Seek the LORD and his strength,

seek his presence continually.

1 Chronicles 16: 11

 

These lines are taken out of David’s great song of thanksgiving and praise to God that was to be sung before the Ark of the Covenant. These words remind me of something that is truly important to keep in mind all of the time. Although, I know that God is present continually and that He is everywhere and in everything, He can seem quite distant at times. When this is true, it is not God who has gone away or who has fallen silent; rather, I am the one who has created the distance, and I have covered my ears so that the Lord’s voice is not so near or sounding all that clear to me. As a follower of Christ, distance from God is something that I cause. The distance that translates into separation is formed by the wandering nature of my heart. It usually comes about when I want to think and to act in a manner that is of my own choosing and that runs counter to the way that Christ desires for me to live.

 

The route back into the presence of the Lord is right in front of me, if I will simply relent from my self-determined path, repent of the sinfulness of my heart, and seek out the truth of God’s Word and the guidance of His Spirit. That sounds simple enough, but the longer I am off on my own separate journey and the farther that my wandering takes me from the Lord’s light of truth, the harder it is to come back into His presence. This happens, in part, because sinful habits are oppressive and even addicting. This journey away from God also tends to leave us isolated from His body of faith, and so, we. Become separated from the people who will support, counsel, and shepherd us into faithful and righteous thought and actions. Thus, David’s counsel about the way that we approach life on a regular basis is important.

 

Almost everyone faces times of temptation, doubt, and weakness. As we know from his story, David had to respond to all of these emotional and spiritual situations in his life, and his experienced wisdom led him to remind each of us to be seekers after God and His strength so that we will stay intent on following the Lord’s words of wisdom and remaining in the center of His righteous presence. This is something that we can do on an on-going basis. As the song states, “seek his presence continually.” This focus upon Christ is a subtext that runs throughout the conduct of every aspect and within each moment of the day. There is nothing that we do or place that we might go where the Lord is not in it and with us. He desires to set the tone for our speech and to grant us His moral and ethical guidance for each decision that we make and action that we take. It is Christ’s strength that empowers a righteous life, and it is His presence that guides us into living as children of heavenly light.

Behold, God is my salvation;

I will trust, and I will not be afraid;

for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song,

and he has become my salvation.

Isaiah 12: 2

 

It seems that everyone needs something to hold onto as we go through the days of our lives. There is some form of belief that keeps us more or less centered within the structure of our values and our ethical and moral boundaries. We may hold to a fully fleshed out set of rules, a religious system, confident self-determination, or some other construct; however, virtually no one goes very far in our adult journey with nothing of this sort to place our hands around to grasp onto and to trust to focus the outcome of the important decisions that we will need to make almost every day. I have tried several of these methods and means of gaining my bearings for this essential aspect of living, and there has been only one that actually works. The Lord has consistently and faithfully provided truth, wisdom, guidance, and protection to me regardless of where I have gone or what I have undertaken.

 

So, for me, Isaiah’s statement is truly on-target. He starts out with the single most important aspect of entering into a relationship with God. God is the only source of salvation that exists in the universe, and all of us need to be saved. We are born lost, defeated by our sinfulness, and bound for a life of separation from God and from the love, truth, grace, and justice that are formed up out of His character and nature alone. Not only does God save us and bring us into His presence in a relationship that enfolds all of life under His outpouring of engagement, but the Lord is absolutely trustworthy to provide answers to all questions, to care about and for us in all circumstances, and to never abandon or separate Himself from us. The Lord has been consistently true to His word to never leave my side and to always enter into my life in love, grace, and truth; so, it is natural to trust Him in all matters and with all aspects of my days.

 

Out of this trust comes the ability to be strong and to carry on regardless of what life may throw my way. The strength that I am speaking of is not some sort of brave front or unflinching determination to show no pain on the outside. Instead, it is a form of strength that knows that the outcome of this life is secured in Christ and that holds onto the Lord’s promise to provide His people with all that we need to remain true and faithful to Him in and through all that comes our way. Christ’s strength has taken the place of my weakness, and He makes me capable of singing songs of praise to my Lord during each and every day of my life. Thus, over and over again the Lord sustains me when I am failing in my resolve. He lifts me up when I have fallen down both in body and in spirit, and Christ is the solid rock upon which I can trust to set my feet when the troubling and the terrifying aspects of this world are hurling themselves my way.

 

 

For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.

1 Peter 2: 20

 

For most of us, the idea of being beaten for our faith is rather abstract. We have heard of people who have received this sort of treatment and worse, but we have never come close to anything more severe than hearing some harsh words or being dismissed as irrational or foolish by people who do not agree with us. I am not ignoring the possibility that physical harm or danger can and might come the way of followers of Christ in our world today, but I do believe that this sort of thing, in its literal sense, was more directly a part of Peter’s first century environment than it is a part of our twenty-first century one. Yet, the idea that he is expressing here still applies to us, and I think that it is valid in some important ways when it comes to our witness for Christ in our world.

 

In truth, there is much to be endured for us today. We even are exposed to beatings; however, the pummeling is just of an emotional, spiritual, and mental nature rather than being applied to our flesh. Some of this abuse is directed at our faith and comes our way as a direct result of the conflict that exists between God and His adversary, and much of it is more generally caused by the work of that same adversary in the cultural flow of life around us. The challenge for each of us who follow Christ and for His church is to remain fully and truthfully engaged in the discourse and the dialogue of our culture while not falling prey to its methodology and its hopeless self-reliance. This is a hard balance to maintain when the blows of unjust, unloving, and self-focused society are reigning down upon the lives of those who are least able to defend themselves and upon any of us who would seek to speak and to live out righteousness in the face of these various forms of rejection of Christ’s Gospel of love.

 

Thus, when we walk in righteousness, we also must be prepared to enter fully into Christ’s grace, for it is this grace that holds us up when others reject our point of view, and it is during these hard times of opposition to what is occurring around us that we also need to be prepared to enter into the conflict with grace as the foremost quality that we demonstrate. This is the point of contact where endurance is tested most severely, for this is where a very personal and rightfully heartfelt passion for what is just and holy is placed in direct conflict with ideas and values that others hold as necessary, appropriate, and even as God-honoring. Winning these discussions is really not the point, but speaking and demonstrating truth while pouring out Christ’s redemptive grace onto those who oppose our view is what the dialogue is actually about. This process often feels worse than a physical beating would, and it lasts much longer, too. Yet, Christ provides the strength to endure it all while not surrendering God’s values and our drive to see that His justice prevails in our world. In this process, Christ also pours out His grace upon us so that we can, in turn, bring His peace-making love into the center of the conflict.