Have you taken the time today to reflect upon God’s presence? Where have you seen God or experienced God this past week? What are you doing to intentionally cultivate your awareness of God’s presence in your life or in the people around you?
I know these are not easy questions to answer. And when you do seek to answer them, you end up less than satisfied with your responses. You are either embarrassed that you have not taken time to focus upon God’s presence or you are unsure whether you can truly identify God’s presence.
Besides, what difference does it make?
I understand. I confess that I’m still learning to become more aware of God’s presence in my life. So, let me tell you what I am learning.
Recognizing God in Everyday Places Is Not…
First, I am not talking about some vague feeling that crawls in my heart and makes me say, “You know, I feel kind of funny. I think it must be God.” Becoming aware of God’s presence might very well come with emotion and feeling, but God’s presence is not based upon my feelings.
Second, as wonderful and beautiful as it is, I am not talking about nature.
I am fascinated with nature. As someone who grew up in the mountains, I know how beautiful the mountains are this time of year. I love the streams, the birds, the flowers, the bushes, the color of the leaves. Last evening, I heard the geese fly over my house. As I looked up, I watched them form a “v” in flight. My driveway and yard are filled with walnuts. I see two white squirrels every day on my walk. In the spring, I look for the redbud and dogwood to bloom. I love azalea, crape myrtle, the flowering cherry, and the Mandevilla.
But you know what?
You could have all the flowing trees, bushes, and flowers in your yard, have the birds fly over your house every day, be surrounded by daffodils and irises and buttercups and azaleas, spend your life in that marvelous splendor and still not know exactly what God is like.
Third, I have learned I must intentionally cultivate my awareness of God’s presence. I have learned that I must read the scripture, reflect upon it, respond to it, and return to my reflection upon it. It is an exercise that opens my eyes, as well as my heart, to God and to God’s activity around me. Let me give you an example.
Focus Intentionally on Recognizing God
I recently reflected upon these words from John 14:5-9:
Thomas said to him (Jesus), “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said to him (Jesus), “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me as seen the Father…”
“Whoever has seen me has seen the Father…” People who come to join the church are not asked a lot of questions about gender or race or about background and family connections. But each person is asked one question: Do you believe in the God who is revealed in Jesus? Most people who belong to our churches have said “yes” to that question at one time or another. Sometimes a person comes and says “yes” for the very first time.
I believe that is enough. But we live in a world where some people who say they “believe in God” are people of hate. They kill in the name of God. They are prejudiced in the name of God. But this is not the God I am talking about.
What is God like?
If you want to know who and what God is like, look at Jesus. Jesus is the revelation of God’s nature. John Killinger once put it this way, “Jesus is God’s way of getting rid of a bad reputation.”
Do you remember the time when there was a crowd gathered to hear Jesus, they were a long way from home, they were hungry, and Jesus fed them? That is what God is like. Do you remember when Jesus took the children on his lap, talked with them, blessed them, and encouraged their parents? That is what God is like. Do you remember when the leper came up to Jesus and said, “please help me” and he was made clean and healed? Jesus restored his relationships with family, community, and synagogue.
That is what God is like.
Jesus shows us who God is. This is the kind of God in whom we live. Do you remember the time when Jesus was with the disciples and they were arguing about who was the greatest among them? Jesus took a towel and a basin of water, knelt in from of them, and washed their feet. That is what God is like. Do you remember when Jesus took the cross on his shoulder and started up the hill to Golgotha?
That is what God is like.
God became flesh and blood human being in Jesus so we could understand who God is. Over and against all the confusion, suspicion, hatred, pain, and prejudice, God sent Jesus so that you and I could see what God looked like in history, walking the streets of a city in wide-open daylight. Jesus was God’s attempt to right what had really gone wrong, our basic assumptions about God.
This is why Paul wrote “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19 KJV). Jesus was God’s way of reaching all the way down to our assumption level and showing us that, from the garden on, we have been mistaken about who God is and what God wants to do with us.
The question is, are you willing to take God’s action, on your behalf, seriously enough to trust it? Will you allow the image of Jesus to penetrate down to the level of your assumptions, so you can be transformed? I mean, if you can’t trust a Christlike God, who can you trust?
So, let’s try something. Close your eyes and imagine, if you will, the following: (You will have to keep your eyes open to read it, but you get my point).
You have fainted away in the presence of Jesus of Nazareth. You are totally vulnerable and defenseless. Based on what you see and know of Jesus in the New Testament, what do you think he will do to you? Will he steal your money? Exploit your body? Take advantage of your helplessness? Of course not. Of all the people in the world, who could you trust more to help you and not hurt you? The good news is that Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God. Who Jesus was during the days of his flesh, God has always been and will always be. “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father…”
So, read the scripture, reflect upon it, respond to it, and return to your reflection.
There is much of the Bible I do not understand. And there are a lot of people who say things about God that I can’t accept as being true.
But I do believe this: Jesus is God’s way of letting us know that we are loved and that we can trust him with our lives.
Where have you seen people being fed, encouraged, cleansed, healed, and forgiven? Consider where have you experienced being listened to, accepted, loved, and included? Where have you experienced God this past week?
When you lay your head on the pillow tonight, give God thanks for the grace to recognize God’s love in everyday places.
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