By Chris Hulshof
Several years ago, I visited Arlington National Cemetery for a guided tour and to attend the Memorial Day ceremony held in the amphitheater.
As I neared the venue, I found an entrance near the back. Little did I know it put me right next to the VIP section. I asked the armed guard if I could sit along the back wall, and to my surprise, he lifted up the rope and let me in.
I sat beside him while he stood and surveyed the crowd. During the next several minutes, we had a pleasant conversation about the VIP attendees. I was astounded to discover who was seated around me.
Ambassadors, national dignitaries, and political leaders sat on my right and left. Even the President of the United States walked past me to get to the stage.
I knew I didn’t belong in this company. I had no right to be in the presence of this illustrious group. Yet, because of the friendly welcome of a sympathetic armed guard, there I was.
I’m sure you probably have a similar story—one that includes your own brush with a politician, athlete, movie star, rock-and-roll icon, or some other celebrity.
In that moment, you had the opportunity to be in the presence of someone more popular, more powerful, or more significant than yourself. The feeling of elation that accompany such meetings stays with you long after the encounter has passed.
Being in a notable person’s presence can be like that.
God’s Presence in Scripture
The presence of God is a reoccurring theme in the Bible, so much so, that the theological framework of Scripture is supported by God’s desire to be amongst His people. Consider these examples:
- God meets Adam and Eve in the garden at the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8).
- The cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night are visual reminders of the presence of God leading the Israelites to the Promised Land (Exodus 13:21-22).
- The Tabernacle and the Temple both highlight God’s desire to be amongst His people (Exodus 40: 34-35; 1 Kings 8:11-13; 2 Chronicles 5:13-14).
- John embraces the Tabernacle vernacular to describe the coming of Jesus in the first chapter of his gospel. Elsewhere in the New Testament, Jesus is called Immanuel, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23).
- Before He ascends into heaven, Jesus discusses the coming Holy Spirit, another comforter, who’ll be with and indwell the disciples (John 14:16; John 14:26; John 15:26).
- This same Spirit falls on Christ’s followers in the book of Acts (Acts 2). Later, the ramifications of this event cause Paul to conclude that believers are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19).
Scripture makes it clear God’s desire is to be present with His people. But how does that translate to our story today?
Every Sunday, we sing, pray, and preach as though we desire that God would show up. We want His presence in our worship services.
We use phrases like, “we want to see your face” or “may your presence be felt here this morning” or “Holy Spirit, invade our lives as we worship today.”
Each of these speaks of our desire for God’s presence.
God’s Presence and His Character
As great as our desire for God’s presence is, His desire to be with us is greater still. In the book, The Big Story, Justin Buzzard writes:
We serve a God who is driven to dwell with His people. He is driven to dwell with the rebels who have run from and rejected Him. He is driven to dwell with the legalists and rule keepers who try to earn His favor. He even wants to dwell with all those who think they could be Him or replace Him. This is the ultimate purpose of the grace God gives us: to bring us home to live with Him.”
God’s desire to be with us is the reason He sent His only son. The cross shows us God was willing to make the greatest sacrifice to be with us.
God’s Presence is Our Pleasure
There’s a connection between the pleasurable moments of life and the presence of God. Sadly, we often miss this as we move throughout our day.
David writes in Psalm 16:11, “You reveal the path of life to me; in your presence is abundant joy; at your right hand are eternal pleasures.”
This association of abundant joy with the presence of God is something we experience in small, foreshadowing doses here on earth.
Our most joyful moments here ought to remind us of the greater moments of joy still to come when we’re finally who we’re meant to be in the presence of our heavenly Father.
Each of us have our fair share of joyful, pleasurable moments that range from the simple to the unexpected. This may include the laughter of a child, a beautiful sunset, a great meal, an unexpected encounter with a friend from out of town, or a text message that makes us smile from ear-to-ear. The list could go on.
We’re always at risk, however, of enjoying the moment and missing the presence of God that’s reflected in that moment. Hidden amongst these moments of delight is a God who desires to be present with us. And in His presence is abundant joy.
As we move through the events and circumstances of life, the challenge we face isn’t to somehow say the right words to coax God into showing up.
No, we simply need to recognize He’s present with us in these joyful moments. The pleasures of our lives are closely connected to the presence of God.
CHRIS HULSHOF (@US_EH) is an associate professor and department chair for Liberty University’s School of Divinity where he teaches Old Testament Survey, Inductive Bible Study, and a Theology of Suffering and Disability. He also earned an Ed.D from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary where his research focused on the intersection of disabilities, theology, and church ministry.