Presence

The word of this week is presence. 

On Monday, I attended a celebration of life for a friend whose life ended tragically. It was heartbreaking and beautiful and honored her so well. However, despite the fact that I knew the service would be lovely and that my friend is now in the arms of Jesus, I was still dreading the day. Who wouldn’t be? 

But the thing that helped me to get out of bed that morning and face it was the fact that I knew I would have my people around me. We prayed together in a room full of memories. We held hands during a powerful benediction. We stood in the shade at the cemetery and encouraged each other to take both the hot dog and the chicken salad sandwich because it had been a long, hunger-inducing day. At every turn, I had people standing by my side, simply being present as we walked through something really difficult, together. 

Sometimes, that’s all we need. A hand on your back, the solidness of another at your shoulder, the simple, calm assurance that you are not alone. All of this is what sustained me this week, and for that I am so incredibly grateful. 

In addition to meditating on the goodness of friends who are present, I have also been dwelling in the fact that God is present with us, too. When my words and prayers ran dry, the Lord simply whispered, “I’m here.” I can understand if this makes you roll your eyes. It has become a trite sort of statement that we throw around far too easily.

Going through a hard time? God is with you!

Scared? God is with you?

Going about your normal day? God is with you!

I wholeheartedly believe that these things are true, but I also know that statements made quickly and automatically can lose their meaning. Let’s return to Scripture. 

Matthew 28:18-20 says:

“Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (NIV)

Here were a group of people who had followed Jesus and had become His nearest and dearest friends. They were worshipping and doubting (a wonderfully human combination) when He made the move to send them out on a mission that would be harder than any of them could possibly imagine at that point. They were terrified and in awe and probably extremely confused. And what was Jesus’ response? 

“God is with you.”

The ubiquity of this statement does not make it any less true, and so this week I simply want to root down into it. What does it mean that God is with us? Though I certainly do not have all the answers, I have some thoughts. 

God as a steadying presence. 

Just like my people were solid and sure beside me while we laid our friend to rest, so too is God the One on whom we can eternally lean. Sometimes I think we believe that, in order for a spiritual experience to be real, it has to include hearing from the Lord or something stupendous occurring, but this simply is not true. God has promised to be with us, and often that simply means that we have strong shoulders beside us as we hike this long trail. Sometimes, we don’t want a lot of words or anything earth shattering. Just knowing the Lord is there and will not leave can be enough. 

God as an understanding presence. 

When Jesus commissioned His disciples, He was not naive about what they would face. Almost all of them would go on to be killed and, before they faced their troubled ends, they were met with all manner of hardship and ridicule. The powerful piece of this, however, was that Jesus did not send them anywhere that He had not already ventured Himself. He literally warred with death and won. Now, His presence with us is one of complete understanding. No matter what we might walk through, He has walked it before us. Not only can we lean upon Him, we can trust that His feet know the road before us better than we could ever understand. He gets it.

God as an empowering presence. 

Sometimes the presence of God works in and through us by steadying us and by understanding what we are facing, but it is also important that we understand it as an active, empowering presence. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would follow Him after His ascension and the day of Pentecost changed everything. We now have the Living God as the animating force who can bolster all we do. The strength God can give can come from a squeeze of the hand or a knowing nod, but it can also come from the Spirit granting us with power beyond what we could ever muster on our own. Because the Spirit is with us, we can trust that supernatural courage and peace are available.

The commission that Jesus gave to His disciples still stands for us. Those first assurances of “God is with you” also still stand for us. It is not trite to say that the Lord is present, it is simply true. Now, we can cling to that and lean heavily upon He who has given us all we need in giving of Himself.

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