Imagine a day at the beach. You arrive with the family and put on the sunscreen. You set up your umbrella, your towels, the lawn chairs, the ice chest, build your sandcastle and then go out into the waves to play. You have a great time for quite a while. You then look back at the beach and suddenly realize that all of your things are gone. You immediately presume that you have been robbed while you were not paying attention. Right before your emotions take you to the dark side someone in your family comes up beside you and explains that the waves and the current have been carrying you along and you have merely drifted. Your things are fine, just about 100 yards farther down the beach than you are.
This happens at times in our spiritual lives as well. We are people of faith who suddenly realize that we have drifted from our Savior. In the midst of focusing on our things, we have become more cynical, more selfish, more impatient, more prideful, more susceptible to sin and begin to question God in ways we never would have before.
We find a similar situation in Psalm 73. This Psalm was written by a man named Asaph. 1 Chronicles 25:1-6 tells us that Asaph was one of the chief worship leaders who served under King David. He was a man of God. He was a person who the people followed as he led them into the presence of God. He was the type of person that we would think surely would not have any doubts or struggles with his faith in God, but Psalm 73 are his words from scripture that are quite surprising. It is a struggle like many we will face at different times in our lives. Let’s take a moment and read these verses and see the importance of pursuing the presence of God in those time when we have drifted.
In Psalm 73 we find these words of Asaph.
1Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.
2 But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped.
3 For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
4 For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek.
5 They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.
6 Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment.
7 Their eyes swell out through fatness; their hearts overflow with follies.
8 They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression.
9 They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth.
10 Therefore his people turn back to them,and find no fault in them.
11 And they say, “How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?”
12 Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches.
13 All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence.
Thinking back to his time of struggling, Asaph, at the beginning of these verses, states what he knows for certain. “God is good to Israel and to those who are pure in heart.” This was the fact that Asaph claimed. This was the doctrine in his head, but the emotion in his heart, his practical theology, was causing him to drift.
It did not make sense that the godless could experience the “good” things of this life while the pure in heart were suffering and experiencing hardships. It affected Asaph to the point where his desires were being drawn away from God and towards the things of the world. Asaph, says “my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”
In the following verses Asaph describes all the envious characteristics of the lives of the godless.
You are familiar with the feeling. You honor God by keeping your body pure only to see the ungodly find their mate first. You are ethical at work and do your best but still have not gotten the promotion. You are the obedient Christian teenager but all the “wild kids” are the ones having all the fun. You are trying to follow the legal process to receive your residency card with no results, while others are using illegal methods and getting their papers quickly. It seems so unfair.
This was the situation as the reader comes to verse 13 and hears Asaph’s desperate statement. “All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence.” He begins to see holiness as a futile act.
So why do we live a holy life? The wicked are wealthy and powerful and we have nothing. What good is this faith? It looks like they are blessed, we are not, and they don’t even believe in God? Everything had been turned upside down for Asaph. The things that were truly important seemed to be worthless and forgotten, and the things that were of little value showed themselves to be utterly priceless. Until. . .
17 until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.
18 Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin.
19 How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors!
20 Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.
21 When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart,
22 I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you.
23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
27 For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
28 But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.
Asaph was a worshiper of God who had drifted. His heart had grown bitter, his perspective skewed, his desires worldly, until . . . Until he came into the presence of God. It was only then that he saw things as they really were. Being in the presence of God changed everything.
Now in one sense the Bible teaches us that God is omni-present, that God is present everywhere at the same time. As believers we also have the Holy Spirit abiding in us. We are the temple of God. Christ is in us and we are in Him. In that sense we are always in His presence, but at times in scripture we see the “manifest presence” of God. These are the times when God makes Himself known in a way that is clear and convincing. God’s manifest presence is when God unmistakably interacts with man.
Numerous times in the Old Testament we see God come near and make His presence known. We see it through prophecies, miracles, plagues, the giving of the law, dreams, visions, and unexplainable events in nature. We see it in the way God disciplined, healed, provided, blessed, and restored. He is not a God who stands at a distance and just watches. He is a God who draws near.
It was the presence of God that set Israel apart from all other nations and it is the presence of God that must set us apart as well.
We can be busy with religious rituals and church activities, we can have a nice building and even correct doctrine, but if the presence of God is not in our midst then our efforts will be in vain.
