From Providence to Presence

There comes a point in every believer’s life, when a change occurs. It is often preceded by a trial that brings about suffering. This change is easily described, but not easily experienced.

It’s when a believer comes to depend less on the Providence of God in order that he or she may depend more on the Presence of God.

When I say Providence, I mean of course those divine acts of God whereby He does or He gives or He supplies, and etc. any number of spiritual benefits to His children.

God loves to do this! And I know, we love Him for it.

When I say Presence, I mean of course merely having God in your life apart from anything He might otherwise do, give, supply, or etc.

God loves to be in our lives. And I hope, we love Him for it.

This is what it comes down to:

Providence is merely a demonstration of what God can do. Presence is merely an intimation of who God is.

There are many, some of whom have had their stories told in the Scripture, who only appreciate God as the Blesser, the Giver, the Sustainer. But if God should ever turn the fountain off, suddenly He has no place in their life. In such a situation, God becomes to that person a glorified Sugar Daddy. Oh, we’re sweet on the Lord when He’s pouring it out, but come the day that God holds it back, or worse, demands we give in return, then God’s just an old shoe who can sit on the heap along with all the other trash we decide we can live without.

Now, before anyone thinks I am limiting God, or implying that we shouldn’t depend on Him for our provision, please know I am not doing or saying that. So let me clarify with an example.

My daughter is 3 years old. Every day (since I work at night) she asks me “Daddy, do you have to go to work tonight?” Depending on my schedule, I answer accordingly. If I am off that night, and tell her so, she smiles, gets excited, and sometimes hugs me for joy.

But when I tell her “Yes, I have to go to work tonight”, she usually responds, “But I don’t want to you go to work tonight”, often becoming sad, even distraught. She has, in fact, more than once, cried in sorrow at the prospect. I then reply “But you need me to go to work tonight”. And with that, the conversation comes to a bittersweet end. I don’t want to go work, either!

She has no idea what I mean. She doesn’t realize that my employment earns me a wage that pays the rent, that keeps the heat and electricity on, that puts food on her plate, and clothes on her back. All the treats and toys she and her younger brother enjoy (apart from gifts) come from my wage. Without my income, we’d be stranded, homeless, and hungry.

But guess what? She could care less about my provision. She just wants me to be there. She doesn’t think twice about how missing a night of work might negatively affect the bottom line at the end of the month. She only cares about missing me for a night, because I can’t stay home with her.

This is innocence. This is faith as a child, as Jesus might say.

If we ended up living out of our car, I can say with confidence that my kids wouldn’t care. When we go on trips, they are used to sleeping in their cars seats. They are used to eating and snacking in the car. For them, the bed doesn’t matter. The kitchen table doesn’t matter. The roof of the car is not less than the roof of the house.

Why?

Because mom and dad are with them. Wherever we are, is home.

Let me reiterate: Wherever Father and Mother are, is home. Wherever God the Father and New Jerusalem the Mother of us all are, is home.

Moving from Providence to Presence is a sign of maturity and growth.

Now, I’m going to get personal.

My maternal grandfather died before I was born. My mom was 13 when he died. I came along ten years later, when she was 23. I’m a grown man now, the youngest of three sons. And though I can’t perfectly speak for my mom in all things, I think I can say this much:

If God, by some amazing miracle, would allow my grandfather, my mom’s dad, to be resurrected for a day, so she could have another 24 hours with him, I know my mom would give just about anything for it to happen. Short of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and Heaven itself, I may guess that it would be one of the greatest gifts God could ever bestow upon her.

But note: if such an impossibility ever occured, you know what? My mom wouldn’t need her dad, in that one day, to provide her a house (she already has one). She wouldn’t need her dad to provide her a car (she owns two). My mom wouldn’t need her dad to provide anything at all. In terms of material things, she has just about all she needs; it is provided for, since her husband (my step-dad)  works and earns a living and has given of himself to meet those needs.

What my mom would only need in such a set of circumstances is her dad’s presence. Not what he, as her dad, could DO for her, but rather, who he, as her dad, IS to her.

My wife and I, for about a year, were able and blessed to bring a woman named Oresha to church with us. Her dad died when she was a child. Her mom died when she was a teen. Oresha remembered her mom better than her dad. More than once, she told us how she would give anything to see her mom again and have her back in her life.

Presence, not Providence.

I have varying degrees of health problems. Some are mildly annoying. Some are more serious. For the sake of explaining, I list them here to make a point:

  • COPD or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
  • RADS or Reactive Airway Dysfunction Syndrome
  • GERD or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
  • Bi-lateral Neuro- and Veno-genic Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
  • Anterior Head Position
  • Scoliosis
  • Bone Spurs/Osteophytes in my thoracic vertabrae
  • Pectus Excavatum
  • Iliotibial Band Syndrome
  • Severe Tinnitus
  • Shift Work Sleep Disorder
  • Calcified tendons in my feet
  • Hypertrophy in my right A/C joint
  • A surgically repaired labrum
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome
  • Myofascia Pain Syndrome
  • And finally, according to a Rheumatologist, a spectrum of undefined Fibryomyalgic symptoms (some of which might include the above)

I do not share these for pity or for prayer (though if you do pray for me, I appreciate it).

Instead, I share to make this point:

Before I had surgery on my torn labrum, that is, what’s called a SLAP tear, I prayed frequently for healing. I called for the elders of my local assembly. They anointed me in the name of the Lord and laid hands on me, praying the prayer of faith. God moved and the Spirit fell on me, but not to heal. Rather, the Spirit of God did something else. It firmed my resolve and confirmed my faith, without a physical healing, thus adjusting instead my attitude about suffering.

