April 3, 2019

Abide With Me

God’s presence: real or fleeting?

Elizabeth Boyd

A few years ago I was sitting in the upstairs office of an old New England farmhouse. I saw the rising sun strike the tops of the tall pine trees and gradually move down their trunks to the green pasture below. All was quiet.

I treasure these quiet moments alone with God at the beginning of the day. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has had the experience of being alone but having the distinct feeling of another being in the room.

There was the purring of the kitten and the ticking of the cuckoo clock, but not another sound, just a presence. I was not startled. It was what I imagine Elijah sensed when he heard “a gentle whisper” there on Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19:12). Some translations call it a “still small voice.”

I was afraid to breathe, afraid to move. I wanted this moment of God’s companionship to last forever. Still afraid the moment would be lost, I quietly descended the steep wooden stairs and walked out into the early-morning sunshine. I took the trail through the woods to the shore and stood watching the tide rise and listened to the gulls cry for breakfast.

The presence was still there. I wondered what would happen when I went to work and the frantic activities of living on Planet Earth began again.

Well, I found the presence still there, that God had not gone anywhere. It’s all right to let our minds dwell on spiritual things and let the spiritual world become real to us. “We have the companionship of the divine presence,” wrote Ellen White, “and as we realize this presence, our thoughts are brought into captivity with Jesus Christ. Our spiritual exercises are in accordance with the vividness of our sense of this companionship.”1

We can let our minds dwell upon heaven and whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8). Picture the face of Jesus making eye contact and we are “transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18).

My Heart, Christ’s Home

I love the concept of abiding in Christ. In fact, I get a little nervous when I hear people speaking about God as a heavenly guest. I prefer to think of my heart as His home, where He can arrange the furniture as He wishes!

My uncle Felix, a Midwestern cattle man, told the story about his aunt Dolly. Her husband had died and left her with the kids and the farm. Aunt Dolly was a careful housekeeper, and she also kept the haystacks fenced until she was ready to turn her cows in for their winter supply of hay.

One day “Mr. Right” asked her to marry him. A few days after the wedding, Mr. Right proceeded to remove all Aunt Dolly’s haystack fences. The folk at church wondered how that would go over with the bride. “Oh,” Aunt Dolly smiled, “he’s in charge of the farm now. I’m in charge of the house.”

Yes, I like God to be in charge. He can even be in charge of the house!

Living in Christ

Jesus prayed to His Father, “I have given [my disciples] the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity” (John 17:22, 23).

This concept became a little more real to me when I walked through the woods to the shore early one foggy morning. There was the lapping of the water and the cry of the gulls, but I was “in the fog,” and by breathing the fog was in me!

Three of Jesus’ disciples—Peter, James, and John—were with Jesus on the mountain when the Father came down in a bright cloud to affirm His Son. They heard God’s voice speaking from the cloud (a fog, if you will): “This is my Son, whom I love” (Matt. 17:5). The disciples were “in” the fog, and when they breathed, the fog was “in” them.

The apostle Paul encouraged the believers in Ephesus “to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:18, 19).

In the World, in Christ

So how long did the presence stay? When was I aware that it was gone? Where did it go? Life gets in the way. And if we don’t intentionally make time for Him, we will not recognize or appreciate Jesus’ presence.

For several years I have dedicated the month of December as a sabbatical month. During that time I limit distractions and spend time with Christ. It takes planning and intentionality, but it is doable. One of my friends, the principal of a large high school, has found his sabbatical by traveling by train instead of flying. He prizes that time alone with God.

Last year the vividness of God’s presence was tarnished. There was a major health crisis, and though my Companion stayed close, and I felt at peace, I discovered that I was becoming self-centered and self-absorbed.

I was reminded of the youngest cousin at the family reunion on the farm. People were bustling here and there, interacting with happy cousin talk. Suddenly we heard a loud wail.

The cousin, a preschooler, was standing there in the big country kitchen with things baking, boiling, and seething. “Nobody’s making me happy!” he wailed with tears ready to spill over the edge of his bright-blue eyes.

Like that I was becoming self-centered and self-absorbed, and nobody was making me happy! I think I know how Joseph and Mary felt when they realized that Jesus was not with them.

Ellen White, writing about this intimacy with Christ, said: “Our hearts will often burn within us as One draws nigh to commune with us as He did with Enoch.”2

I love to be in Christ’s presence. I want to remove the clutter from my life and experience the vividness of His presence. I want to say with Jacob, “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Gen. 32:26).

  1. Ellen G. White, Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1923), p. 388.
  2. Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898, 1940), p. 668.

Elizabeth Boyd writes from Harpswell, Maine.