In the words of Jesus in John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
This does not mean that we should constantly wait for periodic dramatic and miraculous events to happen. In the New Testament we see that God’s presence can now be an ongoing reality. Now that the Spirit lives in us, we are to abide in Him. As we walk in the Spirit, as we draw near, as we nurture God’s presence in our lives He begins to work in and through us on an ongoing basis.
In the Old Testament, in the temple in Jerusalem, there was an outer courts for the gentiles, another court for the Jewish women, a nearer court for Jewish men, and then the temple itself that only the priests could enter. In the innermost part of the temple was the Holy of holies where the presence of God dwelt and only the high priest could enter once a year on the Day of Atonement. God dwelt with His people, but to some extent they were still held at a distance.
Now, because of Christ’s death and resurrection, all who have turned from their sin and put their faith in Jesus Christ are now indwelt by the Holy Spirit. The presence of God now dwells in each of us. We are the temple of God. Because of this, the ongoing manifest presence of God is now possible in our lives.
God is the one who decides when and how He reveals His work in us, but He has also taught us in scripture how to prepare for His coming.
It is similar to Isaiah 40:3-5. “Prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.”
In Isaiah’s time in history the roads were much worse than they are today. When a king wanted to travel from one city to another, he would send out hundreds or even thousands of workers. They would clear the road of stones and fallen trees. They would level out the rough terrain. They would do whatever was necessary to “prepare the way for their king.”
Their work did not actually bring the king, but made the way ready for when the king would choose to come. That is similar in our lives. We cannot determine how God will work in our lives, but we can remove all obstacles to His coming.
Hebrews 12:1-2 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”
It is interesting that it is not only sin that entangles us. We are to throw off everything that hinders us. There are many things that are obstacles to drawing near to God. It could be fatigue. It could be pressure. It could be worry. It could be distraction. It could be busy-ness. It could be selfishness. It could be covetousness or pride. Here the author of Hebrews is calling us to vigilant pruning in our lives. What is in our lives that is keeping us from the presence of God?
- Maybe He is waiting for us to take the step of faith that He has called us to and as we obey we will find Him there.
- Maybe He is waiting to miraculously restore that broken relationship but He first needs you to be open to the possibility.
- Maybe He is waiting for holiness and obedience and once we repent and make things right He will rush in.
His Presence, Our Hope
Can you imagine what God might do if we as a church would bow our hearts and submit our lives to Him anew, as Lord and King? Imagine the presence of God in the midst of our youth activities, our Children’s classes, our worship services, our various ministries and outreach. Think of the marriages that could be healed, the addictions that could be set aside, the salvations that could happen, the lives that could be made new. Anything is possible when the presence of God comes. As a church may we pray for a divine discontentment that is content only with the presence of God and nothing less.
I would like to share this story as we close.
There was an evangelist who used to preach around the world. His name was Sammy Tippit. On one trip he was traveling through Communist eastern Europe. Somehow, he had gained permission to hold evangelistic services that often met in outdoor sports stadiums. He tells how it would often be raining on the day of the meetings. His group would gather and pray that the rain would stop so that people would come to the services, and often times the rain would stop. It was a testimony to the power and love of God for the people of those countries.
On one occasion Mr. Tippit and his group were traveling by bus across the border into another country. The border guard came onto the bus and saw several rugs that Mr. Tippit had purchased from different countries to take home as souvenirs. The guard took notice of one of the rugs and where it was from and demanded that a large tax be paid to take it across the border. The guard then left the bus. It was the rug that Mr. Tippit liked the best.
The group discussed the problem and one person suggested that Mr. Tippit switch the tags with a less desirable rug and leave that less desirable rug behind. They would be deceiving the border guard, but he probably did not have any right to charge this tax anyway. . . It all got quiet, and they thought about it for a moment and then a voice could be heard from the back of the bus, coming from one of the older men in the group. “Mr. Tippit, you could switch the tags on the rugs if you would like, and deceive the guard, but I bet the next time we pray, the rain will not stop."
With this in mind, will we be the “blessable” people who usher in the presence of God? Will you prepare the way for the coming of the King in your life? There may be different ways that God is calling for you to respond today. Maybe you need to turn from your sin and put your trust in Jesus Christ? Maybe you have drifted from Christ, and today is the day that you need to return home? Maybe God is calling you to join our church family here at Wilcrest as we serve Christ in this place at this time? Maybe today you are walking faithfully with God, but He just wants you to hunger for more of His presence.