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  • Writer's picturemattlillicrap

Presence



At the church where I’m Associate Pastor (Eden Baptist in Cambridge) we have been writing daily pastoral encouragements during the coronavirus outbreak. I have written a few reflecting on different features of God’s glory, and how they bring us comfort and move us to wonder and worship even in tough times.

Read these famous words from Psalm 139 slowly:

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, 10 even there your hand will guide me,     your right hand will hold me fast.

They speak of a fundamental feature of God’s glory. Many of us perhaps learned it right from our youngest days in Sunday School, when we asked, “So where is God?”

God is everywhere.

My children sometimes sing a simple song which goes: “Even when I’m climbing, climbing, climbing, God is there, for he is everywhere.” The other day one of my children altered the words: “Even during home-school, home-church, home-time, God is there, for he is everywhere.” It’s a wonderfully simple truth to grasp, but it’s also unfathomably deep.

Have you really chewed over it recently? There is nowhere in all creation where God is not present. Point Nemo in the Pacific Ocean is at least 15 days travel from the nearest land inhabited by humans. God is there. The deepest part of the ocean, the Mariana trench is about 7 miles. God is there. The furthest star we have so far measured is 9 billion light years away. God is there.

And it’s not as though God is somehow ‘spread out’ across all creation. He is fully present in every imaginable corner of every imaginable part of his creation. He is fully present in every part, sustaining it and preserving it because he knows it as fully as it is possible to know anything.

Presence has been on my mind over the past few weeks. It has been wonderful to ‘join’ in live-streamed worship and Zoom prayer meetings. Our family has hunkered down in our living room, prayed and sung together, we’ve linked up with others in various chats after the meetings. But let’s be honest; good as it can be, it’s not church. I have been encouraged, but I have also felt really sad. What’s missing? Presence.

I miss being present together with God’s people, the body of Christ, gathered. That’s what church is after all. And during these last few weeks, Zoom and WhatsApp, and Facebook and Google Hangouts and the plain old-fashioned phone have gone some way to help, but I have missed being present with people.

Which is why this truth about God is so wonderful for us during these days. We can’t be present with one another at the moment because we are limited. We can only be in one place at once, and at the moment we can’t be there at the same time as each other. But God has no limit like that.

Why is this so valuable to us at the moment? Because God’s ‘omnipresence’ is personal. We usually think of it (and I already have been) by saying things like ‘wherever you are, God is there.’ But so wonderfully, it also means, ‘wherever I am, God is here.’

Which means that even when we are stuck at home in self-isolation, or sticking to social-distancing advice, when we are crying out for the presence of others, and especially for the presence of God’s people… God is here.

And as those who trust in the Lord Jesus, this personal presence is guaranteed and made real in our every day. In Jesus, God’s omnipresence reaches its ultimate goal. He is the Word made flesh who made his dwelling, (his home!) among us. He is the one called Immanuel, God with us. Wonderfully his presence is not just fully everywhere, but even fully at all times too; “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

Let that sink in:

In all places… when you’re on your own and longing for others’ presence, when you’re struggling with fractious children and cabin fever, when you’re searching for that elusive flour, when you’re joining the live-stream or a virtual house group

And at all times… when you’re feeling close to him, when someone has just asked you how God can possibly let this happen, a couple of months ago when everything felt normal and in a month’s time when you’re raging at the wall in your house because it feels like there’s still no one else to cry to.

God is here, Jesus is with you always, to the very end of the age.

That’s a truth worth clinging to with all our might, that we would be certain of God’s everywhere-presence with us each day.

Onwards, to Glory!

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