Remember the roll call at school?
The small town that was our home, consisted of not much more than two public bars, a dairy, a butcher, a hairdresser, a garage, a caravan manufacturer, an athletics park, a small grocery store – and a primary school. I remember school with its strict routines of the day beginning with the roll call. We were instructed how to answer. There was to be no silliness: disrespect was not tolerated. The teacher told us, and we all knew the rule, that we were to answer to our name with the word, “present”. If there were no reply, the teacher would look up from her roll book to the silence before her, quickly allowing her eyes to search the class and note that the child was “absent”. It was all very formal. But present meant that we were there, at least in body, and in the type of schooling I attended, we were required to be mentally attentive or present also. Knuckles were slapped if there were a day-dreamer (one who was present in body but not in mind), and if it continued, there were consequences like writing lines or worst of all, a visit to the Principal, a letter home, and so on. We were expected, required, enforced to be present.
In other ways, in my growing up years, being present came with other rules also. To be present in a group of adults meeting with any kind of serious intent required bodily presence, but not words, “children are to be seen but not heard” was a common phrase. We knew the boundaries of respect and the consequences of stepping over them.
Why I use the examples from my childhood is that they give a picture of being present or absent, there or not there, there but in body form only, not really there, not really attentive, not really interacting, or a passive presence. If everyday we were to do a roll call and call out God’s name, He would answer “present” always, never missing a day, never missing a roll call. And if we were to wonder what He was doing, He would never require a slap on the hand for day-dreaming, his attention having wandered off us, because His eyes and His care is always towards us. And wherever we find ourselves, whatever life brings, God is not just there, and choosing to be silent, He is active not passive, always ready to answer when we call. We are not in a constant schoolyard or serious meeting that questions His presence or His activity and attentiveness. In other words, He is here present with us always. And His presence is attentive toward us.
The importance of this is that the words spoken or unspoken, the stories shared by my girlfriends, reveal a recurrent theme: aloneness. It is deep emotional loneliness. The feeling of being soul-alone. They have an absence of the attentiveness and emotional security needed by us as human beings. They have a yearning within for someone to be present in their lives. The presence of someone who is faithful and wholly committed in an unconditional, no matter what, way. Someone who knows them deeply, and loves them to the depths of their being, and whose faithful, constant present provides the, “I’ll be there for you” security they long for. They are looking for emotional rest, looking to relieve the weariness that comes from the constant striving to fulfill their emotional need of aloneness, with someone who will be present always. They are destitute of sympathetic companionship that really counts.
It is said that there is no true antonym or opposite to loneliness, but there are feelings that we have encountered, now and then, that
This blog was started as a journey in the discovery of God’s love. Of all the things I have thus far discovered, ‘God is present’, is the most life-changing for me. God’s Presence, His unchanging, unfailing nature of “present-love”, love that is always with me, is a truth that is beginning to penetrate the depths of my being and making a difference deep within. Marina Keegan described it as that feeling of someone who has your back, who values you enough to stay, who enjoys your companionship, and I am discovering this God, this present-love that “is for us not against us”, “will never leave us or forsake us”, “will not allow anything to separate us from Him”, “will carry on with us until all is complete” is the someone we are looking for.
There is a fascinating word study in the story of Moses in Exodus 33:12-17 –
“Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’ If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.” 1The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have
I’d never noticed before the word “Presence” as capitalized. It is a noun used. A naming word, literally. It is used here by God which makes it significant. It is the name He calls Himself, and then is used immediately after by Moses in response to this name as if to say, “If you are the Presence, the Present One, then You must come with me to be true to Your name. Do not send me up from here, if You are not true to Your name – Presence”. And God’s reply is “I am Presence, present always with you. I will go with you”.
