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  • Paul Reich

God With Us: Five Blessings (Part 1)

Blessing 1: Because God is with us, we can have assurance in trial.

 

Image by giografiche from Pixabay. Text added.

 

When coming into a new year, I often reflect on the previous year and seek the Lord for the upcoming year. As I look back, I thank the Lord for His many blessings and for sustaining me through the challenges. I acknowledge to the Lord my shortcomings and failures and I reflect on any lessons I learned or may yet need to learn. As I look ahead, I recognize that much of the future is unknown, but there may be events, milestones, or challenges that I can foresee in the coming year. I lift these to the Lord and seek Him for wisdom and guidance for both the foreseen and unseen future.


Opportunely, my church also schedules a time of prayer and fasting each January, which helps me to lift the new year to the Lord in prayer and listen for anything He might have to say to me. In past years, sometimes I have felt the Lord prompt me to focus on specific priorities, work on a particular area in my life, or study a specific Bible topic. Sometimes I have received a theme verse which sets the course for the year and acts like a compass to keep me on track.


During my times of reflection and prayer as I came into 2023, I knew that I would be facing the immanent death of my wife from cancer should the Lord not intervene. 2022 had already been a very difficult year on numerous fronts and 2023 was shaping up to be an even more challenging and heartbreaking year. As I came through the Christmas season and into the new year, the name Immanuel, meaning “God with us,” persisted in my mind. Prominent in the Christmas story, the name Immanuel (also spelled "Emmanuel") was used to describe Jesus as the incarnate Son of God. He was God in the flesh, “God with us.”


Matthew 1:23 (NASB)

23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.”


Image is widely available online


The more I reflected on the name Immanuel and prayed, the more I felt that God’s theme for my life for 2023 was “God with me.” He was giving me a personal word of assurance that He would be with me through the passing of my wife, the ensuing grief, and the resultant life changes that would domino as a result. So, God’s word for me this year wasn’t about direction, or a set of priorities, or blessings, or a particular area of my life, but rather to rest in the assurance that no matter what comes my way, He would be with me.


So far this year, I have experienced the passing of my wife, a flood in my house (which I am still walking through – renovations, and replacement of contents, etc.), the breakdown of my van on a cold January night about 40 minutes from home, a lower back injury resulting in a bulging disk and extensive sciatic pain, the passing of my dear friend and spiritual father, and more. By far, 2023 has been the most difficult year of my life. The physical and material setbacks are nothing compared to the deep emotional anguish I have experienced this year. Yet, in every circumstance I have reaffirmed God’s promise to be with me, and I have experienced the Lord’s presence and faithful care time and again – sometimes in deeply meaningful and personal ways.


As I have done on previous occasions when I sense a theme from the Lord, in January of 2023 I gave my attention to studying the “God with” passages in the Bible. Little did I know when I began to study this theme, how often it occurs throughout the pages of Scripture. My study in January provided rich fodder for a sermon that I have had the privilege to preach on several occasions in 2023, which in turn serves as the basis for this current series of blog posts.


The Bible specifically affirms God’s presence with more than two dozen individuals. The theme of “God with . . .“ is noted for each of the Patriarchs of Genesis; various leaders, kings, and prophets; Jesus and the apostles, Mary the mother of Jesus, God’s people in general, and all believers. It is not my purpose in this post to look at each of these individuals or groups, but some of them will serve as examples for the main points I will be making along the way.


Furthermore, on top of the “God with” verses, there are countless passages that talk about God’s presence, God’s favor, God acting on someone’s behalf, or similar ideas, all of which demonstrate God being with an individual or group. These parallel ideas broadened the theme beyond the scope of my study, and I restricted my study to the “God with” passages.


Five Blessings of God Being With Us


In this new series of blog posts, I will highlight five blessings we have because God is with us. With each blessing, I will draw meaningful insights and practical applications for our lives. Because of the significant amount of content, I will cover one blessing in each post.


BLESSNG #1: Assurance in Trial:


Because God is with me, I can have assurance in trial. I do not need to fear or become anxious in times of hardship, suffering, or danger. God’s presence does not exempt us from trial, but it sustains us through trial. It gives us assurance that He will supply the strength, comfort, provision, guidance, and whatever else we need to come through the trial successfully. Though God was with them,

  • Abraham and Isaac both experienced famine.

