Psalm 139 is one of the best loved and most well known of all the Psalms, and gives us a clear picture of just close God is to us and how much He knows about us. There is nothing God doesn’t know about us and no where we can go to hide from God.
You have searched me Lord and You know me…You are familiar with all my ways…Where can I go from Your Spirit?…
However, as we reflect upon the words of this Psalm there are a couple of questions that perhaps come to mind. First of all, how do we perceive this closeness of God? You might think that obviously it’s something that offers a great sense of comfort and peace to us – knowing God is always there.
But are there times when we wish God didn’t know everything about us. Maybe there are things we have said or done that we wish we could have kept from God. Or perhaps we just find it somewhat disconcerting to know that there is nothing we can hide from God – maybe there are one or two things about ourself that no-one else knows about and we’d quite like that to apply to God too.
Yet if we are among those who find it comforting to know that God is always close to us, there is perhaps a more urgent question to hand. If God does know so much about us and if He is so close to us, why is it that I don’t seem to sense that presence as I go about my life every day. And this is an issue that so many of us struggle with at different times in our lives of faith.
Sadly there is no one answer that anyone can give in response to questions such as this. The late Thomas Merton, an American Monk and Theologian once said that if we find God with great ease, then perhaps it is not God that we have found. What did he mean by that.
In the presence of God there is always a sense of mystery and majesty that we could never fully understand or come to terms with. And the simple fact is that how any one of us perceives the presence of God in our own life may be completely different to the experience of someone else. Ultimately it all comes down to faith.
The Apostle Paul tells us that when it comes to understanding anything about God we can only see through a glass dimly and only know in part – and that is what we need to remember.
We will never fully understand why God acts in the way He does, but if in faith we believe that He is always with us – then He will be. Through His Son and by His Spirit, God is always with us. All we need to do is open our hearts and believe……………
Loving God, as we come to You today, by Your Spirit come and be with us now. Help us to know You presence with us and to allow Your Spirit to move within us drawing us closer to You. From all that we are and for all that You are, we offer our love to You.
We praise You, Lord, for the immensity of Your love to us. In silence we lift our hearts in worship of You. You are the light of all creation and the very breath of our lives. You are the offer of forgiveness and the flame of inspiration and we bless You Lord.
And yet, gracious God, with sorrow we have to confess how well we know that our lives have not always been as You would have them be. At times our words and actions have been unworthy of you and have been centred on our own selfish aims and desires.
Forgive us we pray and help us once again to allow Your love to lead us through each day. Help us to know in our hearts that You are always with us, no matter where we are or what we are doing, and in that knowledge to bear witness to Your presence and love to all people. And all this we ask in Jesus name…Amen.
Bible Reading – Exodus 33:12-23
Whenever we talk of Biblical heroes of the Old Testament, Moses is up there among them at the top of the list. From the moment he went to have a closer look at the burning bush and spoke to the Almighty I AM, Moses was destined to achieve great things in the strength and the name of God.
And when we look through the book of Exodus and see all that Moses did, one thing that comes to mind is that for all he had done, still Moses was not afraid to come to God and ask for more. No matter how many times he encountered God or spoke to God, still Moses wanted more.
In God’s name and in God’s strength he had led the people out of Egypt, crossed the Red Sea and given the people the Ten Commandments. And even now, although he was assured of the presence of God through the cloud and pillar of fire, still Moses wanted to come even closer to God. What he has of God’s presence is never enough.
Yet, even whilst God did concede in part to Moses request, still God will not fully reveal Himself in all His glory and majesty, not even to this great servant of His. I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you…But, you cannot see my face…
And I wonder if we can identify with any of this. Maybe we too have found ourselves in that position – always wanting more of God’s closeness, of God’s nearness – more of God Himself in our lives. But at times feeling as if God was holding back from us in some kind of way.
The reality is that whatever else God is, in the world that we live in today, our God is not always obvious. However, that’s not because He is not there, but more as a consequence of our human limitations and sinfulness. And if we look through the Bible it is very realistic about the hiddenness of God.
The prophet Isaiah once said, Truly you are a God who hides yourself…And in the book of Job, amidst his pain and heartache Job also cries out, Oh that I knew where I might find God…I go forward, but God is not there, and backward, but I cannot perceive God…
And the simple fact is that for many of us today, we might well echo these words of Isaiah and Job. Because sometimes it might seem that God’s absence is more palpable to us than His presence. In other words, we look for God but find – nothing. We long for God but feel – nothing. We speak to God but hear – nothing……..Have you ever felt like that?….
