“In the presence of Jehovah, God almighty, Prince of Peace.” I long for those all too rare, all too fleeting moments when I am genuinely in the Presence of the King. I hunger for those times of abandonment when only He and I reside together in time and space. I search for glimpses of His face and strain for whispers of His voice. And they come but so infrequently, so faintly, that often they wisp by before they are recognized.
Is that the fault of God? Does He tease me with offers of Himself? Tantalize me with hints that He might drop by only to disappoint me like a prankster who rings the doorbell and runs away? I think not. No, the issue of absence lies not in the heart of God but in me, my heart, my head, my hands.
Three words jump out at me. Three simple, deeply profound words, haunt me in their inability to be reached; presence, abandonment, and rest.
Paul says “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” Maybe that is more than a spiritual, death and life kind of thing. Maybe there is a way of forgetting, if only for a little while, where I am and what I am worried about, and letting my mind be fixed on Him. The problem of presence for me is not so much a problem of where I am looking but where I being distracted. I come to Him in prayer seeking only Him, and when I find Him I immediately slip into my asking mode. Bless the boys, help my business, fix the car, take care of Aunt Sallie’s influenza, and oh, by the way, could you give the Buckeyes a running game this year? I struggle to be fully present with Him because I am by nature fully present with me, fixated on my own wants and wishes. I am trying to learn to slip away from “planet Earth” for a few minutes each day and just be present with Him.
And that takes abandonment. When I loose myself, forget who I “think” I am, and who might be watching, I am far more capable of being present with Him. Even when I pray alone in my secret place I form my words carefully so that He and I will both be impressed. When I write this now, I write more for some unimagined audience than as a confession of my own heart. This morning I prayed that I might be completely lost in Him and then whispered to myself, “so that others might admire me.”
True presence required total abandonment. David was abandoned when He danced naked before the Lord. Saul was abandoned when he laid blind on the road to
. Peter was abandoned when watched the sheet come down from heaven. They were lost of themselves and their surroundings, unaware of anything except the eyes of God. Damascus
Now, I’m not talking about some out of body experience or metaphysical trance, though I wouldn’t rule it out. I simply believe that when the more I seek Him the less I seek me. A friend of mine last week told me about a chapel service at a Christian school where she teaches. During the music, one tiny little, pre-kindergarten boy, standing by his teacher at the front of the auditorium became so caught up in the rhythm and the beat that he began to spontaneously gyrate. He danced. Not some nice, clean, sophisticated dance, but a wild, herky-jerky, full of joy kind of dance. She said every eye in the room was on this little boy and he had no clue. He was abandoned to the moment.
Oh, God, teach me to dance like that, in total oblivion to myself and those around me. Caught up in the moment. Lost in Your presence. Aware of only You.
And when I do, there is rest, amazing, refreshing, rehabilitating, Sabbath rest. It means that I have to take the time. It means that I have to be willing to put other things on hold. It means that I set aside a place and a purpose. But it means rest. An hour everyday, a day every week, a weekend every quarter, I don’t know exactly what that looks like but I do know that to be lost in His presence I need to be intentional about my times of rest in Him. The activities of the day, the business of the calendar, the incessant pulse of life is not an excuse for my failure to come away with Him on a regular basis. “Lord, teach me to rest in You. Help me to stop today and find myself lost in your presence.”
I am leaving this morning with my friend Robert and a bunch of other men to an annual event called the Georgia Men’s Advance (because we don’t retreat.) It is a weekend of flagrant abandonment, Sabbath rest, and the opportunity to be fully present with God and the things of God. I have packed by little bag, a pair of jeans and a couple of shirts; prepared by “sleeping in a room full of men” kit, Kindle with reading light, giant bag of M&M’s, and ear plugs. But beyond that I am trying to empty myself, to leave everything else behind. My only goal is to find myself in the Presence of Jehovah. Not a bad ambition I think. I’ll let you know how it goes.