“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” – John 1:1 “…and be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:20b “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” – Revelation 21:3
A Holy Week tradition for me is reading the words of Jesus from His entrance into Jerusalem through the Resurrection. I ask God if there is something in the reading that is important for me. This year it was the word WITH.
As the Passover feast provided the opportunity to re-tell the story that God has been weaving throughout generations, the scriptures remind us of God’s presence with His people.
God was WITH Adam and Eve in the garden. Even after the fall, God remained faithful to His people:
- I am WITH you Moses, don’t worry about what to say. Exodus 3:12
- I am WITH you Joshua, be strong and courageous as you lead the people into the promised land. Joshua 1:9
- I am WITH you, David, in the valley of the shadow of death, and in the darkness which is not dark to Me at all. Psalm 23, Psalm139
- The virgin.. will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is WITH us.’ Isaiah 7:14
- Jesus said, “I shall prepare a place, and come and get you so you will always be WITH me. Jn 14
- Jesus’ cry from the cross- in anguish not to be WITH the Father- “Why have you abandoned me?” Mark 15:34
- Jesus’ last words before ascending to heaven, “… I am WITH you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20b
- The dwelling place of God will be WITH mankind. Rev 21:3
God faithfully reminds us over and over again that He is WITH those made in His image. Jesus’ resurrection brings with it a wider vision; Life WITH God is now, not just in the sweet by and by someday. You know, like they say at funerals, “She’s with God now, and she’ll always be with us in our hearts.” No. Jesus is not just a sweet memory, but truly present WITH us in the here and now. And that is a mystery that we long to truly experience for ourselves. He has made it abundantly clear through the ages that He is with us. So how does that look? Do you find yourself desiring a deeper relationship WITH God than you are currently experiencing?
Simple: God is WITH us. Not so simple: Are we WITH God?
When the two followers of Jesus were on the way to Emmaus, Jesus was WITH them, but they didn’t recognize Him, even as He explained the Scriptures, though their “hearts were burning.” He opened their eyes in the everyday act of breaking bread, just as He did at the last supper. I wonder if God opens our eyes to His presence as we go about our everyday activities, too. Will we be aware of it?
As we read the life stories of the respected and passionate fathers and mothers of the Christian faith, it seems they were transformed as they became intimately aware of the presence of God in every moment, every circumstance of their everyday life. They developed spiritual practices that helped them stay open to God’s Spirit and the invitation to a deepening relationship. Theologian Thomas Kelly used the term simultaneity, the ability to be engaged with the activities of our daily affairs, yet deeply in prayer, praising and gently receptive to “divine breathings.” This is how Jesus lived; touching, healing, teaching while in ongoing communion with His Father.
As we consider our desire for the WITH God life, there is an invitation to seriously reflect on how we relate to God now. Have I settled for a vision of God that leaves me discontent, hungry for true communion with God? Or is my vision one that I control and hope that God approves of my plan? We are influenced by our culture, religious tradition, family and life experiences, and the way we relate to God can subtly become distorted. We find ourselves feeling spiritually dry and dull, out of touch, burned out or pressured; experiencing something other than the freedom and peace offered by a life with God.
Skye Jethani, in his book With, describes four ways of relating to God that can replace a life WITH God. I admit, these have been uncomfortably revealing in my own self-reflection. Perhaps you can identify your way of relating to God in these examples, and God will use them to invite you to live instead in increasing freedom WITH Him.
- Life Under God– Hoping to please God by following the rules, tradition, morality, obedience, church attendance. We want to do the right thing so God will bless us. Relationship with God is based on our behavior, our level of obedience. Guilt, fear, and dry, empty religiosity are often the result. Religion is more important than relationship.
- Life Over God– A personal God is not really involved in our daily life. The Bible and current self-help books are read for life, business and parenting principles, and success should follow, as long as we’re following the principles. Perhaps based in God, yet not really With God. There is a desire to be culturally relevant, and God can be thanked and praised for giving us wise precepts, but His present participation is optional. We’re in charge.
- Life From God– Our relationship with God consists mostly of asking God for help with troubles, and for success in our endeavors. We acknowledge that all things come from God, and He does invite us to ask, after all. Influenced by our consumer culture, we can tend to use God to satisfy our own desires. Our prayer life can become a list of what we want God to give us or do for us.
- Life For God– Putting God’s mission ahead of God Himself. We find our value in the service we provide for God. This well-intentioned posture is heavily prevalent in our church culture and can deceive us into believing we are doing a sacrificial and godly thing. Yet even the Apostle Paul, a man on a mission, understood that His communion WITH Christ rooted and preceded his work FOR Him. Gordon MacDonald noted that drivenness in life for God can result in missionalism. “Missionalism starts slowly and gains a foothold in the attitude. Before long, the mission controls almost everything: time, relationships, health, spiritual depth, ethics, and convictions. The end justifies the means…God-connection is limited.”
Under, Over, From, For. How do we make sense of this? Aren’t morality, knowledge, gifts, and service part of the Christian life? Perhaps they can flow from a life that is first rooted WITH God. But the distortion happens when we live out of fear and the need to control God and control how we live our daily lives.
How do we live as God’s beloved? How do we begin to treasure God above all else?
If God opens our eyes to His presence in the everyday activities of life, perhaps we can begin to simplify or begin daily spiritual practices that increase our awareness of God’s presence. Conversation, rather than a list of requests and chores for God. Time in silence, listening to God. Slow soaking in scripture. Seeking to practice the presence of God. Daily habits that prepare me to enter the day before me WITH God.
Richard Foster says, “We practice spiritual disciplines in order to be fully present to God, not to try harder to bear spiritual fruit.”
As I begin to experience God WITH me, I can release my need to control, my fear of failure, rejection, death. God presence provides hope in chaos- He is WITH me in my boat as the storms of life surround me. He is WITH me in the darkness when I cannot feel His presence. He is WITH me as I step into unfamiliar territory. Because of God’s faithfulness in the past, because He defeated the power of death and secured my future in heaven, I can remember and trust that He is WITH me now in my story.
Simple-God WITH me, and I, open and willing to be WITH God. Beloved, safe, valued. Let my life flow from that in simultaneity.
- Think back over the previous week. If you had fully trusted that God was WITH you, what might you have done differently? What risks might you have taken?
- Spend some time reflecting on the examples of relating to God. Be honest about your current relationship with God in this season of your life.
- Do any of the examples resonate with you? Is there a desire to experience more of the WITH God life?
- Review any spiritual practices you currently utilize. Are they deepening your experience WITH God?
- How might you explore and experiment with prayer and practices, grounded in Scripture that might lead to your own “Practice of God’s presence?”
- Thank God for His presence WITH you and invitation for you to be increasingly WITH Him.