arm is not too weak to save you, nor is his ear too deaf to hear you call. It’s your sins that have cut you off from God. Because of your sins, he has turned away and will not listen anymore” (Is. 59:1-2).
How often have you angrily shaken your fist at God accusing Him of failing to hear your prayer? How often has he responded by saying, “Clean up your act and we can talk!”? God is Holy and His eyes are too pure to look upon evil (Habukkuk 1:13). God loves us, but He will not tolerate sin because He has paid too great of a price because of it to permit it to continue to be a factor in our relationship. Our sinful practices can blind us to the presence of God. God is near, but will you clean your dirty glass that you might see Him?
Self-Pity – “Afterward Jesus returned to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish holy days. 2 Inside the city, near the Sheep Gate, was the pool of Bethesda, with five covered porches. 3 Crowds of sick people—blind, lame, or paralyzed—lay on the porches. 5 One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?” “I can’t, sir,” the sick man said, “for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up. Someone else always gets there ahead of me” (John 5:1-7).
The Healer Himself stood before the man and offered an answer to a prayer that had perhaps been long forgotten. But instead of diving into the pool of offered deliverance, the lame man wallowed in the muddy waters of self-pity. His answer to Jesus did not even answer Jesus’ question, but revealed a well-rehearsed verse of victimhood – I don’t have anybody to help me. God is near, but will you stop feeling sorry for yourself long enough to accept his gift of strength and joy?
Grief – “Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. 12 She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her. “Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. 15 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?” She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him” (John 20:11-15).
Grief is neither wrong nor weak – Jesus grieved the loss of His friend and the pain that it caused his loved ones (John 11:35). Grief becomes problematic when we grieve without holding on to the hope of God’s promises. Grief without hope focuses on the short term loss without regard to God’s long-term plans. I have said it before, but it bears repeating here. I have come to learn that often when I am upset about something it is not usually because I disagree with God’s plans, but that God has deviated from mine. My friend, Babbie Mason, lyrically encourages, “When you can’t see His hand, trust His heart.” God is near, but through your tears will you allow His eternal presence and unfailing truth to comfort and bring you peace?
God has NOT left the building!