Soon after, I had the surgery. While in a sling for the next three months, off of work for six weeks to recover, I learned some things, the chief being the following:

After the MRI appeared to confirm the tear, the Orthopedic Surgeon did a manual test on my shoulder. Not knowing what was supposed to happen, when he performed the test, I cried out in my pain and pulled away violently, almost crumbling to the floor. To be sure, he was gentle, not attempting to induce any extra injury. After this happened, he told me that the test he had just performed was called the Dislocation Test. It is de facto evidence of a SLAP tear.

Leading up to the surgery, since and because the Spirit had helped my mental resolve to go through with the surgery and accept the suffering I was experiencing, revelation started to come my way.

Psalm 22:14,

14. …all my bones are out of joint…

This is a prophecy of what Jesus experienced on the cross. Through much pathological research, it has been scientifically concluded that most if not all victims of crucifixion experience shoulder joint dislocation. This can only happen one way: a torn labrum.

Jesus experienced the same medical problem I had; a torn labrum resulting in separation of the long head of the bicep and dislocation of the greater humorous from the shoulder socket.

I realized I had been called upon to literally experience something that happened to Jesus while He was on the cross. What a great honor.

But there is more.

The start of my health problems, as listed above, had to do with my lungs. It is a long story, but suffice it to say, before I experienced a single health problem, in prayer, God spoke a verse of Scripture to me.

“To the weak I became as weak…”

Here, weak means without strength, lacking physical soundness, and etc.

Two weeks after God quoted this verse to me, and gave me an understanding that He was going to allow me to suffer a period of weakness, so that through weakness I might gain the weak (by all means saving some, as Paul wrote), I had a massive “asthma” attack from which I have not completely recovered. That was June, 2011. I write asthma in quotations because I don’t actually have asthma. Two Pulmonary Functions Tests ordered and read by a Pulmonologist confirm I don’t have it.

And from that day until this day, I have experienced one health problem after the next. I have seen all the most important specialists: Pulmonologists, Cardiologists, Rheumatologists, Neurologists, Orthopedic Surgeons, Vascular Surgeons. Each one (along with several different Physical Therapists, Chiropractors, and my own General Practioner with his PA) all said to me the same thing: “You’re too young to be having all these health problems”.

I know I am. But I also know what God said before all this happened: I would become weak to gain the weak, for the sake of the Gospel and winning the lost.

Currently, I face another surgery for my bi-lateral thoracic outlet syndrome, one which requires the resection (i.e. complete removal) of both of my first ribs. In addition, the surgery might require needing a scalenectomy (cutting away of the scalene muscles), not to mention possible blood vessel (arterial or venous) grafting and repair.

You can understand why I have not gone ahead.

And I want you all to know. I am not opposed to God healing me, nor do I lack the faith. I have laid hands on two different people with cancer, and God recovered both of them, one immediately, miraculously, and the other soon thereafter. I have prayed for someone having angina, and as I prayed, God immediately stopped the symptoms (not to mention other, lesser but still important healings God has orchestrated through me). I have been healed more than once by God, as well.

So what is it? It’s Presence, not Providence. I don’t need God to heal me in order for me to be faithful to Him. I love Him whether He does or does not do anything. I am willing, for the sake of the Gospel, to suffer and be a light that says “You can serve God in the midst of your trial. You don’t need God for what He can do. You need Him for Who He is.”

Be mindful. This is coming from someone whose neck, shoulders, arms, and hands hurt so badly sometimes I can’t even lift them when I pray or during worship. This is from someone who used to shout, dance, jump for joy, and rejoice, but who now more often than not, sits during worship because I either can’t catch my breath or because I’m in too much pain.

I know the cost. I pay it willingly.

I don’t need God to merely save me. I need God because HE IS THE SAVIOR.

Philippians 3:10,

10. That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death…

I cannot be as Christ-like as I would like if I do not suffer. I will not endure until the end if I do not suffer. I cannot be what God wants me to be for Him if I do not suffer.

1 Peter 4:1,

1. Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin…

2 Corinthians 12:10,

10. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.

Hebrews 4:15,

15. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.

Hebrews 2:10,

10. For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.

Hebrews 5:8,

8. Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered…

By faith, we are told, many great and wondrous miracles were wrought in the lives of God’s people. Hebrews 11 has an impressive list. But look what else occurred through faith:

…And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth… (Hebrews 11:36-38)

John 21:19,

19. This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.

Simon Peter’s eventual upside-down crucifixion in Rome glorified God?

Yes, it did.

I leave with this.

When Jesus began to tell His disciples that it was time for Him to suffer, to die, and to go away (i.e. ascend to Heaven), Jesus recognized something in them: their sorrow (John 16:22).

Why were they sorrowing? What was it specifically they knew they were about to lose? It wasn’t the miraculous provision of God in Christ. They had already been promised that, and believed. They were sad to lose the tangible Presence of their Lord and Master, who, after three and a half years, had become their best friend.

They had experienced the wonders. They had seen the miracles. They had done the miraculous themselves. What Jesus could do and did do in their midst was beyond the imagination. The Providence of God through His Son was astounding.

But that Providence needed to provide one more thing: a lamb who could take away the sins of the world. Indeed, a lamb slain since the foundation of the world. Jesus had to leave them in order for the Holy Spirit to come. What God in Christ could do for them no longer mattered as much. All that mattered then was the realization that the Presence of God in Christ was going to depart, but not without a promise.

It would return, and not only be with them, but also IN them, a unique regeneration whereby the words of the Lord Jesus could become a true reality:

“Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

If you are struggling, suffering, going through a hard time, or a succession of hard times, and it seems God is not answering, not doing, not giving, not supplying, not Providing, then I want you to know: He is trying to grow you up and out of Providence.

He wants you to grow up and into Presence.

Peace and God bless,

Aaron

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~ by votivesoul on 11/13/2013.

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