  • Joseph was thrown in a pit and sold as a slave. He was falsely accused and thrown into prison. He was forgotten by the cupbearer. Despite these hardships, God was with him and gave him favor, prospering the work of his hands even in these difficult places.

  • Moses experienced many trials leading the people out of Egypt: conflict with Pharaoh, seemingly insurmountable problems like the Red Sea and providing food and water, attacks by enemies, and innumerable problems with obstinate and rebellious people.

  • The children of Israel encountered many trials in the wilderness, but God sustained them, led them, fed them, protected them, and ensured their clothes did not wear out.

What enabled all of them to endure and overcome was the fact that God was with them. This is a recurring theme in the Bible. For example, Psalm 91 highlights the benefits of the one who trusts in the Lord, making the Lord his refuge. One of those God-given benefits is “I will be with him in trouble” (Psalm 91:15).


One of my great joys during this season of my life is spending time with grandchildren – five of the six are still preschool age. On occasion, I have had the privilege of joining grandkids on family outings or walks with their mom and dad. Sometimes the kids like to walk hand-in-hand, sometimes they like to be carried, but more often they like to run a little ways ahead on the trail. Several times while walking the beautifully forested park trails, my grandkids have come running back to mom or dad or me when someone with a large dog is approaching. Small dogs are fine, but large dogs can be intimidating for small children, especially if they bark or are overly friendly. In their eagerness, many dogs do not realize that they intrude beyond the safety zone of a small child. They don’t realize how forceful their sniffing and licking can be or that their vigorous wiggles and swishing tail can knock a small child over. Despite their intimidation, when the kids are in the arms of Mom or Dad or Grandpa, they are assured that everything will be okay. The same is true for us when we know that God is with us in times of trouble. We can rest securely in His arms, knowing that the problems that seem too big and scary for us are not too big or scary for Him.


Photo by Jed Owen on Unsplash


One of my favorite passages promising God’s protecting and sustaining presence in trial is Isaiah 43:1-5


1b Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!

2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you.

3a For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;

. . .

5a Do not fear, for I am with you;”


In this passage, the waters, rivers, fire, and flame are being used metaphorically to refer to times of trial, affliction, and difficulty. God promises to be with His people in trying times and to protect them from being overcome or destroyed. Though this passage is speaking metaphorically, God has also demonstrated that His saving presence can rescue His followers from being consumed by literal fire or drowned by literal water.


In the Old Testament, we have the account of God rescuing Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the fiery furnace. Though threatened with being burned alive, Daniel's three Hebrew friends refused to bow to the colossal golden image erected by King Nebuchadnezzar. Even if God would not deliver them from death, they purposed to not bow to Nebuchadnezzar’s idol. This so infuriated King Nebuchadnezzar that he ordered the furnace to be heated seven times hotter than usual. In fact, it was so hot that the valiant warriors who threw Daniel’s rope-bound friends into the furnace were instantly killed by the heat.


Yet, when King Nebuchadnezzar gazed into the searing flames, instead of seeing three men, he saw four men freely walking around in the furnace, the fire having only consumed the ropes that bound the three Hebrews. Astonished at their survival and the presence of a fourth man, Nebuchadnezzar described the fourth man as having an appearance like a son of the gods. At the king’s command, the three Hebrews emerged unscathed by the flames. Not only was there no harm done to their bodies, their hair was not even singed, their clothing was untouched by the fire, and they didn’t even carry the smell of smoke on them. God was with them, and He had delivered them from the scorching flames (Daniel 3). Similarly, God is able to sustain us through and deliver us from the fiery trials of life (James 1:2-12; 1 Peter 1:6-9, 4:12-19; 5:8-10).


Image is widely available online


In the New Testament, we have two accounts of Jesus rescuing His disciples from raging storms on the sea of Galilee. On one occasion, a violent storm arose while Jesus remained comfortably asleep in the back of the boat with His head resting on a pillow. As the turbulent waves swept over the gunnels threatening to swamp the boat, the fearful disciples awakened Jesus crying out, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” (Matthew 8:25 NIV). After reprimanding them for their fear and lack of faith, Jesus arose and rebuked the wind and waves, and the sea became perfectly calm. The lesson is clear, when God is with us, we need not fear in the storms of life, but can rest secure in His faithful care. Or to borrow the words of a children’s song, “With Jesus in the boat you can smile at the storm!”


