God’s presents or presence — What do we desire more?
by Joseph Franks
Consider our youthful fascination with the tooth fairly. We do not know that much about him or her, and frankly that does not concern us in the slightest. We do not bother her, and she does not bother us. We do not talk to her, and she does not communicate to us. If we could continue to have it our way, we would keep the relationship simple and distant. We would lose a tooth; we would put it under our pillow; and all we would expect in return would be to wake up in the morning and be a bit wealthier than when we went to bed. When it comes to the tooth fairy, we do not fancy her presence, but we sure do delight in her presents. Sadly, some of us imagine such a distant and uncomplicated relationship with the Creator of the universe. We don’t want him close. we don’t want him communicating. We just want his benefits.
Or perhaps we have the tendency to look at God as if he were the judicious policeman. We know he is there, and we kind of like the fact that he roams about in the neighborhood and keeps speeding to a minim. However, we definitely don’t delight in seeing him come our way with blue light shining. We don’t want him close. We don’t want him communicating. We just want him protecting us and prosecuting others.
Or too often we imagine God as the celestial Santa Claus. According to legend, he watches, records, and comes with coal for some and gifts for others. Therefore, because we long to enjoy the presents of the kind Claus, we attempt to be “good for goodness sake,” and we provide some warm cookies and cold milk for added advantage. It is our hope that the divine beneficent one, with whom we have communicated very little, can be “tipped” into looking upon us with kindness and generosity when he comes to town.
Or there are times when we view God as the local fireman down at the station. We don’t often go to his firehouse, and we don’t often invite him to ours, but we sure appreciate knowing he is not very far from our domicile. And though we have never conversed with him in our sweetest of days, we expect him to drop all he is doing and be on our doorstep in a matter of minutes when we issue forth our call of panic.
Yes, sadly, many of us are content with a God who increases our cash, keeps the peace, gives gifts, and saves us when we find we cannot save ourselves. Most of us are less interested in God’s presence, all the while being incredibly interested with his presence.
In the Bible, following the debacle with the Golden Calf, God gave Moses and the Israelites that which most people would cherish: the opportunity to have his presents without his presence. He would not wipe them out, and they would be allowed to successfully travel into the Promised Land. He would even guide them by his divine angel and grant them victory over their enemies, but they would do so without his intimate companionship. It was In Exodus 33 where God presented his offer:
The Lord said to Moses, “Depart; go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give it.’ I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” (Exodus 33:1-3)
Such an offer may have been desirable to some. Lucifer would have surely accepted God’s offer. However, this was completely unacceptable to Moses and the most godly of the Israelites. Consider their response as they respectfully replied, “No deal!”
When the people heard this disastrous word, they mourned, and no one put on his ornaments … Moses said to the Lord, “See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” And he said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” And the Lord said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” (Exodus 33:4-17)
Israel had tasted God’s presents, and they had begun to taste God’s presence, and they would not settle for the first without the second. Sure, they would love to have God’s angel, God’s invitation to proceed, and God’s promise of military success. Sure, they would love to enjoy the fruit of the land and pass on this inheritance to their children. However, if this came at the expense of enjoying God’s presence, that was too expensive a price to pay. So Israel, led by their mediator, repented of their sin and found their gracious God waiting with arms wide open to offer them a better deal. If they desired his presence, he would be proud to answer their prayer. He would grace them with his presence, and in addition, they might also get an incredibly gracious portion of his presents as well.
Therefore friends, let us love God’s presents, but let us lust for his presence. Let us not be like Esau who coveted God’s stew and discounted God’s blessing. Or let us be unlike Judas who appreciated God’s friendship as long as he operated according to Judas’ preferred plan which included national renewal. Instead, let us be like Moses who valued intimacy with God more than the either the pagan riches of Egypt or the godly fruit of Canaan. Or let us be like the Psalmist who was satisfied with his day containing fresh water, green grass or the shadow of death — as long as the Lord was his intimate shepherd he was content. Yes, let us be like Moses who longed to see God’s face. Let us be like David who sought the Lord’s presence early in the morning and in the late evening. Perhaps we should be like Daniel who sought the Lord’s face three times daily. Or better yet, let us be like Jesus who communed with his Father without ceasing as later recommended by Paul. God is our Father who enjoys having his children around his feet or on his lap. He is our Bridegroom who lusts for us even more than we lust for him. We have no greater lover. We have no greater friend. He dwells not in temples made by the hands of man but has moved himself within our hearts. His presence is with us, and he will give us rest. God encourages, even commands us to come boldly into his presence. So let us not be satisfied with his distant affection shown to us through his gracious presents. Let us prioritize and enjoy his presence above all.
So meditate and sing now the words of the old hymn penned by Fanny Crosby:
Take the world, but give me Jesus, All its joys are but a name;
But His love abideth ever, Through eternal years the same.
Take the world, but give me Jesus, Sweetest comfort of my soul;
With my Savior watching o’er me, I can sing though billows roll.
Take the world, but give me Jesus. In His cross my trust shall be,
Till, with clearer, brighter vision, Face to face my Lord I see.
Or be warmed by the poetic prayer of David Livingstone:
God, send me anywhere, only go with me.
Lay any burden on me, only sustain me.
And sever any tie in my heart, except the tie that binds my heart to yours.
On the cross, Jesus yelled forth, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” For a time, the perfect Son of God was denied the presence of the Father. Why did he do so? He was denied God’s presence, that we might enjoy God’s presence, and find ourselves eternally blessed by God’s presents.
Now go to Him, the giver of all good gifts, and delight in his presence through prayer.