His Presence: The Beginning and End of it all
Lloyd & Mary Gardner
October 25, 2014
The Lord is full of surprises. This is true because His ways are so much higher than our ways that often, when He penetrates our dullness with His nature, we are caught by surprise by what He does or says. I remember a time when I was a pastor in a traditional church that the leaders of the church were before Him in prayer for guidance to our next pathway. He had led us through many changes and we had happily responded in obedience to them all. But during this new phase we were unable to gain clarity about where He was leading.
We were all looking for the next ascent to our presumed great adventure in God and our eyes were lifted toward the spiritual mountain waiting for His call upward. Then came the surprise. Through several circumstances ordered by Him we came to see that our next great adventure was not to a mountain top experience but was a descent into a valley of discipline from Him. Instead of a mountain we were getting a valley. Instead of an oasis we were being turned toward a wilderness. The great adventure we anticipated became an unsettling exercise in humility.
God was not moving according to our preconceived notions but according to His eternal wisdom. We had become enamored with our successes as a church and had fallen for the mistaken notion that, because we were a church, anything we did was fine with Him. We had begun to function according to religious protocol instead of by the leading of the Holy Spirit. We stopped following the Shepherd and set out on our own.
In recent years I have been surprised several times by the Lord as He would turn left when I was expecting a right turn. Clearly He was teaching me what He teaches all who truly follow Him—that following Him means truly being with Him and then being willing to go where He goes.
Religion allows us to go where we want and then insist that He join us in our folly. To truly follow the Lord means to truly follow the Lord. It has finally occurred to me that Jesus called the disciples to follow Him but seldom told them where He was going. He wanted them to learn the simple lesson that the key is to be with Him wherever He is. We are enamored by destinations but He calls us to be enamored with Him.
The only time He told them where He was going was when He announced that He was going to Jerusalem to be arrested, beaten, condemned and crucified. They resisted this because that destination wasn’t on their itinerary. Still, they didn’t leave Him but continued to follow Him when He set out for Jerusalem. Thomas, the one we call “the doubter”, even declared “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16). They had learned the key—the important thing is to be where Jesus is despite the cost. Followers follow. It’s that simple.
The religious people of His day found it difficult to follow Jesus because He was always going to destinations that didn’t fit their agenda. After all they had religious duties to tend to, obligations to fulfill and rites to honor. They had no time to follow this radical preacher around the countryside proclaiming the kingdom, healing the sick and setting the captives free. And so they never saw the kingdom, or healed the sick or set any captives free. Only those who were with the Master experienced these things because they were with Him.
And that’s my memo for you today. Nothing really matters except being with Jesus. When Martha was busy with menial tasks Mary sat at the feet of Jesus. She realized the key—being with Him. Somehow American Christians, I especially, must come to realize that all the religious activity is useless unless He is there. We must get past the false notion that being Christians and being the church permits us to do as we please while we expect Jesus to join us.
To the contrary, He will do as He pleases because He is doing the Father’s good pleasure. He is on a mission to accomplish the eternal purpose of God and whatever He does, wherever He goes, is for that divine purpose. Just as He did not bow to the whims of the religious leaders two millenniums ago, He will not bow to our self-originating schemes. He is God and we are not. It’s about time we realized the obvious.
Jesus is not looking for hotshot leaders who know all of the tricks of church building. He is looking for followers. He is seeking people who will be where he is. His first words to His disciples were “Follow Me” (Matt. 9:9; 4:19; John 21:22). Some, like the rich young ruler, had much worldly advantage to offer but when they counted the cost were unable to follow (Matt. 10:22). Jesus does not call you because you have much to offer His ministry. He calls you because He loves you and wants to be with you and share Himself with you.
All that Jesus wishes to accomplish will come forth from being with Him. People often ask me what expression of church I envision. The expression of church life I want to be part of is one that flows from people being in His presence and allowing Him to be Guest of honor. Jesus didn’t give us a manual for church building. He gave us Himself in the Spirit. His promise is “I am with you always” (Matt. 28:20). Church life is the life of Jesus in the Spirit lived out in people’s lives.
The key to all that I have to say to this generation of Christians is this: find Jesus and stay with Him. Become a true follower of the One who is the Good Shepherd whose leadership never fails. Sometimes He will lead us to green pastures and still waters and other times He will lead us through the valley of the shadow of death. Both places are equally good because He is there. The Psalmist says it all: “I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Ps. 23:4). If He is with us it does not matter where we are. His presence is the beginning and end of it all.
From Mary: As I read this message, I am reminded of a little book (allegory) written many years ago, “Hinds Feet on High Places”. I actually read it again a couple of weeks ago because I was once again in this new situation and I felt like Much Afraid. What I was reminded of is that if we follow Him, He will take us to unexpected places (I’ve come to call them adventures). “Much Afraid” was following the Shepherd going up to the high places. He promised her if she would come with Him to the high places, she would be healed and He would give her a new name. There were many turns on the path that upset her because she just wanted to go up to the high places. If we do not have those steep valley paths, how will we ever trust Him in everything, how will we ever grow?
At the end of the book, the Shepherd asked her what she learned on this journey. She replied:
“I must accept with joy all that You allowed to happen to me on the way and everything to which the path led me! That I was never to try to evade it, but to accept it and lay down my own will on the altar and say ‘Behold me, I am thy little handmaiden Acceptance with Joy.’
Then I learned that I must bear all that others were allowed to do against me and to forgive with no trace of bitterness and to say to thee, ‘Behold me—I am thy little handmaiden Bearing-with-Love, that I may receive power to bring good out this evil.’”
There are many other wonderful messages in this book but I would close with this one:
“You, my Lord, never regarded me as I actually was, lame and weak and crooked and cowardly. You saw me as I would be when You had done what You promised and had brought me to the High Places….You always treated me with the same love and graciousness as though I were a queen already and not wretched little Much-Afraid.”
O, I almost forgot to tell you her new name—Grace and Glory! Beautiful! Be encouraged!