The LORD is there

“Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast.”  Psalm 139:7-10

Why couldn’t Jonah run from God? Why couldn’t Adam and Eve hide from God? The answers to these questions can be found in God’s name. The Bible gives God many different names. He is called Creator, LORD, Everlasting, Almighty, King, and Shepherd.  He is called Savior, Redeemer, and Father…just to name a few. In biblical times a name represented a person’s character. God’s name represents His very nature.

One of the names given to God is Jehovah-shammah, which means the LORD is there. A Scottish Christian named Geoffrey Bull (1921-1999) knew God by this name. Chinese Communists imprisoned Bull for three years. In his book God Holds the Key, Bull wrote:

“I had no Bible in my hand, no watch on my wrist, no pencil or paper in my pocket.  There was no real hope of release. There was no real hope of life. There was no real possibility of reunion with those I loved. The only reality was my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Divested of all, He was to become everything to me. He was to break my bars and enlarge my coasts in the narrow room. He was to be my fullest nourishment amidst the meager food. ‘My meat,’ which my captors ‘knew not of.’ He would make me glad with His countenance. He would let me hear His voice. As in the days of His nativity, Herod may reign and imagine slaughter against the innocent but let me see His star and I would come to worship Him.”

In that tiny Chinese prison cell, God was there with Geoffrey Bull. He comforted him in his darkest moments. In the belly of the big fish, God was there with Jonah. Deep among the covering of the trees in Eden, God was there with Adam and Eve. He sought them in their sin and shame.

God is there…Jehovah-shammah…wherever you are. Whether you are suffering because of your rebellion or because of your obedience…God is there. As the psalmist sings in Psalm 139, you cannot flee from God’s presence. He is in the heights and in the depths.  He is in the light and in the darkness. He is always with you.

LORD, Thank You for always being with me. Help me to know, believe, and live the truth that You are all I need. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

 

You Can’t Run

“The word of the LORD came to Jonah, son of Amittai: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before Me.’ But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the LORD. Then the LORD sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up.”  Jonah 1:1-4 

When I read the first chapter of Jonah, I can’t help but think of the classic children’s book, The Gingerbread Man. Do you know the story? The gingerbread man thinks he is so smart as he runs away, singing, “Run, run, as fast as you can. You can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man!” He manages to escape for a while, but then he meets a sly fox that tricks him, lures him close, and gobbles him up.

God had a clear plan for Jonah’s life. And Jonah had the amazing privilege of hearing that plan straight from God. There was no mystery…no wondering what God’s will was for his life. God told Jonah exactly where to go and what to do. There was only one problem. Jonah ran…just like the Gingerbread Man. Obviously Jonah’s plan and God’s plan were not the same. So, Jonah made the mistake that so many have made…he tried to run from God.

Jonah not only tried to run away from God…he tried to sail away from God. He boarded a ship headed in the opposite direction from Nineveh. But God would not let Jonah go.  Although Jonah obviously did not believe it, God knew His plans for Jonah were better than his own. He had created Jonah for a purpose, and He was not finished with him yet.  God proved to Jonah that he couldn’t outrun Him by sending a storm and a big fish to “redirect” his path. And finally, in the dark, smelly gut of that fish Jonah decided to cooperate.

In the end, many people turned and worshiped the LORD as a result of God’s work through Jonah’s life. The men on his getaway boat believed and worshiped God after they saw the winds still. The people of Nineveh, from the king all the way down, believed God and repented of their sins. May we learn from Jonah’s example not only that we cannot run from God’s plans, but also that we shouldn’t want to run. Not only for our own sake, but also for the sake of the people that God may be planning to reach through our lives.

LORD, Your plan for my life is clear in Your word. My purpose is to share Your love and Your gospel with others. I know there are times when I try to run from You. Please forgive me for doubting Your goodness. I surrender this day to Your plans for me. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

 

Free to Pray

“Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.”  Ephesians 6:18

Have you considered lately what an incredible honor it is to pray? Through faith in Jesus Christ, we can have a conversation with the God of the universe. The God who spoke the world into existence is willing to listen to us, and to respond. This should blow our minds!

In Ephesians 6, Paul encourages believers to pray, pray, pray. Not matter what, pray.  Don’t stop meeting with God.  There is a sense of urgency in this passage. “Wake up!” Paul says, “Pray!” And what are we to pray for? In a word: everything. Big and small, important or mundane, healthy or sick, rich or poor, easy or hard…pray…and then pray some more.

Maybe this is one reason that Paul’s life had such impact…prayer. Many times we can get so busy trying to “live for God” that we neglect to call on Him. We neglect to thank Him and praise Him. We forget to pray for our brothers and sisters. We take the freedom to pray for granted.

