As I prayerfully pondered how best to enter 2022 personally as well as what to share with a church plant on the Akuapem mountains (in the Eastern Region of Ghana) that had invited me as guest preacher for their Watch Night service, THE PRESENCE became overwhelming clear.
WHAT DO YOU WANT FOR 2022?
Take a pause and sincerely answer the question: What do I want for 2022? How about THE PRESENCE as a present? Yes, God is everywhere (omnipresent) so why does He say where two or three are gathered in His name He is present, among them? God can choose to concentrate His presence in a person or place, and that is what I mean by THE PRESENCE. My aim is to show that everything you need for 2022 is in THE PRESENCE of the LORD; all you’ll ever want is in THE PRESENCE. At the end of this, my prayer is that like the Mariah Carey song, “All I want for Christmas is you,” you’ll leave here saying, “Dear God, all I need for the New Year is YOU!” so “All I want for the New Year, is YOU!”
HEAVEN CAN BE HELL
Four years ago, when I was still president of ISMCanada, I led a team to organize our biennial staff conference for most of our 100 staff from coast to coast to come to McGill University in Montreal, on the east coast of Canada. One of the devotional speakers I arranged to exhort the conference attendees was a young pastor (he’s a white African from Zimbabwe) from the Peoples Church of Montreal. Pastor Chris asked a question that I would like to repeat: HOW MANY OF YOU WOULD STILL LOVE TO BE IN HEAVEN EVEN IF GOD WASN’T THERE? My own response revealed my heart and I was shocked. I realized to my utter shock and shame, I didn’t really mind being in Heaven—the golden streets, tree of life, worship music, peace, no more sickness, sweat or tears…—even if God was absent.
But really, WHAT IS HEAVEN WITHOUT GOD? Heaven without God is hell! Samuel Rutherford put it this way, “O my Lord Jesus Christ, if I could be in heaven without thee, it would be a hell; and if I could be in hell, and have thee still, it would be a heaven to me, for thou art all the heaven I want.” Teresa of Avila said, “Wherever God is, there is heaven.” And for John Milton, “Thy presence makes our paradise, and where thou art is heaven.” Simply put, God’s presence is paradise.
Now, let me ask you: WOULD STILL LOVE TO ENTER 2022 EVEN IF GOD WASN’T THERE? 2022 without God is hell. Yet even Covid in 2022 with God is heaven. Everything you need is in the Presence of Yahweh; is it protection, provision, guidance, favour, promotion, strength…? It’s in all in THE PRESENCE. For many of us, we don’t mind having this stuff without God coming along! We want his hand but not his face; we want his stuff but not him. That is a tragedy of our times; an error!
This last Christmas season, I was really challenged by the Spirit-led life of Simeon in Luke 2. He was a righteous and devout man in Jerusalem who Joseph and Mary met when the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, and they took Jesus to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. Interestingly, my main text for this message, Exodus 13, begins by explaining that what was written in the Law of the Lord—“Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”—was part of the Exodus story as God killed all the firstborns of Egypt and spared the Israelites’.
Simeon was no special person per se—not a priest, prophet, pharisee, politician—just an ordinary guy who thought right, acted right, was in right and intimate relationship with the LORD and devoted to Him. He was waiting for the promised Jewish Messiah (“the consolation of Israel,” they would say) and the Holy Spirit was on him [THE PRESENCE]. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Someone reading this needs revelation in 2022; it’s in THE PRESENCE.
Just check out at the intimacy in THE PRESENCE—such a deep thing that thousands of generations had waited for in faith, and God chooses to promise this sight to simple Simeon! It reminds me of Abraham’s intimacy with the LORD to the extent that God said, before he would rain judgment on Sodom & Gomorrah, “shall I hide what I’m about to do from Abraham].
Moved by the Spirit [THE PRESENCE compels, propels], he went into the temple courts right when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required. Indeed, the steps of the righteous are ordered by THE PRESENCE]. Simeon took him in his arms [may you too take hold of and take delivery of God’s promises in 2022 by THE PRESENCE] and praised God [there is praise in THE PRESENCE], saying some amazing things which made Mary and Joseph “marvel” (v. 33), including prophesying some incredible things like the crucifixion, all of which could only have been revelation. Such is the life of an individual in THE PRESENCE.
In Part 2, I share about the remarkable Israelites-in-the-desert example of THE PRESENCE, so well-summarized in the following famous two-stanza Wesleyan hymn:
Captain of Israel’s host, and Guide
Of all who seek the land above,
Beneath Thy shadow we abide,
The cloud of Thy protecting love;
Our strength, Thy grace, our rule, Thy Word;
Our end, the glory of the Lord.
By Thine unerring Spirit led,
We shall not in the desert stray
We shall not full direction need
Nor miss our providential way;
As far from danger as from fear,
While Love, almighty Love, is near.
Find Part 2 here.