Introduction – Experience of Life and Peace
During my life, I have had times where I have felt closer, more connected to God and times where things seem to be quiet. By quiet, I mean that I do not sense or experience the presence of God and/or fellowship with God. The apostle Paul speaks about the experiences of life and peace versus the experience of death.
5 For those who are living according to the flesh are intent on the things of the flesh, but those who are living according to the Spirit are intent on the things of the Spirit. 6 For the mindset of the flesh is death, but the mindset of the Spirit is life and peace.Romans 8:5-6
I do not believe the life and death that Paul speaks about here is life or death of our physical bodies, but they are life and death in our spirit and/or soul. The experience of peace is one that goes beyond what we experience when all the circumstances of our life are in good shape. I believe the experience of death in our spirit and/or soul is an experience of the absence of the presence of God in our daily lives while the experience of life and peace is through the experience of God’s presence. The word for life here is zoe in the Greek text which means the very life of God. Greek has three words for life. bios (physical/plant life), psuche (soul life) and zoe (God’s life).
One key aspect of God’s life (zoe) and peace in our life is experiencing His presence. This isn’t a specific word or interaction. In simple terms, think of it like living in the same house with someone else. When they are there you experience their presence. When they are not there, you are aware of the lack of their presence. It is very similar in our walk with God. This isn’t a major or significant experience, but once you have walked with God with His presence in your life for a long enough period of time, then you are able to be aware of His absence (lack of His presence).
Over the years, I have experienced God’s presence and absence on a number of occasions. To be clear, I am not talking about significant experiences or speaking from the Lord. I am referring to times in my life where there may not be much going on beyond the usual patterns of daily life. The following is one such period of time where I realized I had lost the presence of God in my life during a season of regular, daily life.
Spring of 2016 – Experiencing the Lack of God’s Presence
Sometime early in the Spring of 2016, I began to realize that I had not heard anything from the Lord for a little while and that I did not have His presence. In fact, I realized that He was absent. Based on previous experiences I had learned that this could happen for different reasons. Sometimes things were “quiet”, but there was no problem. I still had an underlying sense of peace that I just needed to take care of my life’s responsibilities. In other cases, I knew there was a problem and that the absence of God’s presence in my life was communicating something to me. I can break these times when I knew there was a problem down into two categories.
- There was something God had spoken to me that needed to have a response from me in the form of obedience or fellowship with God.
- There was something I had missed which God needed me to hear, but I missed it, ignored it or otherwise moved past it.
In both of these cases, it is simple. I have learned to stop and ask God. My question is simple, “Is there something I missed or haven’t followed through on that I need to pay attention to?” If there is something, God has always been faithful to bring it to my mind. In most cases, it is an immediate response. God brings something to mind which could go backwards in time by days, weeks or months. It could go back even longer if I had not been paying attention to His presence for that long.
When I stopped to ask God if there was something I missed or hadn’t followed through on, He gave me an immediate reply in the form of a reminder of something He had put on my heart to do, but that I did not want to do. God doesn’t speak to me in a loud voice, but when I listen it is clear that He speaks and I know what He is saying. This isn’t something that you learn overnight. It is something you learn to focus in on. You might think it is your own thoughts. You can easily rationalize away the things you don’t want to hear, but it doesn’t mean He isn’t speaking to you. If you ask Him to teach you how to hear and you submit your life to Him, He will disciple you Himself and through others He puts in your life.
So, early in the Spring of 2016, I was faced with a challenge of overcoming my unwillingness to follow through on something He wanted me to do. I have faced this challenge many times. I am strong-willed and I want to do what I want to do and I don’t want to do what I don’t want to do. It takes me time to work through my unwillingness. In short, I did. I followed through and obeyed the voice of the Lord.
Returning to the Lord and Hearing Him Again…
While I was working through my unwillingness, I decided to plan a short camping trip to a camping ground a few hours away from where I live. I also checked to see if there might be a few others who wanted to go. It worked out that two other christian brothers and some of their kids decided to join me on this trip. The best time for our trip was Memorial Day weekend of 2016. We drove separately and arrived and departed at separate times. It was a time of refreshing and my peace with the Lord was restored. I also sensed His presence before and during this trip. The only thing that hadn’t happened, was that I had not heard God say anything to me. In previous times, when I found I had lost his presence and a sense of His life and His peace and then had it restored by finding out what I had missed, God would not only restore my sense of His presence but also He would speak something meaningful to me through the Word of God or through a christian brother or sister.