On the second occasion, the disciples had rowed all evening and half the night, battling against the raging sea. Finally, in the dark pre-dawn hours, Jesus came to them walking on the surging waves. Thinking He was a ghost, the disciples cried out in fear. “But Jesus immediately said to them: ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid’” (Matthew 14:27 NIV). Then, in obedience to the Lord’s bidding, Peter too walked on the sea. That is until he took his eyes off Jesus and looked at the tumultuous waves. While sinking, in desperation He cried out to Jesus, “Lord, save me!” As in the previous account, Jesus reprimanded Peter for his doubt and lack of faith. Then, grasping Peter by the hand, the two of them returned to the boat walking together on the sea. Upon entering the boat, the wind immediately stopped, and the sea calmed.


Image: Walking with Jesus by Abraham Hunter. Numbered and signed prints are available through several online art galleries.

Once again, the lesson is clear: The stormy waters that threaten to overcome us are under His feet! Moreover, in obedience to the Lord’s command and by keeping our eyes on Him, these threatening waters can be under our feet as well.


When the Lord is with us amid life’s fiery trials or life’s stormy seas, we need not fear. We can trust His faithful promise that He will be with us in difficult times and that the waters will not overflow us, nor will the flames burn us, for He is our God and Savior!


The first place I preached after my wife’s death was at a church pastored by good friends. This was also the first time that I shared some of the thoughts I had gleaned from my study on “God with us.” At the close of the service, the lead pastor called forward the elders of the church to gather around me and pray for God’s comfort and strength during this difficult season of my life. The powerful spontaneous prayers lifted on my behalf were deeply moving for me, assuring me that God was with me.


Later in a private conversation, the associate pastor (the semi-retired father of the lead pastor and a longtime friend) shared with me a vision he had while they were praying. He did not feel he should share the vision publicly, but only with me privately. In brief, he saw a smooth paved road ahead of me, but when he looked at my feet, he saw me trudging through mud. The mud was not up to my knees, but it was deep, and slogging through the mud was a picture of how difficult and painful the circumstances of my life were at this time. The gist of his message was that though this is an excruciating season, there are better days on the horizon (within eyesight) when the road of my life will be much easier to travel.


A week later, I had the opportunity to share this vision with other good friends. During a prayer time at the end of our conversation, the husband shared that he saw Jesus standing on the paved road ahead of me. Jesus was extending His arms in welcome bidding me to come, just like He bid Peter to come and walk on the water. My friend then said, “Paul, get your eyes off of the mud and keep your eyes on Jesus, and He will enable you to walk on the mud!” Since that time, when people ask how I’m doing, I have sometimes replied, “I’m taking one day at a time, trying to keep my eyes on Jesus while walking on mud!” This has often led to me sharing this fusion of visions.


When the waves of grief, anxiety, or challenging circumstances come my way, I have found great peace and rest, knowing that the Lord is with me in the storm. Through prayer, I turn my gaze to Jesus, lifting to Him the complex and tangled feelings of my heart and placing childlike trust in His faithful care.


What about you? What trying circumstances or painful experiences are you facing right now? You too can experience assurance in your times of trial and suffering. In fact, the Bible promises that God is a very present help in trouble – not just a past help or a future help, but a present help – RIGHT NOW!


Psalm 46:1-3, 7, 10–11 (NASB)

1 God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble.

2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea;

3 Though its waters roar and foam, Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride. Selah.


Because God is our refuge and strength and a very present help in times of trouble, we don’ need to fear though cataclysm strikes the earth or our lives. This thought is followed by the word Selah. Selah in the Psalms identifies a musical interlude or a strategic pause encouraging the reader to reflect on what has just been said - "think about it." To be more relevant to our times, we need not be afraid even though corrupt politicians, powerful aristocrats, censoring media groups, invading armies, climate disasters, globalist agendas, and economic collapses threaten our world. Nor do we need be anxious when we encounter the many and diverse trials of this life. The reason we don’t need to fear is because God is with us, and we draw our strength in difficult times by taking refuge in him. This Psalm goes on to say . . .


7 The Lord of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah.

. . .

