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Trading God’s Presence for His Promise

Sometimes life just gets hard. Especially when we find ourselves in the desert.

Hungry. Thirsty. Dying inside. Definitely tired.

You know what I mean. Have you ever set out toward a blessing, believing God for one of His promises, but it seemed to take forever to get there?

And the longer it takes the more doubt sets in. Weariness saps your strength. And when you and I get weary, we get desperate. We’d do anything for a quick fix, an easy way out.

What would you be willing to sacrifice to leave the desert?

Imagine that Jesus were to approach you today and offer to carry you off to heaven to bask in all its blessings  . . .

  • Eternal life without sin
  • Perfect healing and an end to sickness
  • No more sadness, sorrow or tears
  • Mansions and streets of gold
  • Surpassing love and unending joy
  • Transcending peace

But there’s a catch: He wouldn’t go with you. Would you accept it? If you could leave the pain and struggles of this life today, exchanging it for the glories of heaven, but you’d have to go without Jesus, would you go? Would the blessings be enough for you without Jesus to share it with?

I caution you not to answer too hastily. What we know to be the “right” answer doesn’t always mesh with the truth of what lies within our hearts. I know this from experience. When we invite Jesus in on the conversation, we may be surprised at what we discover about ourselves. I was.

Your honest answer to that question will reveal a lot about your heart. Do you seek Jesus, or do you just want the benefit of His promises?

God gave the Israelites a similar offer in Exodus 33. He had miraculously delivered them from their Egyptian captivity and led them to Mt. Sinai. Then while Moses met with God on the mountain, they thanked Him by building and worshiping a golden calf.

God’s response to them may surprise you.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’  I will send an angel before you and drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.  Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.” Exodus 33:1-3

Can you imagine? Israel had not been faithful to Him, but God always remains faithful to His word.  And He had made a promise to Abraham that He intended to keep. God would indeed bring the people into the land He promised them, and He wouldn’t send them alone. He would send an angel before them to clear the land of the enemies living on it. They could just walk right in.

God offered Israel an easy path to quick prosperity in the land of milk and honey, as well as a gift of divine power to claim it. It would end their desert hunger and thirst. It almost sounds too good to be true.

It might be. There’s a catch. God Himself wouldn’t be going.

Perhaps that doesn’t seem like a big deal to you. I mean, that’s what we’re after, isn’t it? We want to experience God’s blessings and promises. I wonder how many of us would jump at that opportunity today.

Let’s see how Israel responded.

 When the people heard these distressing words, they began to mourn and no one put on any ornaments.  . . . Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” Exodus 33:4, 15-16

Dear one, any blessing we might receive from God isn’t worth anything without God Himself. Israel understood that, even with their constant rebellion and habitual lack of faith. God Himself is the reward. They wouldn’t take another step without Him.

What are you really after, dear one? Is Jesus merely the means to an end, or is He the end you’ll pursue by whatever means?

What would you be willing to do, beloved, to truly know God’s presence? Would you trade the easy path in order to know His sufficiency? Would you go to battle to experience the working of His strength? Would you forfeit a miracle and experience loss to truly know His comfort? Is His presence worth whatever encountering it may cost?

Perhaps it’s time to start believing Psalm 84:10,

Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere.

Jesus is everything, dear one. He wants to be everything to you.

Unlikely Cherished Things

Confession time again.

Have you ever held onto a promise of God—watching, waiting, wrestling with the time it has taken to fulfill it—and wondered if perhaps you had been wrong to believe it? You reason that God might fulfill this promise for someone else, but what if He’s decided not to do it for you? What if this isn’t part of your blessing?

A part of my heart has been broken for a very long time. Nothing particularly traumatic or extraordinary happened to me to break it. Years ago, I simply made some destructive choices in search of acceptance. Choices that the world offers as commonplace and right, but that God warns will leave their mark. They did.

I had no idea the extent of the damage. Like most of us do, I looked at my life and the progress I’d made with the Lord and thought I was okay.

But God is too good to allow us to settle for okay. After all, His Son was beaten, bled, and hung on a cross to heal what sin’s damage left broken. To restore us. To make us whole.

Still, as much as God has transformed me and poured His grace into my life, in this area, I have not been whole.

And I’ve struggled with God over it.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve cried out to Him in prayer, surrendering this one thing and asking for healing. Yet I remain stuck.

While Living Water flows and empowers so many areas of my life, something has blocked its movement here. This place remains a dry desert.

