Tuesday, January 13, 2015

God With Us

All Christians are familiar with Hebrews 13:5 which ends with for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” Psalm 46:1 is quite similar: God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. These verses, and many others that are similar*, declare a very important fact about God’s nature: His steadfast faithfulness to us – no matter where we find ourselves and no matter what we've done (or not done). This characteristic is as intrinsic to who God is as is our own eye color. It is not just what God does, it is what he IS. After all, one of his names is Emmanuel - God with us.

And like most Christians, I knew these verses. I could recite them back to you (though, in all honesty, I didn't always know the book and verse – but I knew the words!) And I thought I understood the truth of them, and could apply them to my own life. But I came to discover that my understanding of these verses was like the tip of an iceberg: it was mostly ‘head knowledge.’ While I absolutely believed the truth behind them, the REALITY of that truth was lacking. Let me tell you how I came to know the reality of these verses, to the very depths of my soul.

As most of you reading this know, in December of 2003 I was stricken with a mystery disease which has gradually robbed me of my strength and endurance. Prior to my illness I was an amateur athlete, and very active in all aspects of my life. Because I was so fit when I first became ill, it took several years for the illness to progress. I had to give up training right away, but I gradually had to give up many other things, as well. By 2011, I had given up every other extracurricular activity, just so I had the strength to go to work. 2011 was also the year that I lost my mom, my best friend and my mother-in-law. Needless to say, that was a very rough year. In addition to all the deaths, I was despairing of ever getting better (or even getting a diagnosis) and I was just so TIRED. Of everything.

One day I was going in for one of my regularly scheduled massages, and I was feeling especially down. As I lay face-down in the softly-lit room, I was thinking all these sad thoughts: of people I'd lost, of the life I had lost, and I just felt hopeless. Then, the massage therapist began the session, starting at my feet, as usual. And the most amazing thing happened: I realized it was not the therapist who was massaging me. It was Jesus! I was sure that if I were to open my eyes and look around, I would see him there at the massage table! I could feel his strong, loving hands, gently stroking my feet and legs, and I felt such love! Such peace! He knew how much I was hurting, and he was ministering to me! I was flabbergasted, to say the least. Tears came to my eyes as I lay there, feeling the God of the universe physically touch me. He was there the whole session, tenderly ministering to my body – and my spirit. It was the most REAL spiritual thing I have ever experienced. At that moment, I knew – really KNEW – that God was with me, that he would never leave me to face this battle alone.

Afterward, I didn't tell the massage therapist, because I just couldn't put it into words, yet. Several months later, I finally told her, because I knew that she prayed while she massaged, and I wanted her to know how God had used her hands that day. Of course, she was moved by my revelation, and we both teared up. I've never felt that in a session since then, but the memory of it is something that I’ll treasure, always.

So, I am here to tell you this: God is with you, he will never leave you! He truly is “ever-present” in the midst of our troubles! No matter what battle you are facing, no matter the trial, the God of all creation is there for you, holding your hand, catching your tears as they fall. Sometimes God delivers us out of troubles, and sometimes he is simply there for us in the midst of them. And I think the latter is almost more miraculous. Think of it: God, the Master of the Universe, is tender and loving and THERE for us, when we most need him. I know this in my heart of hearts.

*A small sampling:
Deuteronomy 31:8 [ESV]

It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.
Joshua 1:9 [ESV]
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
Isaiah 41:10 [ESV]
Fear not, for I am with you.
Matthew 28:20 [ESV]
And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.