Sometimes I feel lonely.
Of course, there’s a big difference between feeling lonely and being alone. I can be alone and not feel lonely at all. Conversely, some of my loneliest experiences have been when I was in a crowd of people.
Perhaps loneliness is meant to serve as an invitation into something we should actually pursue at great cost—intimate fellowship with the God who made us and is with us.
Of course, we sometimes think that connection with people is what we need most, that if we can just find the right people and build the right kind of community, all of our needs for companionship will be met. But no matter how close people come, no matter how kind and consistent they are, it won’t be enough. We will always have a need to be intimately connected to our creator. And perhaps it is only a sense of loneliness that gets us thinking and moving in his direction.
But why would God want to be in relationship with us mere mortals? He chooses us, pursues us, redeems us, and sanctifies us because . . . he wants to be with us. We often think that God’s work in our lives is about what we will be able to achieve for him, but he doesn’t woo us to himself to meet his own need. He has no needs.9 God is complete in himself; he is not lonely. God . . . is . . . love. The Father chooses us and the Spirit joins us to the Son so that we can be welcomed into this divine love that has eternally preceded us, is infinitely above us, yet is genuinely for us. It is woven into the story of the Bible from beginning to end.
Genesis 3 is the first time we read in the Bible about God coming down to be among his people. When God comes down, he comes down in the completeness of who he is. God is completely loving. But he is also completely holy and completely just. And as much as God longs to be with his people, he cannot tolerate sin and its corruption in his presence. Yet even though Adam and Eve were ejected from the Garden of Eden, God’s intention to be with his people did not change. Instead, God began working out his plan to bring his people back into his presence. He began by calling out one man to leave everything and everyone he had ever known and to go to a new country where he knew no one. And, amazingly, he went. It was there that God took a tangible, visible step toward his people. We read that “the Lord appeared to Abram. . . . And Abram built an altar there” (Genesis 12:7). The Lord told him, “This is the everlasting covenant: I will always be your God and the God of your descendants after you” (Genesis 17:7).
Do you hear the intimacy in what God said to Abraham? He did not merely say, “I will be God” but rather “I will always be your God.” This is personal. When Moses finally led the Israelites out of Egypt, God came down on Mount Sinai, where he wrote on stone tablets how his people were to live once they entered into the land that he was giving to them. They weren’t going alone; he intended to live there with them, among them. He told them, “I will walk among you; I will be your God, and you will be my people” (Leviticus 26:12).
There at the mountain, God also gave Moses blueprints for a tent. His people were out there in the wilderness living in tents, and he wanted to be with them. So he had them build him a tent—a very special one, built to particular specifications, called the Tabernacle.
There, generations later, Solomon built a more permanent dwelling place for God, the Temple in Jerusalem. And once again, when the Temple was completed and the Ark of the Covenant was brought into its inner sanctuary. Solomon celebrated the presence of God among his people in the Most Holy Place of the Temple and prayed that God would live there forever.
Yet surely this was not all that God intended his presence among his people to be. There was still so much distance, such a significant barrier between God and his people. Surely God wanted to live among his people in a more accessible way than that—in a way that his people could see him and come close to him.
The day came when, as the apostle John put it, “the Word became human and made his home among us” (John 1:14). God came down, not in the form of cloud or fire but in human flesh. His coming into the world as one of us was yet another step in working out his plan to be with his people.
You see, if we, as sinners, were ever going to be able to live in God’s presence, our sin had to be dealt with. And that’s why Jesus came. That’s why when Jesus breathed his last breath on the cross. He absorbed the punishment for our sin so it is no longer a barrier between us and God.
After the death and resurrection of Jesus, not only was there no further need for the Temple. God no longer intended to be confined in a fifteen-foot-by-fifteen-foot room in a building made of stone. God intended to dwell not merely among his people but in his people. You and I weren’t there on that particular day in redemptive history when the Spirit of God became visible by coming down to live inside those who put their faith in Christ. But the Spirit’s presence in our lives is no less real. If you have become joined to Christ by faith, it is only because the Spirit has done a work in you to make you spiritually alive. The way he did that was to bind you, tether you, join you to Christ.
We tend to talk about becoming a Christian in terms of a decision we’ve made or a ritual we’ve experienced. But the Bible speaks of the reality that saves us and secures us and sustains us primarily in terms of being united to Christ. Jesus calls us to repent and believe (see Mark 1:15), and when we do, in a way that gloriously transcends our finite understanding, through repentance and faith, we become joined—spiritually and bodily—to the crucified, resurrected, alive-forevermore person of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit binds us to Christ and seals us in Christ, so that we can never become separated.
He has always been and will always be present in our lives. We can tell him anything and everything. And, amazingly, he wants to hear anything and everything. He’s constantly calling us into the secret place of intimacy with him through prayer. We learn to practice his presence as we develop the habit of inviting him into our first thoughts as we awaken in the morning. Throughout the day, as we carry out ordinary tasks, we continue the conversation, consulting him as we make decisions, thanking him for his kindnesses, asking him to meet our needs. And we drift off to sleep conscious that while we rest, he will be present with us, safeguarding us through the night.
This is what it means to experience and practice the presence of God.
Taken from God Does His Best Work with Empty by Nancy Guthrie. Copyright © 2020. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Nancy Guthrie teaches the Bible at her church, Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Franklin, Tennessee, at conferences worldwide, and through numerous books and video series. She and her husband, David, are the cohosts of the GriefShare video series used in more than 12,000 churches nationwide and host Respite Retreats for couples who have experienced the death of a child. Guthrie is also the host of Help Me Teach the Bible, a podcast of the Gospel Coalition. Nancy’s upcoming book, God Does His Best Work with Empty, releases from Tyndale House Publishers in September 2020.