Sometimes I find it hard to believe that verse.
I awoke Christmas Eve better prepared than ever . . . and with a stiff neck. What's up with that! While I didn't utter a stream of invectives, I wasn't a happy camper:
"Lord, not on Christmas Eve!" I have to preach five times!
I was reviewing my journal this morning and noticed what I wrote below my Christmas Eve "stiff neck entry":
- Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name, "Immanuel" (which means, God with us). Matthew 1:23
- Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for "In him we live and move and have our being." Acts 12:27-28
- Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? Psalm 139:7
- Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do not I fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD. Jeremiah 23:24
That was all I wrote. There is a big empty space in my journal after those four reminders of God's presence. Looking back, I realize that I actually preached six times on Christmas Eve. It's just that the first time I was preaching to myself: God is with you!
Not only is God with me, he is for me! That's what David reminds me in Psalm 56:9
While I can assent that fact in the face of a stiff neck neck or sore throat, it is not always so easy to sing with the Psalmist. Last night a friend texted me with a prayer request for a loved one in the hospital, barley surviving on a heart operating at 30% of capacity. I prayed for that person and for two others I know who are battling cancer.
While I may be able to assent that "God is for me," when one is laid up, cast down, or barely hanging on it is hard to "feel it."
I have come realize that God's presence does not always mean that God's deliverance will follow my script.
- Sometimes God is present to deliver us from our difficulties, that is we never even experience the pain because he has protected us from it. We are like David, being chased by Saul. David is on one side of the mountain and Saul and his forces are on the other side when the Philistines show up on Saul's doorstep. Saul has to leave David to contend with his other enemy and David is delivered (1 Samuel 23).
- Sometimes God is present to deliver us out of our difficulties. On those occasions we are like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego giving holy high fives after walking out of the flames (Daniel 3).
- Sometimes God is present to deliver us through our difficulty. These times are more challenging. Paul was whipped, beaten with rods, stoned, shipwrecked, "a night and a day I was adrift at sea," in constant danger, tossing and turning through many a sleepless night (2 Corinthians 11). God strengthened and sustained him through it all.
I wish there were an easy answer to the "presence-deliverance" paradox. There is not. But let me go back to my Christmas Eve journal. After the big empty space I did write this:
John 15:5 - Philippians 4:13 - Nehemiah 8:10
That was my version of Heavenly Math:
- John 15:5 -- "Apart from me you can do nothing"
- Philippians 4:13 -- "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me"
- Nehemiah 8:10 -- "The joy of the LORD is your strength."
God is present and God does deliver -- sometimes from, sometimes out of, often times through.
Apart from him, you can't make it. With him you will make it. May his joy be your abiding strength through it all.