The Closeness of God

“You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds, God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth, and of the farthest seas, who formed the mountains by your power, having armed yourself with strength, who stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the tumult of the nations. The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy.” (Psalm 65:5-8) 

I love sunsets. Any of you who follow me on Facebook probably know that by now, given the number of sunset photos I have posted through the years. From the comfort of my deck I have a front row seat to the sun setting each night over the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west of my home in Western North Carolina. That view inspired the name for this blog, Ridgetop Reflections.

imageIt amazes me just how unique each sunset appears. Quite often they take my breath away and sometimes even leave me in tears. They never fail to remind me of the closeness of God’s presence. And I don’t believe it is a coincidence that the most awe-inspiring sunsets seem to appear when I most need to be reminded just how close God actually is. Such was the case recently when this one capped off a particularly difficult week.

In the Scriptures God reminds us over and over that he is always with us. When Moses felt inadequate for the task God assigned him, God reassured him “I will be with you.” (Ex. 3:12)  When Joshua felt unworthy of replacing Moses and incapable of leading Israel into the Promised Land, God challenged him to “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified and do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)  When Jeremiah objected that he was too young to serve as God’s prophet, God declared, “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you.” (Jer. 1:8)

The familiar words of the 23rd Psalm echo “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4)  When God himself made his dwelling among us in the person of Christ, his name as foretold by Isaiah was Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14), which literally means “God with us”. (Matt. 1:23)  And through the person of the Holy Spirit, God fulfills his promise to be with usalways, to the very end of the age.” (Matt. 28:20)

When you face the inevitable trials and heartaches of this life, take time to reflect on those promises from God’s Word. Remember that the God who created us and who made his dwelling among us in the person of Christ now lives within us in the person of the Holy Spirit. Even in our darkest days, when sometimes he seems so distant, God is closer than we realize.

If you don’t currently have a sanctuary where you are able to just be still and sense his presence, I encourage you to find one and return to it often. As for me, I can’t wait to see the sunset he paints for me tonight!

“The most holy and necessary practice in our spiritual life is the presence of God. That means finding constant pleasure in his divine company, speaking humbly and lovingly with him in all seasons, at every moment, without limiting the conversation in any way.” – Brother Lawrence, The Practice of The Presence of God

Note: All Scripture references from the New International Version (NIV)

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Eight Powerful Words

“Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

I often begin my quiet time each morning just being silent before the Lord, blocking out all distractions and concerns that might be weighing on my heart, entering a state of neutrality before God with no other agenda in mind except to receive a clear word or just to sense His presence. One morning a few weeks ago, the words of Isaiah 50:4 flooded my heart, “The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen as one being taught.”

As a teacher, this verse is very familiar to me. When it came to my mind that morning, I interpreted it as a reminder to get back to writing. One of the reasons I began this blog was to share some of the things the Lord has taught me after almost twenty years of teaching Bible Study – insights and reflections that have certainly sustained me through the years. After starting this blog with a bang back in February, I had been neglectful for several months. There were several contributing factors to this silence on my part, but the Lord wasn’t apparently buying any of my excuses. So I began writing again, posting some short reflections on Facebook, as well as a couple of blog postings.

Estes Park 6Several days ago, as I entered my quiet time, another verse flooded my heart, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Many of you already know this verse is Psalm 46:10. For days it dominated my thoughts. A couple of postings on Facebook reinforced the message it conveyed, several devotions stressed the importance of stillness before God, and it seemed that every time I opened the Scriptures, the passages were pointing back to Psalm 46:10. Those eight words even became part of my swing thoughts as I played golf that morning. The Lord clearly had my attention!

A few days later, it finally dawned on me that those two verses that the Lord had planted in my heart were related. In my mind, I don’t know if there are eight more powerful words to sustain the weary than those found in Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.” Such a simple verse, easily memorized, yet applicable in so many circumstances we encounter in this life, and packed with more theology than I could possibly address in a year’s worth of blog posts. Implicit in these eight words are the ideas of rest, trust, reflection, and surrender – all essential elements of the abundant life Christ desires for each of us. (John 10:10) And in this day of constant distractions from social media, smartphones, 24-hour news channels, and celebrity culture, those eight words take on even greater significance.

In my teaching I often stress the importance of spiritual disciplines, such as prayer, Bible Study, worship, and service in the Body of Christ. But another discipline that is often overlooked is that of listening to God. In fact, in my mind, it may be the most important spiritual discipline. And no verse of Scripture better sets the stage for listening to God than “Be still, and know that I am God.” Voicing those words in my mind several times a day has had a way of quieting my spirit so that I am better able to hear that still, small voice. They so effectively convey the promise of God’s continued presence and intervention in our lives for good. (Romans 8:28)

No matter what circumstances you are facing in your life today, Psalm 46:10 will minister to your heart.

Grieving over the loss of a loved one? … Be still, and know that he is God.
Wrestling with a life-changing decision? … Be still, and know that he is God.
Out of work or considering a job change? … Be still, and know that he is God.
Considering a move to a new home? … Be still, and know that he is God.
Dealing with a financial hardship? … Be still, and know that he is God.
Scarred by abuse? … Be still, and know that he is God.
Stricken with a life-threatening illness? … Be still, and know that he is God.
Perplexed by the endless mysteries of life? … Be still, and know that he is God.
Or even trying to resolve the tension between the sovereignty of God and man’s free will? … Be still, and know that he is God.

I could go on and on. Bottom line – there is no situation or circumstance you may face this day or for the rest of your life for which Psalm 46:10 will not comfort you, encourage you, or give you a clear sense of direction. I challenge you to stop several times each day, take your focus off of whatever you are engaged in, quiet your mind, and let God minister to your heart as you rest in the truth conveyed in those eight powerful words, “Be still, and know that I am God.” I guarantee you it will be time well spent.

And by the way, in case you’re wondering, while using Psalm 46:10 as a swing thought did not actually improve my golf game, it kept me focused on what was more important – the enjoyment of the game, the fellowship of my fellow golfers, and behaving in such a way as to bring glory to God. I never enjoyed a round of golf more!

“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.” (Isaiah 26:3)

Note: All Scripture references taken from the New International Version (NIV)