Speaking Of Life 3030 | The Power of His Presence Michelle Fleming Do you believe that God is with you? Do you believe that the Creator of the universe hears you when you call and is present for every moment of your life? As unbelievable as it sounds, most Christians would say “yes.” We believe in a God who cares for us as his children. Yet sometimes, still, we find ourselves doubting that God is with us when we find ourselves in precarious situations. A few summers ago, I decided to train for a Sprint Triathlon. At the time, I was an avid runner and enjoyed biking, but wanted to challenge myself through the swimming portion of the race. I followed a training program for a few months and swam laps at my parents’ community pool on swimming days. They joined in the process, counting laps for me, and cheering me on. My mom even watched YouTube videos to help coach me through my stroke. I felt the love of God through the support and encouragement of my parents. On race day, we arrived at the beach and the waves were pounding. I had trained but not in open water. I tried my best to play it cool until race participants in the more experienced groups were rescued by boats to get out of the water. When my group’s turn came up, I entered the water and was immediately forced to swim harder than I had in any of my practice sessions. Determined not to quit, I began praying and swimming, “God, why do the waters have to be this rough. Please, please, please get me to shore safely!” It was easy to trust the power of God’s presence in the smooth, clear swimming pool with my family around me, much more difficult alone in the choppy, rough open water. Because of this experience, I can relate to this lesson, Jesus’ disciples had to learn about trusting the power of God’s presence. In Mark 4:35-41 we read: That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, "Let us go over to the other side." Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?" He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, "Quiet! Be still!" Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?" They were terrified and asked each other, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” Mark 4:35-41 Jesus was with the disciples in the storm, but because he did not react in the way they expected, they doubted if Jesus cared about their situation. After performing a powerful miracle, Jesus asked the disciples why they doubted. Since Jesus was the one who told them to sail to the other side of the sea and he was with them, they should have trusted in him. They should have rested in the power of his presence. We can often act like the disciples. If we are in a trial and God does not react the way we expect, it is easy to doubt his care for us. At times like this, we should remember that God is with us and there is power in his presence. In a moment, God can speak a word and change everything. His power is supreme and even the forces of nature must obey him. This does not mean that we will never suffer. Rather, it means that God will be with us even when we suffer, and he has the power to bring us through any storm. In case you were wondering, God did not calm the waves during my race, but he calmed me with the peace of his presence and he brought me back to shore. I am Michelle Fleming, Speaking of Life.
Psalm 133:1-3 • 1 Samuel 17:57-18:5, 18:10-16 • 2 Corinthians 6:1-13 • Mark 4:35-41
The theme for this week is God is supreme. Our call to worship psalm speaks of God’s blessing that even leads to eternal life. The passages in 1 Samuel show God’s ability to elevate David and give him favor despite the scorn of King Saul. In 2 Corinthians, Paul names the many trials the Lord brought him through as evidence of God’s favor. Finally, Mark recounts Jesus’ power to rebuke the storm.
God Reigns Over Hardships
2 Corinthians 6:1-13
Uncle Pete was the beloved old caretaker of a small church in a small town. One day while Uncle Pete was trimming the church’s hedges, a man walked by. The man said, “Excuse me. My name is Michael Jones. My wife and I just moved into town and we are looking for a new church. Can you please tell me about this one?”
Uncle Pete smiled pleasantly and said, “Sure! What was the church you used to attend like?”
The man frowned and said, “I did not like that church at all! The people were annoying and phony. I would have preferred if they kept to themselves. Plus, on Sundays they played weird music. What’s wrong with the old hymns? It was nothing like you would expect church to be.”
Uncle Pete thought for a moment and answered, “This one is pretty much like your old church.” The man shook his head and walked away disappointed.
A little while later, a woman walked by the church and saw Uncle Pete working in the yard. She stopped and said, “Pardon me, Sir. I’m Mary Jones. My husband and I are looking for a new church home. We’re new in town. What’s this church like?”
Uncle Pete smiled and said, “I’m glad you asked! What was the church you used to attend like?”
The woman beamed. “God blessed us with a wonderful church! The people were so friendly and really tried to get to know me. They tried their best to follow Jesus as a family, not just as individuals. Going there stretched me to appreciate people who were different from me. Even the music was different, but I truly felt God in the worship. It was nothing like you would expect church to be.”
Uncle Pete thought for a moment and smiled. “This one is pretty much like your old church.” The woman thanked Uncle Pete and ran to tell her husband.
This story shows how our perspective reveals our reality. The husband and wife saw the same church in very different ways. Because of his perspective and attitude, the husband would likely never find a church that satisfied him. He prioritized his preferences over following the leading of God. Yet, the wife would likely see God everywhere because she trusted that he was the giver of good things. How we experience our lives depends on what we believe about God, ourselves, and the world around us. Our perspective also determines the extent to which Jesus can be the Lord of our lives. In his second letter to believers in Corinth, Paul sets an example of how to have a proper perspective on God, himself, and others. He writes:
As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation. We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange—I speak as to my children—open wide your hearts also. (2 Corinthians 6:1-13)
Let’s review some of the bad things Paul experienced in ministry—situations that had to be endured—troubles, hardships, distresses, beatings, imprisonments, riots, hard work, sleepless nights, hunger, dishonor, false claims, false accusations, being ignored, near death experiences, more beatings, sorrow, and poverty. Ah, the glamorous life of ministry! Imagine if these things happened to you because of your job? Would you continue to do that job? For some, there is no option. For others, a job search might be in order. For ministry? Honestly, I would love to put on my most pious face and tell you, “Yes, if God willed it so.” However, I fear I might not have the same character as Paul. Unless I am a boxer, I can’t imagine tolerating being regularly beaten as part of my job. It would take the work of the Holy Spirit to help me stay completely focused on Jesus and on moving forward in ministry.
