Wherever You Are, I Am There.
“…even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.”
I loved the song and I had heartfelt feelings and good intentions as I sang it as a lullaby to my toddler-aged son. “You are mine, I will never leave you. I will see you through the night, be here in the morning. Close your eyes, have a good time dreaming, knowing that you’ll never be alone ‘cuz you are mine.” The song certainly expresses the love of father toward his child, and the commitment I for one was making to love and provide for my son, to be there for him. Also, by the end of the song, it is clear that the words and promises are actually being sung by God to His beloved children. Since I believe in Jesus’ promise of eternal life and His faithfulness to be here for us, this is what I especially loved about the song. God does tell us over and over again in the Bible. “You are mine. I’ll never leave you. You’re never alone. Everything will be ok. Sleep, my child.” I’m mortal, I’m finite, I’m a sinner, I’ll fail, but God will never fail.
The problem, I soon learned, is that my son listened to the promises of that song as I sang it and then was shocked and sad when I wasn’t sleeping in his bed all night. I wasn’t there with him when he awoke in the middle in the night or wasn’t in his room sleeping next to him in the morning. Whoops. I realized then, that I had been singing the promises that only God could make and didn’t point my son’s thoughts to God instead of me from the get go. This song of promise became a song of sadness and disappointment because it wasn’t sung or heard with the true source in mind.
We make this mistake too often in a lot of different situations. Broken relationships and false religions and their consequences and countless examples of disillusionment are born from two mistakes. Instead of focusing solidly on God’s promises, we (1) promise things that only God can keep and pursue them with our own ideas and strength, or (2) we believe the promises of people who are making mistake #1.
God is Near, God is Good
Psalm 139 is a prayer composed and sung by King David (the shepherd boy who slew Goliath with a sling and a stone, the persecuted warrior, then great king of Israel). It has been a source of hope for God’s people for 3,000 years. David had met with his fair share of false promises in his life before becoming king and after. He had made his fair share of mistakes as well. In this psalm He remembers and marvels at God’s promise, “I am here for you, whatever the circumstance.” David sings his psalm of faith even as he grapples with sin and evil within him and around him.
O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you. For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you. Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God! O men of blood, depart from me! They speak against you with malicious intent; your enemies take your name in vain. Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies. Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001) Psalm 139
Well intended and optimistic in the context of faith
Sometimes people need to hear an optimistic, encouraging word. “You’re going to be ok.” Some of you have lived it, I’ve only seen it in war movies the horror and tragedy of a mortally wounded soldier, surrounded by brothers in arms, asking, “Am I going to be ok?” Even as life is slipping away they encourage him with the words, “You’re going to be ok.” I always think, yes, that’s the right answer in that situation, no matter what. I imagine the terror of the situation and thank God that because of Jesus these promises can be powerfully true.
Other people are fighting other desperate battles. A woman from our neighborhood came to the church office one day devastated because her health had taken a turn for the worse and she feared she would lose her house. She had been in the hospital after a stroke and had received help but it was a new layer of concern for her. She had had a heart attack earlier in the year. Unable to work cleaning homes as she had before, she found herself in a crunch, unable to pay bills. Her utilities had been shut off and she had received her final notice of foreclosure on her home. Because Zion’s church and office was near, she came searching for some answer to the impossible.
It was an opportunity to remind her of God’s promises. The problems were so great, even my “fix-the-problem” tendency felt the weight of the need. “Yes, you want to help, but don’t make promises you can’t keep,” was the warning bouncing in my mind as I listened. The personal helps I could imagine would be mere bandaids. A short term economic help from me and the church could be offered (and would be offered) but it wouldn’t go far and it certainly wouldn’t carry her through the greater problems we all face as sinful people marching into situations unknown to us and bigger than us. The bigger, more important question in my mind was, “What are God’s promises for her in this situation and for the ones to come?”
God of Impossible Good
Because of psalm 139 and numerous other declarations and demonstrations in the Bible of God’s love and mercy, and because of the Gospel, Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ, I could tell her,
“You are not alone in this. God is mighty and good. He promises to provide for your needs. You can trust Him to hold your life in His good hands. Let’s pray to God who sent His Son Jesus to live and die on the cross and rise again for you so that these problems would not be the end of you. I don’t know where money might come from or even if that is how God might provide for your needs. You might lose your house. Your body may fail, but God will not fail to hold onto you. Do you trust Him and His good more than your house and your health? Even in death, God is ready with new life and an eternal home for you because of Jesus. Let’s pray to the only one who can do the impossible good that you need.”
…and we prayed.
I could tell her, “You are not alone in this. God is mighty and good.
As a church, we helped with what we could, but the impossible remains in God’s able hands. The hope for tomorrow for her remained only in God’s hands and she learned that those are the best hands to be in. God WAS and IS with her. Last I heard, she still had her home and her health had improved.
Pastors might fall short. Zion’s members might falter in their care, but God will never fail. His Good, especially His salvation in Jesus, will carry us through it all. (Oh, Lord, forgive us our failures for Jesus sake! Lord, empower our love and care for our neighbors that Your Good would flow through us to others and that You would be glorified! Let not our sinful flesh and hearts deny Your love to others!)
This is the lesson every child, every soldier, every mother and father, every teenager, every young man and woman, every senior, EVERY PERSON needs to hold onto. It isn’t our good intentions or optimistic words that will carry us and those around us through whatever circumstances tomorrow holds. It is the mercy and love of our almighty God that has provided Jesus to be our Savior and His powerful presence in our lives that will deliver us. Come what may.