Did you know that there was a time when God’s people could not commune with God in prayer the way we can? Under the Old Covenant, God’s presence dwelled behind a curtain, with the people, but not in them. Only a select few spoke with God personally. But, as the Bride of Christ through New Covenant of grace, we have the freedom to pray in the Spirit all the time, with all kinds of requests.

Do you appreciate this freedom? Much like political freedom, it was not free. Just as many brave soldiers have died to give us freedom, Jesus died to give us the freedom to have a personal relationship with God. And prayer is one of the greatest benefits of this relationship.

Father, It is humbling to know that when I talk to You, You listen. I ask that You would align my will with Yours, so that my prayers are effective and in accordance with Your perfect plans. Remind me throughout the day to pray continually, not just for my own needs, but also for the burdens and needs of others. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

You Can’t Hide

“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as He was walking in the Garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the Garden. But the LORD God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’”  Genesis 3:8-9

It is futile to try to hide from God. But the first thing Adam and Eve did when they realized the consequences of their sin was to attempt the impossible. They ran and hid when they heard God approaching. They attempted to cover their sin and shame with flimsy fig leaves. But then God asked the ultimate rhetorical question: “Where are you?”  God is omniscient…so He knew exactly where they were and what they had done. Yet He still called out to them. He sought them out when they tried to hide.

God is the foremost seeker. We hide and He seeks. We tend to think of ourselves as seeking Him. But if we do seek God, it is because He first sought us. Our natural inclination, just like Adam and Eve’s, is to hide from God. Our gut reaction is to try to cover our sin. But as Adam and Eve learned that day in the Garden, our futile attempts to hide will never work.

Why can’t we hide from God? The reasons go beyond the obvious. Of course God is all knowing and all seeing. But it goes deeper than that. God is too gracious to allow it. He would have been completely just to never approach Adam and Eve after they hid from Him. After all, He had given them clear instructions and carefully explained the consequences of disobedience. If they ate from the forbidden tree, they would “surely die” (Genesis 2:17).

They heard God. They understood. But they chose to eat it anyway. They deserved death…and they knew it. Why else would they have hidden? That could have – and should have – been the end of Adam and Eve’s relationship with God. But their Creator wouldn’t have it. He went to them, fully aware of their rebellion. He called to them. He covered them. And yes, He disciplined them, but not without a promise.

For generations people continued to disobey God and to hide from Him. And God continued to call out to His rebellious creation. When the time came, God offered the ultimate invitation to come to Him. He offered His Son on the cross. In Christ sin is no longer covered over…it is taken away through faith in Him. There is no need to hide in guilt and shame. Our Creator is gracious, and He bids us to come and be forgiven.

Father, Thank You for seeking me when I was far from You. I deserved death for my sin, and yet you forgave me. Lord, help me to remember that I cannot hide anything from You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Free to Obey

“You are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.”  Galatians 4:7

Christ-followers have gone from slaves to sons…from rebellious sinners to chosen children. And as God’s children, we are heirs of the Most-High God. A slave must obey…a son may choose to obey out of love and honor for his father. As children of God, it is our privilege to obey our Father. Because He has freed us from slavery and made us His very own children, we are co-heirs with Christ.

An heir is someone who is given a possession through the right of sonship. But what is it that Christians possess through sonship? We are heirs of God’s glory (Romans 8:17). We are heirs of God’s promise (Galatians 3:29). We are heirs of eternal life (Titus 3:7). We are heirs of the gracious gift of life (1 Peter 3:7). And we are heirs of the righteousness that comes by faith (Hebrews 11:7). God has graciously lavished on us His inheritance; and we are blessed beyond measure.

However, with great blessing comes great responsibility. “Free” does not mean lawless.  God has redeemed us from the curse of the law (death) because we were flawed, not the law. The law was good…man just could not fully keep it. And full obedience is what righteousness required. As sons and daughters, though, we are free to obey God through the power of His Spirit who lives in and through us…moving us to obey.

This does not mean we will always keep God’s commands perfectly – but it does mean that we will desire to try. It means that there is no condemnation when we fail. God has chosen to punish His perfect Son, a lamb without blemish, for our transgressions so that we can stand in His presence as righteous, holy children. Obedience now flows out of grace, not fear of punishment. We are sons, not slaves. We no longer have to strive to earn God’s favor through obedience, but are free to love God through obedience.  Now that’s what I call freedom!

Holy Father, All Your ways are good. Your Word is flawless. I know Your commands are for my good. I desire to obey You with a grateful heart. Thank You for Your Spirit, who gives me the power to obey You. Thank You for freeing me from slavery and making me Your child. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.