Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.
Isaiah 7:10-16, NRSV
Any talk of presence this time of year, makes you think of the kinds that come wrapped in paper and bows unless you pay close attention to the spelling or listen carefully for the “t” on the end of the pronunciation. This post will be about the kind you don’t wrap!
We all know what it is like to be with someone who is not present, even though they’re in the same room: the stereotypical husband watching football on TV or someone engrossed in their smartphone.
But what does it mean to be present with someone? It means the focus of your time is the other person and vice versa. It means that distractions are pushed away, and you are there to enjoy each other, laugh, cry, understand, or whatever. In some ways, it is easy to be present with another person because you can see, touch, and interact with them. It’s a little different when we talk about God being present with us.
God’s desire to be present with us is seen supremely in the incarnation – the birth of Jesus. It is not merely a metaphor when Matthew quotes Isaiah saying, “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us,” (Matthew 1:23).
The apostle Paul reminds us of God’s desire when he says of Jesus,
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.
Means of Grace
The real challenge, however, is not God being present to us, but us being present to God. Thankfully, God has provided some ways that we can be present to God in a very real way. God is not limited in the ways he is present to us, but he has promised to be with us in very particular ways. John Wesley and others called these the “means of grace” – the ways in which God has particularly ordained to meet us.
Wesley defined the means of grace as prayer, studying Scripture, fasting, worship, Holy Communion, Christian fellowship, (not coffee and cookies) and others acts as visiting the sick, those in prison and caring for the needs of the poor.
However, the practices themselves are of little value without being aware of God, having an expectation of God’s presence and attending to that presence. In a very real way, to sense God’s presence we must open and receptive to God’s interaction with us. When we are deliberate with our attention to God, as we would be with a friend, we will be aware of God’s presence in the joyful times and the troubling times.
God has gone to great lengths to present with us. Can we not show a similar kind of diligence to be present with him?
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Alan Cassady serves as Senior Pastor at Navarre UMC, and has been at the church since 2011. When he's not preaching and teaching, he enjoys sci-fi movies and FSU Football. Read more about Alan here.