We’re continuing the message series entitled, “I AM” where we learn how God describes Himself. We are then challenged to go out and be the salt and light of the world in that same way. Or, as John wrote:
1 John 4:17
This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment:
In this world we are like Jesus. Or in the KJV: As He is, so are we in this world.
Since our view of who God is can be very easily distorted by our experiences with Him and that they can often reveal more about us than about who He is, we’re going to stick to God’s direct quotes of how He describes Himself. So far, we’ve learned that God is compassionate and holy. This week, we’re learning of God’s frequently stated reminder: “I AM with you.”
It is amazing to stop and think about the reality that the God of all of the universe would desire to be with me. However, this is a promise of God from cover to cover of the scriptures. Even before making the promise to us, God walked with Adam and Eve before they chose their own desires over His. As was His plan from the very beginning, God still desires a personal walk with us, His creation. Psalm 139 reminds us that there is actually nowhere that we can go to escape the presence of God. Even before we came to know who God is, even before we acknowledged Him, He still was with us.
7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
We were created by Him and for Him (Colossians 1:16) and He will never stop pursuing us until we choose to turn to Him. Even in our darkest hour, even when we are running away from Him our hardest, still then God is with us. He always hopes, always trusts, always perseveres; His love for us never fails! Although we may not recognize or acknowledge this fact, it still remains true. The truth will always remain that God is with us. In fact, we are reminded that He is with us in these particular difficult seasons of life.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble
We understand this truth and that is why we determined that God is omnipresent. It is a big theological word that we made up that literally means that God is everywhere at all times. That makes God pretty incredible, but an unfair guy to play hide and seek with for sure! However, if you’re like me, you may begin to wonder what it means to be in the Presence of God. For example, Moses told God that if His presence did not go with him, that Moses would not lead the Israelites into the promised land. Moses would rather be in God’s presence in the worst time of lack in his life than to enter into an easy and full time of life without God’s presence. Why would Moses stand face-to-face before God and make this plea if God truly is everywhere at all times?
If God is always with us and we cannot flee from His presence, then what does this mean? Why is it that we make statements such as, “I really sensed the Presence of God during worship this morning?” Why was there a tent of the meeting where Moses and Joshua would meet with God face to face? Why did God have the arc of the covenant created for His presence to dwell in? How did Adam and Eve flee from the Presence of God after they had sinned? How was Cain cast out of the Presence of God when he murdered his brother Abel?
There is obviously a distinct difference between God being omnipresent and actually being in the Presence of God. God, by the very nature of His character and existence, is always with us. God does not need to promise that He will always be with us, because it is as unchanging as He is. When God promises that He is with you, He obviously means more than the fact that He is simply present.
God promised Abraham that He would be with him while calling him to go wherever He would lead him? God promised Isaac that He would be with him when calling him to remain in Gerar during the famine instead of going to Egypt. God promised Jacob that He would be with him as He promised to make him into a great nation. God promised Moses that He would be with him as He called him to lead Israel out of Egypt. God promised Joshua that He would be with him as He called him to go into the promised land. God promised Gideon that He would be with him as he was being called out as a great and mighty warrior. God promised Israel through the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Haggai that He was with them even while they were exiled because of their sin against Him. God promised Jeremiah that He would be with him while calling him to be a prophet. Jesus promised His disciples, including us to this very day, that He would be with us always, even to the very end of the age. God promised Paul while he was in Corinth that He was with him as he boldly preached the gospel message.
This promise that God made to be with us is obviously more than simply a reminder of how all He already is at all places at all times. This promise is personal and has to mean more than just the fact that God is around us.
While praying about this distinction, the imagery came to mind of a very important individual. This individual was in a large room filled with people. All of the people in that room were in this person’s presence. However, this individual was speaking with a small group of people and, in particular, this one person face-to-face. This one person had that individual’s full attention and was experiencing a level of intimacy with this individual that no one else in that large room was experiencing. That small group of people were also experiencing a level of personal intimacy with this individual that no one else in that large room was experiencing. Although everybody was in the presence of this individual, there was a distinct difference in what that actually meant from one individual to another.
