"Lo, I am with you always" (Matthew 28:20)
In October 1986, I stepped on to a plane to take my mother to Canada to visit her sister and brother. It was the first time that I was travelling outside the UK since my encounter with God in February 1979 when I was baptised in the Holy Spirit.
What I am about to say now, may sound very strange, but it was very real to me at the time. We all face different things that challenge us. This would not have been a challenge to others but it was for me. I was apprehensive about this journey. I wasn’t apprehensive about flying, nor was I apprehensive about seeing my family who hadn’t seen me since I had become a Christian. Quite simply, I was apprehensive that I wouldn’t be able to find the presence of God in Canada!
I had found the presence of God deeply in Scotland, where I was living at that time. I had travelled to many parts of Scotland and God was there wherever I went. But what about Canada? Canada was so far away. What would happen if I couldn’t find him there?
The moment came when we landed in Toronto. What was I going to face? Would I be bereft of the presence I had come to love and feel so much at home with?
I took hesitant steps as I disembarked the plane as the moment of reckoning came. And there, in that moment, as I set foot on Canadian soil, I felt the presence of God with me exactly the same as I did in Scotland! Whew!
I know that there are many verses in the Bible that assure us of God’s presence with us. It’s one thing to read these verses in The Bible, but they become a reality as you personally experience their truth.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)
For he has said, I will never leave you nor forsake you. (Hebrews 13:6)
Many years later as I faced the challenge of mission work abroad, the words of a hymn by Madame Guyon lived for me, and are a living, burning reality today.
All scenes alike engaging prove
To souls impressed with sacred love!
Where'er they dwell, they dwell in thee;
In heaven, in earth, or on the sea.
It’s not the location or situation that matters; what matters is that the God of all the universe is with us, whatever we are facing in life. So, don’t be afraid of the things that challenge you this week. Your challenges will be different form mine just as mine have been different from yours. Be strong and courageous, for He is with you always!
For the LORD God is our sun and our shield. He gives us grace and glory. The LORD will withhold no good thing from those who do what is right. (Psalm 84:11)
‘That’s not fair!’. How many times do you remember thinking that or saying that as a child, or an adult for that matter?
One of my earliest memories of this must be when I was about three years old. In our home, we had the old style electric sockets with no ‘on/off switch’; there were no plastic plug-in covers either to prevent children from sticking their fingers into a live socket. I was told categorically, NOT to put my fingers in the socket. I can’t tell you how tempting that socket was to me. I so much wanted to force the forbidden fingers into the socket but thankfully refrained from doing so.
Around the same age, my parents thought it wise to make our back garden ‘child-safe’. This meant putting a makeshift wooden barrier across the driveway so that I couldn’t escape down the driveway on to the road. I remember looking over that barrier to banned territories. This just wasn’t fair!!
As a three year old, I couldn’t understand why such prohibitions were being placed on me. While my parents were trying to protect me from serious harm, and even save my life, I felt as though I was being deprived of things that could be a source of enjoyment.
As Christians, we have all faced times when God has spoken to us and let us know that, in order to move forward with Him, there has to be sacrifice. In many cases, our ‘darling sins’, as Spurgeon calls them, have had to go. Spurgeon also said; ‘Do what the Lord bids you, where he bids you, as he bids you, as long as he bids you, and do it at once.’ How often have we said, or at least thought, ‘that’s not fair? However, like our wise parents, an even wiser God is in control this time. Many years ago, I was telling my pastor, Mary Black, about an area in my life where I felt the death knell of God was sounding. I have never forgotten Mary’s words to me. She said, ‘It’s at times like this that you have got to believe in the resurrection’. I had to believe that, after I had surrendered that ‘darling sin’, there would be new life, abundant life; and I wasn’t disappointed!