Not only did Paul continue to participate in ministry despite the awful things that happened to him, but he spoke boldly about how God blessed him and brought him through his trials. For each negative thing that happened, Paul presented something God did to not only counteract the bad thing, but completely overshadow it. God’s activity was Paul’s reality, which helped the actions of humans against him to fade to the background. Paul used his story to encourage the church in Corinth to open their hearts to God—the one who can bring them through the trials they are facing.
Notice how he started this passage:
As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation. (2 Corinthians 6:1-2)
Paul considered himself and other believers as recipients of God’s grace and favor. Christ and his redemptive work was the lens through which Paul saw himself and the world. Paul considered himself already blessed and already favored. God’s favor was not something that came or went or was something for which Paul was waiting. Because of Christ, God’s favor was a permanent possession. Paul’s truth and reality was founded upon God’s goodness and grace. Negative experiences did not alter Paul’s belief in God’s character or his own blessedness. How easy it would have been for Paul, after he was stoned and left for dead, to find reasons to distrust God? Yet, in this passage Paul uses his hardships to affirm God’s righteousness.
I wish I could say the same thing. Too often, when I experience what I perceive as a trial or tragedy, I am reflexively tempted to diminish God in my own eyes. It is easy to believe him to be less loving, good, and concerned about me than I previously thought. Hard times can cause me to doubt my calling and purpose in the Lord. I can, at times, be that rudderless ship, cast to and fro by the wind and the waves. Part of the reason for this is that I give my feelings too much power.
We are wired to interpret pain and discomfort as “bad.” In many cases, this works in our favor. If I touch a hot stove, I experience pain, letting me know that something harmful is happening. In that case, pain works in my favor. However, getting a shot also causes me pain (especially since I hate needles), yet shots can be beneficial. In that case, pain does not work in my favor by implying something is bad. In the same way, a situation that causes us pain or discomfort does not indicate God is allowing something “bad” to happen. We have to develop the humility to resist being the interpreter of our story, deciding what is “good” and what is “bad.” Instead, we should seek God’s help in understanding the things that happen to us, trusting him with our very lives.
When it comes to God, it seems like we always find what we are looking for. If we are looking for a god who is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love, we will find him, despite our circumstances. Similarly, if we are looking for a god who is cruel, untrustworthy, distant, and oppressive, we will find him, despite evidence to the contrary. This is our curse from the time of the fall of humanity—our ability to see God and fellow humans clearly is greatly diminished. After sinning by eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve did two things: they hid themselves from each other by covering themselves, and they hid themselves from God. Two beings who had never known shame saw something unseemly in what was once beautiful. The man and woman, who had walked and talked with God in loving communion, now saw him as someone to be feared. The first casualty of corruption was Adam and Eve’s vision—how they saw God and how they saw themselves. Therefore, we cannot trust how we interpret pain because our vision is corrupted. We must rely on the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, to lead us into all truth, individually and collectively.
Our perspective is closely related to our faith. In fact, perspective is how we see things as a result of our faith. Faith is a relational term, rooted and grounded in who God is, as revealed by Jesus Christ. We Christians need to pay attention to our perspective, because it indicates who we believe God to be. If we tend to be negative and expect the worst in people, this says something about who we believe God to be. Likewise, if we tend to be hopeful and willing to extend others the benefit of the doubt, this also says something else about who we believe God to be. I am not saying that we should walk through life with proverbial rose-colored glasses, avoiding anything negative. If something is not good, we should not pretend that it is good. However, those who see God clearly will find hope in Christ in the most desperate of situations. Those who see God clearly will be able to access joy in the midst of tragedy. Those who see God clearly will feel his love in the face of persecution. God is that good! Paul was able to see God’s favor during his suffering because his faith would not allow him to do otherwise.
Even more important than what we believe about God is what he believes about us. From the moment God created humanity, he called us “good.” He determined that we were worthy of adoption in Christ, and he has not wavered from that belief, despite us providing mountains of evidence to the contrary. Christ put on human flesh because God believed we were worth saving. It is God’s beliefs about us that makes new life in Christ possible. We are changed and transformed because of what God believes about us. As Christians, it is essential that we regularly hear what God believes about us. Paul said that faith comes by hearing God’s message about Jesus Christ (Romans 10:17). Hearing God’s beliefs regarding humanity builds our faith, which shapes our perspective. In this way, Jesus and his work on the cross should be the lens through which we view all things.
How we view the world matters. I encourage us to look to Jesus so our vision can be clear. When we do that, we will see that God reigns over any hardship that can come our way. Looking through the cross, God becomes supreme in every moment, therefore, every moment, good and bad, will be sacred.
Small Group Discussion Questions
- What in creation reminds you that God is supreme?
- What helps you feel God’s presence?
- Why do you think Paul shared all of those terrible experiences with the church in Corinth?
- To you, what is the connection between faith and our perspective?
- What are some ways that you encounter God’s message about Jesus Christ?