This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled, Bound to Be Free compiled by Jan Pit. In the following short quotation from Naji Abi-Hashem (from Lebanon. Naji now lives in the free west), there is fodder for reflection and perhaps application:
Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. (Psalms 96:6)
If we had walked through the streets of Beirut, Lebanon in 1985 or Vukovar, Croatia in Europe in 1994, we would have seen severe destruction and death, experienced deep sorrow and sadness, and would have come in touch with the dark side of human nature. But if we enter the sanctuary of God, we will be greatly moved and impressed by His glorious personal attributes and divine presence.
The very thought of entering into the presence of the Almighty God causes us to feel a sense of awe and reverence, the emotion of delight, and an attitude of trust and faith. The result is often a deliberate act of worship and commitment on our part. We come to realize that our God is still in charge.
Thus our spirits will be filled with peace, despite the circumstances. Our bones will be charged with energy and our mouths will testify to the mercy of God for a dying world.
A moment of introspection: In a conversation with His disciples (John 16:29-33), the Savior disclosed several important truths to His devotees: Fact: in the world, we Christians will experience troubles, difficulties, problems, worries, anxieties, burdens, crosses to bear, ordeals, trials, adversities, hardships, tragedies, trauma, afflictions, reverses, setbacks, blows, sufferings, distresses, troubles, miseries, wretchedness, unhappiness, sadness, heartaches, woes, griefs, pains, anguishes, and agonies (according to the Concise Oxford Thesaurus). Fact: for Christians in this world, in His presence (within His care), we may find peace (Isaiah 26:3)--for Christ is victorious over the world. (John 16:33; Luke 20:42-43) Naji Abi-Hashem relates to these facts: the world gives Christians severe destruction and death, deep sorrow and sadness, and the dark side of human nature. Yet, he avers, even the "thought of entering into the presence of the Almighty God causes us to feel a sense of awe and reverence, the emotion of delight, and an attitude of trust and faith." Naji agrees with the psalmist when in the Psalm he writes, "You will fill me with joy in Your presence." (Psalm 16:11) To come into the presence of the Living Lord is to be changed, from having been abraded and abused by the world, to immersing ourselves in the comfort and healing of Immanuel--because He is with us.
Brother Lawrence says it is when we are distraught, that we do well to practice God's presence--to live in God's company:
"The most holy practice, the nearest to daily life, and the most essential for the spiritual life, is the practice of the presence of God, that is to find joy in His divine company and to make it a habit of life, speaking humbly and conversing lovingly with Him at all times, every moment, without rule or restriction, above all at times of temptation, distress, dryness, and revulsion, and even of faithlessness and sin." (Brother Lawrence in "The Practice of the Presence of God." Christianity Today, Vol. 31, no. 13)
And we know that the only way to God's presence is through Immanuel (John 14:6).
Martin Marty related an experience Rev. Joseph Sittler had in seminary:
Listening to a student read the Scripture in seminary chapel, Joseph Sittler, now blind, heard something he'd never heard before. 'Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.' "The text does not speak," said Sittler, "of the valley of death but the valley of the shadow of death. There is a difference... The wonderful truth... is that God is with us now. It is not simply that God will be with us in the experience of death itself; it is that God will walk with us through all of life, a life over which death sometimes casts its shadow." (Quoted by Mr. Marty in "Context," August 1 and 15, 1984. Christianity Today, Vol. 30, no. 2)
He, too, recognized what Naji Abi-Hashem described as he wrote, "Thus our spirits will be filled with peace, despite the circumstances." Despite the valleys overshadowed by troubles, suffering and the like--Christ's peace will be with us. Such valleys, even wildernesses are part of life. Dave Dravecky related that, "looking back, [my wife] Jan and I have learned that the wilderness is part of the landscape of faith, and every bit as essential as the mountaintop. On the mountaintop we are overwhelmed by God's presence. In the wilderness we are overwhelmed by His absence. Both places should bring us to our knees; the one, in utter awe; the other, in utter dependence." (in "When You Can't Come Back". Christianity Today, Vol. 38, no. 2) As Christians, no matter what we encounter in life, we know that Immanuel is with us; the world may attempt to dissuade us from this confidence. May we have the courage and strength to stand firm in our faith through such assaults. Vernon Grounds described an encounter between a believer and nonbeliever:
An atheist and a Christian were engaged in an intense public debate. On the blackboard behind the podium the atheist printed in large capital letters, "GOD IS NOWHERE." When the Christian rose to offer his rebuttal, he rubbed out the W at the beginning of 'where' and added that letter to the preceding word 'no'. Then the statement read, "GOD IS NOW HERE." (in "Radical Commitment". Christianity Today, Vol. 30, no. 7)
The world would have us believe that we live our lives alone--without God. To this, John Milton's life brings a valuable lesson.
John Milton died in 1674. For all his postmortem fame, Milton endured many difficulties in his life. Perhaps those trials refined his material. There was a painful period of separation from his wife. And at the end of his life, he was almost blind and was only able to navigate through each day's tasks with assistance. His oppressive loneliness once prompted him to pen this truth: "Loneliness is the first thing that God's eye named 'not good'."
The lesson we might learn from his life: loneliness can't exist in the unshakable presence of God's love. The "unshakable presence of God's love" is Immanuel, Jesus Christ. We do not need to give ear to the world's mistaken worldview; we Christians walk by faith, not by benighted sight. (2 Corinthians 5:6-8) In trouble, in suffering, in affliction or unhappiness, may God be our refuge and strength--a very present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1)
In this life, know that God is still in charge. Confident of this, with assurance and belief, I pray that we will join with Naji Abi-Hashem in asserting that in the presence of the Almighty God, "…our spirits will be filled with peace, despite the circumstances. Our bones will be charged with energy and our mouths will testify to the mercy of God for a dying world." May we each allow ourselves to be changed.