10 “Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

11 The Lord of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah.


This brief Psalm includes three Selahs, providing three separate occasions to pause and reflect on what it means to have the Lord of hosts, the all-powerful Ruler who commands the armies of heaven, with us. He has all the resources of heaven and earth at His disposal. We can rest in confident trust, ceasing our anxious striving by really knowing who our God is and truly grasping that He is with us. Like a child relaxing in the arms of a strong and loving father when threatened by a big dog, we too can relax in the arms of an almighty, powerful Heavenly Father who loves us and has our highest good in mind.


Photo by Explore with Joshua on Unsplash. Text added


I may be facing trials this year. You may be facing trials this year. But we have the promise that God is with us in those trials. As the well-known poem describes: one set of footprints in the difficult sands of life is not a sign that God has abandoned us, but rather that He is carrying us. A strong sense of God’s abiding presence is a great comfort to the trusting Christian. We may be deserted by friends or family and lose all our earthly possessions, but the Lord is always with us to sustain, strengthen, and provide.


Even when facing death, we have the assurance of God’s presence and can say with David, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4 NASB). Whether we are facing our own death or the death of a loved one, we walk through that dark valley with our faithful Good Shepherd. The renowned John Wesley understood this. Just before his death on March 2, 1971, John Wesley opened his eyes and exclaimed in a strong, clear voice, “The best of all is, God is with us!”[1] What a hope-inspiring example of assurance when facing death.


In fact, there is no place we can go where God is not with us, even the abode of the dead, the place of departed spirits.


Psalm 139:7–12 (NASB)

7 Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?

8 If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol [the abode of the dead], behold, You are there.

9 If I take the wings of the dawn [fly to the place of the rising sun], If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea [travel by ship to the furthest destination, or perhaps even go to the depths of the sea],

10 Even there Your hand will lead me, [God’s presence assures divine guidance] And Your right hand will lay hold of me. [God’s presence assures support, protection, and sustaining strength]

11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, And the light around me will be night,”

12 Even the darkness is not dark to You, And the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You.


Much could be said about this passage, but I’ve chosen instead to simply insert a few parenthetical thoughts in the text above. Hopefully, they will prompt your own reflections on the amazing truth of God’s presence no matter where you go and no matter how dark the circumstances of life may be. Regardless of where you are or what comes your way, you have the assurance that God is with you, that He will lead you, and that He will sustain you. Not only are these truths outlined in Psalm 139, they are highlighted in a passage that has become one of my favorites in 2023.


Isaiah 41:10 (NASB)

10 “Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”

This passage encapsulates the assurance that we can have in times of trial, suffering, or sorrow. We need not fear or be anxious because God is with us to strengthen, help, and uphold us through the trying and uncertain times that come our way.


Closing


Perhaps, even now you are in the flood waters of trial or in the fires of affliction and suffering. You may feel overwhelmed by waves of emotion that batter your soul or threatened by flames of anxiety that lick at your heart and mind. Perhaps you are in a dark time. I pray that you will experience the assurance of God’s presence and His promises that He will strengthen you and bring you through without being overcome or destroyed. Remember, God is not only with you, He is for you! (Romans 8:31-39).


REFERENCES

[1] Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc., 1996), 311.

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4件のコメント


joyjagrace
2023年9月10日

Dear Pastor Paul: You are a very gifted communicator. Thank you for the time and effort you take to thoroughly research and prepare all that God puts on your heart to share. What I appreciate the most is the genuine humility and the reverential spirit of the fear of the Lord that oozes out of you. WOW‼️ That is a very timely and much needed and costly thing that is so needed in the Body of Christ especially among leaders at this critical and pivotal time in Church History. Thank you for all your “ yes’s” in your journey with JESUS that have brought you to the place you are today. May God grant you continued “ Grace”…

いいね!
paul
2023年11月01日
返信先

Thank you Joya for your kind words and your prayers!

いいね!

sharon
2023年9月09日

Thank you Paul! You have certainly had your feet to the fire, experienced the flood and been in the mud. I thank God for this testimony of His presence and the truths that have sustained you and enabled you to walk on the mud one day at a time through this terrible year. I am reminded me of Psalm 124. "If it had not been the Lord who was on our side..." He is so SO good! Glory to His Name!

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paul
2023年11月01日
返信先

Thank you Sharon. I'm so thankful that God is for us and if He is for us, who can be against us (Romans 8:31-39)!

いいね!
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