After pondering this, it made Biblical sense as well. For we also see this being the case with Jesus, as revealed through the gospel accounts. Countless thousands could say that they had been in the presence of Jesus. However, twelve men and some women experienced an even greater level of personal intimacy in the presence of Jesus as they accompanied Him and supported Him in His ministry. Going further, Peter, James, and John often had even more personal and intimate experiences in the presence of Jesus. It was these three men who were recorded being there at the transfiguration of Jesus as well as in the garden of Gethsemane on the night He was betrayed. They were able to step out of time and literally saw Jesus glorified and personally was with Moses and Elijah. What an awesome encounter!
When God promised these individuals that He was with them, it meant that He was teaming up with them and being personally and intimately involved with them. God was promising to do the miraculous for them and to ensure their success wherever He called them to go and whatever they were called to do! How many of us would love to live that kind of God-powered lifestyle of success? Well, we can!
Not surprising, the original Hebrew word most often used in the Old Testament for “presence” in these instances is paniym and Greek word in the New Testament prosōpon; both carrying that meaning of a face-to-face level of intimacy. God is with us, that is, if we are with Him.
Unfortunately, in the church today, we have become a very selfish people. When we look at this promise of God to be with us, Biblically speaking, it was always a promise of God as He called individuals to where He desired them to be. It was a conditional promise that if they were faithful to follow Him with their everything, leaving everything else behind, that He would be with them. As they cooperated with God to fulfill His will,plans, and purposes, that God would be with them and do everything necessary on His part.
When we hear this promise today in the church, we’re encouraged because it carries the idea that I can do whatever I want and drag God along with me, ensuring my success. It is a very selfish and not selfless perspective of this promise of God. Of course, this is nothing new in the church. James dealt with this very issue when he wrote:
1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? 6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”
7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
It becomes quickly obvious, that James was writing to a people who was struggling with selfishness. We would be fooling ourselves if we said that we did not struggle in the same way that they did. There are desires that battle within us. In our pride and arrogance, we believe that we deserve certain things. When we see others receive promotions or other things that we feel we deserve, the battle is on!
Sometimes, we do not have certain things because we simply have not sought after God for them. Sometimes, we don’t have certain things because we’ve cried out to God for them, but God knows our heart motive behind our requests. He knows that if He grants our requests, we would spend ourselves and our own pleasures and not spend ourselves on behalf of others. He knows that we love and embrace the things of the world, but fail to love and embrace the things of God.
Although no one likes to think about it this way, we stiff arm God. God is always near us, but we must choose to come near him. It is a promise of God that if we come near to Him in humility, he would draw near to us. If we would lay down ourselves in humility and run near to God, He will absolutely be with us. God will move heaven and earth on our behalf when we have chosen to cooperate with Him in selflessness. God knows our hearts and knows our motives, we simply cannot fool Him. The wool is never over His eyes, but over ours alone. If you are like me, I’m sure that there are areas of your heart that you fool yourself in. There are areas of your heart that you masquerade. You let on that they are pure and clean in motive and intent, but you know in the depths of your heart, that those areas are selfish and hardened.
If we would simply choose to be honest with ourselves and cry out to God, his promise to be with us would become our reality. God would not simply be another presence in the room, God would be a close friend who shares and trusts us with His heart, His thoughts, His plans, His everything with us. That is what God desires for us, not just to be around us, but to be the best of friends with us. He never stops pursuing and chasing us down. He never gives up on us. Even in our darkest of hours, He is still there with us.
His desire, however, is to be so much more. His heart aches for us. He longs to save us. He longs to be our everything. He wants so badly to help us in our time of need. He wants so badly to show us who He created us to be. He wants to take us to places we never dreamed possible and do things in life that we could only do through Him. His plans for us are awesome and He is so excited for them. He can’t wait to see us obtain our full potential! However, since He loves us that deeply, He will not force Himself on us. He will only do all these things when in complete humility and all honesty, we come to Him and seek Him in these ways. He will only accomplish these things when we lay our entire selves down and follow Him.
Jesus wants to be your best friend. He wants to share so much with you and do so much together with you! However, love forced is not love at all. Love is only love when it is a choice and one done without any selfish motive or intent. Love is selfless. Jesus already showed us just how much He loves us and is willing to sacrifice anything for our benefit. Jesus proved His love for us. He now stands and promises, “I AM with you.” The only question then becomes, “Do we love Jesus?” Will we choose Him even as He has chosen us? Will we sacrifice ourselves for Him even as He willingly and joyfully gave up everything for us?