In very hot climates, there are streams or gullies called ‘wadis’. These wadis only contain water in the rainy season; they dry up in the heat. We, too, can be like wadis. When God speaks to us and lets us know that there is something He wants to remove from our lives, or something he is telling us not to do, if we disobey, we become dry and barren. Our joy disappears and is replaced by frustration, anger, resentment or bitterness. It’s at this point we need to do what I did when I was three years old. We simply have to trust that our Heavenly Father has our best interest at heart; and we need to obey Him.
I am reminded of the words of a hymn:
But we never can prove
The delights of His love,
Until all on the altar we lay;
For the favour He shows,
And the joy He bestows,
Are for them who will trust and obey.
“The one thing I ask of the Lord - the thing I seek most - is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, delighting in the Lord’s perfections and meditating in his Temple.” (Psalms 27:4)
On the 23rd March this year, the most significant set of restrictions on British life in living memory were set in place as the prime minister ordered people to stay in their homes.
As the UK went in to lockdown, people began to ask themselves ‘what will we do?’Joe Wicks invited us to join him and stay fit. Zoom opened up endless possibilities for ‘business as usual’ (well, maybe not quite ‘usual’) on so many fronts including work, social events and even church. People were buying in to bake, while others explored ‘do at home’ hobbies; for the studious type, on-line courses were being thrown at us free of charge (yes, I did one because I can’t resist a freebie!).
Alongside this, though, something else also was happening. Some people heard a ‘still small voice’, that encouraged them to ‘be’ as well as ‘do’. They felt that a door opened into a deeper place of ‘being’ in God. They have taken time to draw aside, they have been ‘delighting in the Lord’s perfections and meditating in his Temple’; it has been a time of blessing indeed. Lockdown has become a time of more intimate fellowship with God, ‘being’ in His presence.
I am reminded of the words of an old hymn:
Alone upon the mount of God I stand,
With silenced heart His voice to hear;
‘Tis love itself hath led this hungry soul
Unto the place of vision clear.
How wonderful amid this hush divine,
Entranced, God’s beauty to behold;
To wait whilst deep with deep doth meet and merge,
And love its secrets doth unfold.
Within the shadow of almighty love,
This soul at last hath found its home,
Embosomed in the faithfulness of Him
From whom it never-more shall roam.
Spurgeon said, ‘Nearness to God brings likeness to God. The more you see God, the more God will be seen in you’.
So, if we have learned more deeply how to ‘be’ in His presence during these past months, let’s make every effort to make this our new ‘normal’ so that we will maintain all that we have gained and, in turn, be able to lead another ‘hungry soul, unto the place of vision clear’.
A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12)
On Thursday 18 September 2014, Scotland voted in a referendum which asked the question, "Should Scotland be an independent country?" The "No" side won. Those who fought for Scotland to remain as part of the United Kingdom adopted the motto ‘stronger together’.
I’ve noticed that since then, other causes have adopted this motto also. It’s short, to the point an needs no explanation. And, have you ever noticed how many times in The Bible, this thought ‘stronger together’ occurs? Here are just a few examples:
1. In Genesis 2:18 we read, “Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.”"
2. Regarding the friendship between Jonathan and David, we read, ‘Jonathan went to find David and encouraged him to stay strong in his faith in God.” 1 Samuel 23:16 NLT
3. Jesus sends out his disciples in pairs to minister, and the apostle Paul usually had travelling companions with him.
My cousin recently said, ‘We humans aren’t designed or meant to go it alone.’ This is echoed in Galatians 6:2 where we are exhorted to ‘'carry each other’s burdens’'. And closely linked with this thought is the principle of unity. In Psalm 133 we read:
“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!
It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe."
Notice that unity is compared to the most precious item that existed in Israel at that time; the oil that was used to anoint the High Priest as he ministered before God. There was nothing more precious than this. In God’s eyes, unity is both precious and priceless.
I recently read a quote from Joni Eareckson Tada where she said,
'Believers are never told to become one; we already are one and are expected to act like it.’
So, armed with the knowledge that there is strength in unity, there is power in unity, shall we march forward this week remembering that we are ‘stronger together’?
Pauline Ann Anderson
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