In middle school chapel on Wednesday mornings, we’ve been reading and sharing about what it means for people both long ago and now to live in the presence of God. Going all the way back to the first two parents and their decision to turn away and hide from God, we see our Loving Father reaching back to us and making a way for His sons and daughters to be with Him. Seeing how living in God’s presence affected Abraham and his family as well has been inspirational in reminding us of how close God is to us.
Each breath, each heart beat, every moment is a gift of God. And not only did He create us “fearfully and wonderfully,” but He is truly present as those early fathers and mothers in Genesis discovered. The following names that these men and women gave the God who had revealed Himself, albeit partially, attest to the glory and wonder of His presence that they experienced:
Jehovah Jireh, “The Lord-Will-Provide” (Genesis 22:14);
Peniel, “The-Face-of God” (Genesis 32:28); and
El Roi, “The God-Who-Sees-Me” (Genesis 16:13).
My question to the students, teachers, and myself has been,
How does this recognition, that we all live in God’s presence, change how we view our lives and how we live them?
In the coming weeks, we will culminate our chapel studies in Genesis with the story of Joseph, that great summit of forgiveness and reconciliation. Those words from Genesis 50:20,
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…
serve to remind each of us of the power of loving each other as God loves us each day through His presence. This habitual keeping of the other person’s best interest in mind, even being willing to suffer and even die for the other person, is what it means to model God’s presence to each other.
However, it is relatively easy to sit or stand and read and talk for 20 minutes. It is entirely another thing to practice the habitual practice of living in the presence of God. How easy it is to treat thoughts of God’s Face toward me as a distraction or burden. How careless can one be in not saving any time in the day to have a few moments alone with Jesus, to praise Him, to “cast all of our cares upon Him.”
We talk about perseverance a lot at RMCA. It’s one of those ‘master habits’ that we spend much time cultivating in our students. Often, that seems to involve concentrated effort in focusing, completing an assignment, keeping one’s attention to the reading, etc. As adults, we train ourselves to move on to the next thing, attend to the next issue, etc. As teachers and parents--all educators--we often gauge our success by how well we have persevered through all of our checklists.
However, as I’ve read these passages in Genesis with middle school, I’m reminded that perseverance is as applicable to the habitual stilling of one’s self before the Living God. I don’t know about you, but I often find it hard spending a few seconds in quiet, much less minutes, with God. But I am reminded of how Jacob basked in the glory of the God at Bethel, of how he persevered in his wrestling match with the Angel of God go “until he had blessed him.” I am reminded of how Abram and Sarai waited patiently for decades, persevered, for their promised son and then how Abraham persevered in that hardest test of all with his son Isaac.
Thinking ahead in the story that God tells of our past, I am reminded of that compelling scene shared by sisters Mary and Martha and Jesus in Luke 10:41-42:
Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.
And what is that one necessary thing, that good portion? Living in the presence of God. The people of the Old Testament only knew the Living God in part. Here, in the Gospels, we meet God face-to-face in the person of His Son. While Martha perseveres in her good service to God, Mary perseveres in a higher thing, a fleeting time in person with her Lord. And Jesus blesses her for it, through His words, yes, but especially by His presence.
We all have things in which to persevere. That list is going to be different for each of us. And we have many people depending on us. But we are not ultimately defined by those roles or needs. We are made in God’s image with the potential to be a ‘walking mirror’ of Him. That is our truest identity, and one in which each of us will have to be very intentional in persevering.
I look forward to persevering through many aspects of life with you in the coming months, with all of the likely changes that it will bring. No matter what happens, we are in this together and we are always stronger together as we more often remember that we are all living in the presence of the Living God.