This week, I revisited Numbers 13. I stood in the desert with Moses and witnessed God sending men from each tribe to explore the land He’d promised to Israel. After forty days, the men returned and reported what they had found.

“We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit.” Numbers 13:27

They found the land exactly as God had promised. They even tasted the fruit available to them there.

“But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large.” Numbers 13:28

So they determined not to even try to claim the land God had promised them.

Listen, dear one. Twelve men entered the land God clearly said He was giving them as an inheritance (verse 1). They all witnessed the same things. They all saw that the land was good, and they all saw the fortified cities and fighting men.

Two of those men focused on the promises of God and received them into their lives. The other ten focused on the obstacles keeping them from attaining it. Those ten, as well as the rest of the Israelites who believed them, never left the desert. That’s where they died.

It struck me that I have had a similar experience to those Israelites. I have witnessed God’s awesome power to deliver and have left the captivity of much of my sin. Now I stand in the desert looking at the promise of wholeness God has placed before me, that He has promised to give me through His Word. I have even tasted the fruit of it as God has graciously allowed breakthrough moments that have shown me what’s possible in Him.

But those moments always fade, and the obstacles loom large once again. Still, I remain in the desert.

I can’t help but ask the question. Why?

I’m not particularly fond of the answer He gave me.

You see, just like those Israelites, I have kept myself in the desert. Part of me clung to its familiarity, even while I cried out to God to deliver me from it.

Somehow along the way, this very part of myself that I hated and cried out to God to restore became a cherished thing. I wanted God to miraculously heal it, but at the same time, I’m recognizing that I didn’t really want to give it up. It defined me. It was familiar. I actually feared the void it might leave if I let go of it. So I didn’t. I asked God to take it, but I wasn’t willing to hand it to Him. I said I was, but I’ve discovered that my heart didn’t agree.

And that was the problem, dear one. Because God will only take what we freely offer Him.

Yesterday, my Scripture reading took me to Mount Moriah. I wept with Abraham as he placed his cherished thing, his beloved son Isaac, on the altar of sacrifice. He didn’t allow the obstacles ahead of him—death itself—to keep him from believing God’s promise to bless him through Isaac. Hebrews 11:19 reveals that he reasoned God could raise him from the dead.

So Abraham placed his son on the altar, fully believing in the goodness of his faithful God. Expecting a miracle, he chose not to withhold his cherished thing.

And God provided a ram in place of Abraham’s offering. God didn’t take, dear one. He gave. And He multiplied Abraham’s offering. Instead of only the one cherished son, Abraham would have “descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore (Genesis 22:17).”

Look at God’s response to His faithful servant.

“I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you . . .” Genesis 22:16-17

What are you withholding from God, dear one, that blocks the flow of His blessing into your life? As I discovered, sometimes the things we’re holding onto aren’t even good things. They’re destructive things. Things we’ve convinced ourselves we need, when actually they are the very things that rob us of the blessing we desire through them.

God doesn’t empty, beloved. He fills. He swears on His own name that He will do it.

“I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld ____________________________ I will surely bless you . . .” Genesis 22:16-17

Will you believe Him?

You Will See Me

“Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me.” John 14:19

Do you see Jesus, beloved? According to Jesus’ own words, you ought to. That’s one of the rights and privileges of being His disciple. While the world cannot see Him, His followers can.

Perhaps that statement has raised your eyebrows in disbelief. After all, seeing Jesus was a blessing reserved for those who lived in His day, right? How can you and I see Jesus?

Yet before He left them, Jesus told His Disciples, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me.” John 14:18-19

Dear one, followers of Jesus aren’t just supposed to hear about Him at church. We’re supposed to see Him at work.

I’ll admit that for many years I didn’t see Jesus. I went to church. I had memorized Scripture. I had followed someone through the recital of the “sinner’s prayer” and asked Jesus to be my Savior. But I couldn’t see any evidence of Jesus at work in my life, and that left me floundering in my Christianity, doubting my salvation, and wondering if He was even real.

Can you relate? Do you see Jesus at work in and around you? Or are you left trusting that Jesus exists only because you’ve heard stories of how others have experienced Him? Are you secretly longing to have your own story to share?

You, dear one, are meant to witness Jesus revealed in your life. That blessing is available to you by the power of the Holy Spirit. Consider Jesus’ words from Luke 4:18.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed.”

