Recognizing God’s Nearness

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The largest human questions are sometimes asked in the most ordinary and smallest of places.

“Where is God?” As a little boy, my youngest son Caleb asked this sacred question before bed.
“He is everywhere” I say.
“Is he in my room?”
“Yes, I say, He is here.”
“Is he on my pillow?”
“No” I say, fumbling for words. “Your pillow is like a small flower in his large hands. But he delights in your pillow.
“Is he on my head?” he says giggling.
“No, I say and laugh. I touch his head and rearrange his hair for no reason but love and trying to find words.”He is way too strong to sit on your head without hurting you. But, he created your head with love and care.”

As I turn out the lights and walk across the hall to my room, I’m aware that I’m sharing with my son, a belief that many of his friends and neighbors will not. Like the headline above, some will rightly respond to the arrogance of God talkers by urging greater humility. Yet, what if one can remain opposed to arrogance and still believe that God can be known; Not exhaustively of course but truly?

Jesus Guides Us

When he shows us how to pray, Jesus teaches us that God is both near and distant (Matthew 6).

Our Father, give us this day, forgive us, lead us not, deliver us (God is near and knowable)
Who is in heaven, hallowed be your name, as it is in heaven (God is distant and hidden)

While many things are hidden and mysterious to us about God, this doesn’t mean that we are left completely in the dark about him.

If you think about it, any true relationship is like this. Those we love and know the most remain mysterious to us with things we didn’t know or do not comprehend about their ways.

So, when a follower of Jesus saw his neighbors worshipping what they called, “An unknown god,” it makes sense that this follower would want to share with his neighbors that while God is truly other than us, he “is actually not far from each one of us.” God has made himself present so that we should seek God, and perhaps feel our way toward him and find him (Acts 17:27).

Feeling our Way in the Dark

When lights go out, you grope along in the dark feeling your way along walls in hopes of finding the light switch. The Apostle Paul uses this image when he talks about how we can perhaps feel our way toward God.

Paul himself (Saul of Tarsus) knew what it felt like to search for God in the dark first hand. He does not speak of trying to find God’s nearness with trite terms or without compassion.

So where do we begin?

  1. We learn to grow attentive to God by discerning Him behind the creation He has given us (Acts 17:24). Snow points us to the forgiveness we receive (Isaiah). Wind points us to the Spirit God gives us (John 3). A vine with branches lifts our eyes to Jesus without whom we can do nothing.
  2. We learn to grow attentive to God in the circumstances of history and of our own lives outside of the church building (Acts 17:24-28). Whether binge watching Netflix, making covenant love with our spouse, having coffee or putting in a new load of laundry, each moment he is graciously near. We enter each moment and say, “The Lord is here.” When we encounter each human being, from no matter where on “the face of the earth,” we remind ourselves that he or she is created in God’s image and are his offspring.”

God has provided memorials to himself in creation and providence so that we can’t go a second in this life without some small testimony of his presence calling out to us.

Turning the Light On

But none of these memorials can reveal to us the full story. This is why it feels as though we are walking about in the dark with night lights. Not finding him, God has come to find us. So, Paul shares with his neighbors that practicing the presence of the near God is found in tending to His very self revealed to us in a man He has appointed and raised from the dead. (Acts 17:29-31)

Moment by moment, among the pots and pans, ISIS, Candy Crush, and hospital I.V.’s, we grow attentive to the one called, Immanuel which means “God with us.”

By his life, death and resurrection, Jesus paid for our ongoing ability to pay no attention to God in his creatures, his providence or his own son. Jesus purchased the grace to discern the nearness of God in the real world. Paul tried lovingly to share this with his neighbors and to invite us to a new life with the near God. Every moment has a sanctuary within it.

(Posted by Pastor Zack: To go deeper in what it means to practice God’s presence in these ways, listen to the sermon online, titled, “Practicing the Presence of God” May 15, 2016).

Author: zeswine

Zack (Dr. Eswine) is often spoken of as a "Pastor to Pastors." He serves as Pastor of Riverside Church in Webster Groves Missouri and Director of Homiletics at Covenant Theological Seminary. To learn more about his books and other resources, go to zackeswine.com

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