Moses was asking for someone to go with him who would help him lead the nation of Israel. “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said…”
The job asked seemed overwhelming and the mountainous task ahead, insurmountable. He was scared. Failure, inadequacy, incompetence, fear of messing up, not being up to the task, out of his depth, drowning – were some of the overwhelming feelings he was obviously experiencing. In desperation, he pleads with God to give him someone to go with him – to be there to share the task and the burden of it, for support and back up, to just be present alongside.
I’m sure Moses was thinking a man, “but you have not let me know whom” – a physical and able man. A person who had all that was needed to fill the gaps, and be the support that Moses felt he needed. But God replies him with, “My Presence will go with you”. I don’t think Moses realised (nor do I) that the Presence of God is more Present by far, than the physical and able presence of any human. Presence means so much more than “with”. God’s Presence is accompanied by His plans and purposes, His Love, His goodness, His faithfulness, His power, His ability to do as He has said He would do, His inability to fail us, His promises, and so much more. Moses doesn’t get this. He will. But he doesn’t yet.
God tells Moses, “I know you by name”. It is a very relational statement, saying, “I am with you, personally. I know who you are. I know what you think. I know why you do the things you do. I know what you are feeling. I. Know. You. And I am with you”.
What more – or who more – could we ask for to be present alongside us? Do I even get it – the implications, the love that is present with me and what that really means for me?
Was this unique for Moses’ experience? No!
It was true for Joshua. “No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Joshua 1:5, NIV).
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the Judges, the Kings, and the Israelites were all promised: “I will be with you”. Was it therefore, merely a nation of Israel promise? No!
Jesus said to his disciples, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20, NIV). And then for us included He says, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17, NIV).
God has said, “never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5, NIV).
Nothing “…will be able to separate us from the love of God” (Romans 8:39,NIV) .
Moses’ fear of failure, the inadequacy he felt for the job ahead of him, the feelings of drowning in life, and being tested to the limit – were all very real. As they are for me.
Moses wasn’t just a great man with great skills who led a nation of people. He had personal and emotional hardships to deal with inwardly. As I do.
He was a man with questions about his identity and value, being born Israelite and raised Egyptian –
He was a man who felt he didn’t have what it took to do the task asked, his inadequacies and poor self-worth spoke loud to his spirit, causing him to question God’s purpose for him.
And he was a man who faced terrible struggles, real life struggles. J
But the Presence of God, God the Presence, the Present One, promised to be with him. God was with him. And Present with him – when Moses finally let it be his truth – defined him, gave him the ability to lead a nation, and gave him what his soul needed to face all the hard-times ahead. It moved him from being someone who questioned God, had little knowledge of who He was, to being called the friend of God (Exodus 33:11, NIV) – one who knew and walked with God, intimately, who had his soul filled with the presence of God. Moses learned that he was never alone.
Romans 8:31-37, answers the unasked, but obvious questions of Moses and of us, will I be successful or will I fail? When it gets tough in life, will God still be there? If I stuff up, or in the hardest of times, will He still be alongside me? Will His face still be turned towards me in
God knew that when sin, evil, ruin, brokenness, pain, disaster, entered the world that it would cause separation feelings. He knew that it would be important that Someone, the Present One, remain close and be there through all the mess until it is sorted – and we return to Him, living in the full Presence of Him again.
He knew I would need closeness when abandoned. Nearness, when forsaken. Togetherness, when separated and estranged. Connected, when disconnected. Attached in love, when detached. Present, not absent. And so, He has remained and will remain forever close. It is the very nature of Him to do so – to stay.
“Close to the broken-hearted” (Psalm 34:18, NIV).
“Near to all who call on Him” (Psalm 145:18, NIV).
Presence is more than just a place where God is, more than just His proximity, it is His Name. It is who He is. He cannot change. He will not go against His name or His character. He is faithful to who He is. He is near! His answer when I call out His name is always “Present”, when I feel alone is “Present”, when I need help is “Present”.
Oh soul who has felt so alone, let this truth fill you up…
Continued in next week’s Blog…