Jesus came to set the oppressed free and restore sight to the blind. He didn’t claim that promise merely for those suffering the limitations of physical blindness. Jesus speaks that promise to you and me. The gift of the Spirit He sent us after His death and resurrection restores our spiritual sight.

So how can you experience the revelation of Jesus in your life? Let’s see what Jesus had to say about it.

“Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” John 14:21

Did you see His promise, dear one? Jesus claims He will love and reveal Himself to a very distinct group. He will show Himself to those who love Him.

Seeing Jesus isn’t about how often we go to church or how much Scripture we know. Seeing Jesus at work relates directly to the condition of our hearts.

Do you want to see Jesus reveal Himself? He asks one thing: offer Him your heart. Fully. Completely. Unashamedly. Jesus simply requires that you love Him.

That was the part I missed all those years. All the rituals of religion couldn’t open my eyes to see what I desperately needed. I had to open my heart to Him. I had to love Him. And I had to demonstrate that love by walking in obedience to His commands. I had to be willing to follow where He was leading me. 

Here’s the great news. Ezekiel 36:26-27 teaches,

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”

The ability to love and obey Jesus has been given to you by the Spirit Jesus sent. You need only ask Him to empower you to love Jesus as He deserves. The Spirit within you will “circumcise your heart” to love Him (Deuteronomy 30:6). And as you draw on His strength and submit to His authority, He will “move you to follow” His commands. As you follow Jesus through loving obedience, you will see Him revealed in your life.

Don’t settle for someone else’s experience of Jesus, beloved. He longs to give you your own.

 

The Son Rises

 “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you. 
See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, 
but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you.”

Isaiah 60:1-2

Have you ever had the joy of watching the sunrise? Of witnessing light splitting the darkness on the horizon?

I’ll admit that until recently, I’ve never been much of a morning person. Opening my eyes to welcome the day while darkness still blankets the earth never offered much appeal to me. I’d much rather wait until the sun is shining. To me, rising to the bright radiance of its warmth seems much more inviting.

But on a few occasions when I have allowed the Lord to draw me out of bed before the sun made its entrance, a spectacular sight greeted me. My willingness to rise in answer to the Lord’s invitation made me privy to a special blessing: I witnessed the waking of the earth.

Have you had the privilege, dear one? Have you observed the glorious transition from night to day as the sun draws back the heavy curtain of darkness? It’s wondrous to see. Anticipation stirs the heart, kindled by the sight of a hazy glow forming on the horizon to announce the sun’s ascent. Then light slowly penetrates the blackness, illuminating the earth with shades of yellow, orange and gold. After washing creation in a glorious array of color, the sun takes its place in the sky.

Beloved, we miss the glory of the sunrise when we refuse to awaken while the sky remains dark.

And yet, that’s what most of us choose. We’d much rather pull up the covers and settle back into sleep, waiting out the cold blackness that lingers before the dawn. We decide that we’ll rise from our slumber when it’s a bit more comfortable and inviting out there.

We take that same approach when Jesus calls us to rise in His name. The evil we see penetrating the earth makes us want to burrow under the covers and sleep through it. We reason that we’ll get up and stand for Jesus when circumstances are a bit more agreeable. Yes, we’ll wait for His light to rise and shine brightly, and then we’ll emerge from our slumber to bask in its warm glow.

There’s one problem with that line of thinking.

“You are the light of the world.” Matthew 5:14 

If you and I do not shine the light, dear one, how will it ever dispel the darkness? As followers of Jesus, our calling is clear.

“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.” Ephesians 5:8

Christ’s glory rises, dear one. The hazy glow forms even now on the horizon. Can you sense it? For that glow to pierce the darkness and fully illuminate the sky, you must do your part. Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you” (Isaiah 60:1).

It’s time to awaken from our slumber. Sure, we can remain in our cozy beds and wait for someone else to step up. We can let someone else experience the heavenly glory of the “Son rise” as it unfolds and continue on with sleeping. But we will miss the blessing of witnessing His revelation, and our complacency will only prolong His coming.

“What kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.” 2 Peter 3:11-12

Let’s answer Jesus’ call to shine His light and usher in a new day. He’s poised and ready to reveal His glory. Will you allow Him to do it through you? 

Awake, awake, O Zion, clothe yourself with strength. 
Put on your garments of splendor . . .
Shake off your dust; rise up, sit enthroned, O Jerusalem. 
Free yourself from the chains on your neck, O captive Daughter of Zion.

Isaiah 52:1-2