“Whether it was two days, a month, or a longer time, that the cloud continued over the tabernacle, abiding there, the people of Israel remained in camp and did not set out, but when it lifted they set out. At the command of the LORD they camped, and at the command of the LORD they set out. They kept the charge of the LORD, at the command of the LORD by Moses.” Deuteronomy 9:22-23
How long, O God, shall I remain where I am? That’s been a question of mine for some time now. Maybe that’s one of the questions stirring in your soul and mind as well–how long am I going to be in this season? How long am I going to be in this place (emotionally, spiritually, physically)? How long?
In the Scriptures, that was a common question. Just read through the writings of the psalmists, the prophets, and the book of Job, and you’ll see how relevant Scripture is, and that their reasoning for questioning is no different than yours or mine. It’s interesting, though, that it isn’t often asked in moments and places of comfort and joy, but it’s asked in times of distress; discouragement; longing; suffering; and pain.
For me, I often get stuck in that question, though, and miss out on the truth that even in my longing to not be in the discontent of where I am, God’s presence is still very near; abiding, actually. And that’s not just a good thing, it’s essential for us.
In the story of the Exodus, as the children of Israel left Egypt on their way to what was promised to them by God, the thick cloud of His presence abided with them; even, and especially, in their “how long?” moments. But did you catch what Israel’s response was to God’s abiding presence? “ . . . the people of Israel remained in camp and did not set out, but when it (the cloud of His presence) lifted they set out.” God’s presence in our how long moments doesn’t just make them bearable; it makes them meaningful; it gives cause to sing even when there seems to be no words or melody. Even now as I write this, there is a bird just outside my window, that is singing at the top of her little lungs, against the backdrop of a thunderstorm rolling in. She’s sitting in a tree that God has graciously provided as shelter for her from the storm. That seems, to me, a very poignant picture of what is looks like to enjoy the abiding presence of God in the midst of life’s rumblings. Truthfully, God’s presence is often more visible when the skies of life are darkest.
The greatest temptation in our “how long?” moments is to run anywhere but where we presently are. Israel had the same response. How long are we supposed to be out here in the desert with no wi-fi access, no Starbucks, no Chick-fil-a, no Netflix? Seriously. Egypt would’ve been the better option at this point! We’ve lost all perspective when we long for captivity more than we do freedom. But that’s exactly what the enemy seeks to do–tempt us to lose perspective. Instead of being content and resting in the consolation of God’s presence with them, among them, and before them, they complained and wanted to run back to Egypt. They wanted pot-pie while captive in Egypt rather than the presence of God, and walking in freedom. It’s a dangerous thing when God’s presence isn’t enough for us.
But that’s just it, isn’t it. We are too often not satisfied with God’s presence because we desire relief more than refining. We long to be comforted by the idols we carve, more than conformed to the image of Christ. In doing so we miss the fullness of God which means we miss what our soul longs for and needs most–the presence of God.
I’ve found myself being no different than the children of Israel, who after remaining too long in a how long wilderness moment, impetuously packs up my discontent, and moves quickly to the next best thing . . . or so I think.
But when we move away God’s presence, and seek to make the journey in this life on our own, it doesn’t end well. Moses knew this well. I know this well, and you probably do, too. Like Moses, I don’t want to go anywhere God’s presence does not go with me. I’ve had too many moments in my life where I have wandered ahead rather than follow the cloud of His presence, and it has left me in desolate places and valleys where death casts its dark shadow.
There is an order to this relationship we have with God. It is a rhythm that works because of who He is and who I am not. He is God, which means He is all-wise, all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present. He is wholly good, just, loving, merciful, gracious, forgiving, patient . . . words are more limited in describing Him than are His attributes. And yet, somewhere in the day to day I fail to remember this: God’s leading is better than mine. That’s why He is the shepherd and I am a sheep. God knows where the green pastures are, and quiet, cool waters that my depleted soul needs. He knows when the valley of the shadow of death is just ahead, and it’s the necessary path to something greater He has for me. Even in that, He leads me because God knows the dangers that await me; He surrounds me on all sides; His nearness comforts my anxious and fearful soul. Resting and remaining in God’s presence makes perfect sense.
I want to be fully present in His presence. Have you ever really thought about how often we aren’t fully present, not just in God’s presence, but in the presence of others as well? How many times have you been talking with someone and your phone alerts you that you have a text; or an email; or a notification that someone just liked your social media post, and you exit being present with them and enter in to be fully present with your phone? We do it all the time. In order to break that cycle it takes two things: intentionality and elimination. You have to be intentional about being fully present with those you are with in that moment, and you need to eliminate what is distracting you. There is something very significant you communicate when the people you are engaging know you are fully present.
It is no different with God. When we are fully present in His presence, something significant is communicated, not just to God, but most often from Him to us. It’s in His presence, just resting there and not rushing, that we are reminded of who He is and who He says we are: loved, accepted, valued, forgiven, treasured, and there is so much more He has to say.