But then we have those moments…
Moments when in the middle of the most awful day, when we feel down or despondent and completely on our own, suddenly, and almost out of nowhere, we have an overwhelming sense that we are surrounded by a warm cloud of God’s love.
Moments when we find ourselves tossing and turning in bed, unable to sleep because of some anxiety or fear bearing down upon us, and suddenly in the darkness we think we might see the flame of God’s peace that has not been extinguished after all.
And when these moments come to us we latch onto them and hold on to them, never wanting to let them go. Why? So that we can remember them when neither fire nor cloud is visible – because we know that time will come again as we get caught up in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
Not because they have gone – like the cloud and pillar of fire they are always there. But in the midst of life we all too often lose sight of them or they become obscured because of some darkness we are facing in our own lives.
However, whilst we may experience God in some kind of divine or supernatural way and we might take great comfort from this, all too often when these moments come to us it is in the most natural of ways – through the kindness, the care, the love and the compassion of someone else’s presence and actions.
A family member, a good friend, or even a total stranger – a good Samaritan.
Someone who simply offers a kind word, a look of understanding, a listening ear, a simple touch, an acknowledgement of pain, a warm smile – that’s all it might take. And suddenly we know the presence of God within us – in those around us.
And just pause for a moment to think of how often this has happened to you. How often did these things happen in the most unexpected of ways and suddenly out of nowhere. But how often was it the case that this is precisely what you needed at that time.
Before He returned to His Father in Heaven, Jesus told us that He would be with us until the end of time and through the Holy Spirit He is – and always will be. If only we would open our hearts to Him every minute of every day we would surely know that.
Because the simple truth is that if we no longer feel God’s presence in our lives, it’s not because God has gone anywhere – rather it is us who have shut Him out. Perhaps and hopefully not intentionally, but more likely through getting caught up in all that life throws at us.
But God is still with us, and if we would allow His Spirit to move within us we would know His presence in our lives every day. However, for us as Christians today, this is just the beginning, and there is more to it than simply knowing that God’s presence is with us.
At various times in the pastoral letters he wrote to different Churches, the Apostle Paul speaks of the need for us, as Disciples of Jesus, to imitate our Lord and Saviour as best we can. Indeed he even called on others to imitate him, imitating Jesus as best he could.
But what does that mean for us in practical terms as we seek to live out our faith each day?
In all He said and did, Jesus put the needs of others before Himself, calling on us to love others and to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. And just think for a moment how we would like every other person behave towards us – that’s how we should behave towards others.
The Apostle Paul would go on to tell us that we are all called to show love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – the fruit of the Holy Spirit, that same Holy Spirit which is within us all as Disciples of Jesus. As to how we do this?….
Over the past seven months I have heard of, and seen for myself – so many examples of people doing just this, showing the fruit of God’s Spirit in their lives in the way they have behaved towards others. All these things we thought of before; an act of kindness – helping with shopping or something else; a kind word – a phone call to keep in touch and ask if all is well; sharing with others over the garden fence or in passing on the street. Offering help, comfort and reassurance where it is needed.
Even in these days when we are so limited in the things we are able to do, just being there for someone is still possible and from what I have seen and heard, has been and is still happening. And in all of this we are following the example of our Saviour – looking to the needs of others and if we can help in any way, doing so.
In our society today it’s very easy for people to say, if God does exist, where is He – show me evidence of His presence in the world today. So let’s do that in the way we live – let’s continue allow God’s Spirit to work in and through us, bearing the fruit of that Spirit in all we say and do. That through this witness others may know that God does exist and that He is indeed present in the world today……Amen.
God of love and power we pray for Your Church here in our own communities, in this land and throughout the world. We pray that through the faith and courage of your people Your Word may be preached and lived and that more people may come to know the presence of Your Son and so invite Him into their lives.
We pray for all who are in need this day; that those who are sick may be cared for; those who are lonely, sustained; those who are hungry, fed; those who are oppressed, strengthened; and those who mourn, comforted. We think especially of those in our own community who need you at this time and ask that You would make Your presence known to them in a mighty and comforting way.
And at a time when we hear that cases of Covid-19 are increasing once again and we are being asked to live our lives in a certain way, we think of those who are most affected by this. Those who will feel more isolated and alone, those who will become more anxious and fearful and those who become ill from this virus. And of course we remember those who have lost loved ones in recent weeks and months and ask that Your hand might be upon them.
We remember also today our NHS and Care Sector staff and ask that You be with all of them. And also those, who in these strange days in which we live help to keep our lives as normal as they can be. And of course we remember our own loved ones and all in our own communities. Draw each one close to You and minister to them as only You can. And all these things we ask in Jesus name…Amen.