This time, He hadn’t spoken anything even after I had followed through on what He was asking of me. So, on the last day of this camping trip I decided to pack everything up and take a hike before driving home. All the others I had come headed home and I found a nearby hiking trail.
This was not an extremely difficult hike. It was a relatively smooth uphill hike that rounded a small, low mountain. As I proceeded on this hike, I began speaking to God in my heart repeatedly saying to Him that I wanted to hear what He had to say. In fact, on the majority of this hike I dwelled on this one thought, “God, what do you have to say to me?” The entire way up, I heard nothing. I was in a mountainous area, so cell phone service was spotty. I checked my signal strength several times on the start of this hike to find the well known words, “No Service”. I put my phone in my pocket and continued on. While I continued to ask God what he had to say to me, I rounded this small mountain and heard my phone beep. I had received a text message. I decided not to check it, but realized that I had cell service for this part of the hike. I decided that I would wait until I reached the top of this hike and then I would see the text message I received.
I reached the highest point on this hike where there was a rock outcropping. I found a spot to sit down and have a snack and see my text message. The text message was from a brother in Christ who I had known for a number of years. The message was simple, it said “Isa 58:11”. Nothing else.
Months later, I would speak with this brother in Christ and he explained this text message to me from his point of view. He said he was at home and the Lord clearly spoke to him and told him to send me this verse immediately. He did not know why. He didn’t call me. He just sent the text, “Isa 58:11”.
11 And Yahweh will lead you continually, and satisfy your soul in a barren land, and he will strengthen your bones, and you shall be like a well-watered garden, and like a spring of water whose water does not fail.Isaiah 58:11
Even without knowing what God had spoken to my christian brother, I knew God had spoken to me through this verse. It spoke directly to my heart. God could have spoken this verse directly to my heart like He had done on various other occasions, but He chose to speak through a brother in Christ.
As I sat on this rock outcropping, I was visited by God with this verse and with His response to my desire to hear Him in that moment. I decided to sit and read the entire chapter of Isaiah 58 to understand the context of verse 11. I knew God was speaking verse 11 to me personally, but as I read through the entire chapter I knew God was sharing more with me. He was sharing something important for me to share with others.
The name of this hiking trail and the specific place I was sitting was called “Hearkening Hill”. At the time of my hike, I did not even know what “hearkening” meant. I found out it meant “to listen”, “to heed”, and “give respectful attention to”. It had been in my heart to hear God the entire way up to the rock outcropping called “Hearkening Hill”.
I heard. I heard something for me and something for others.
Sharing a Message with Others
Take a few minutes to read this passage a few times. Focus in on how God’s people were seeking to be in God’s presence and performing relatively superficial acts of self-denial (fasting) while behaving very poorly overall. God prescribes a new kind of “fast” for them. He wants them to serve others and then they will have His presence.
1 “Call with the throat; you must not keep back! lift up your voice like a trumpet, and declare to my people their rebellion, and to the house of Jacob their sins. 2 Yet they seek me day by day, and they desire the knowledge of my ways like a nation that practiced righteousness, and had not forsaken the judgment of its God; they ask me for righteous judgments, they desire the closeness of God. 3 ‘Why do we fast, and you do not see it? We humiliate our soul, and you do not notice it?’ Look! You find delight on the day of your fast, and you oppress all your workers! 4 Look! You fast to quarrel and strife, and to strike with a wicked fist. You shall not fast as you do today, to make your voice heard on the height. 5 Is the fast I choose like this, a day for humankind to humiliate himself? To bow his head like a reed, and make his bed on sackcloth and ashes; you call this a fast and a day of pleasure to Yahweh? 6 Is this not the fast I choose: to release the bonds of injustice, to untie the ropes of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free, and tear every yoke to pieces? 7 Is it not to break your bread for the hungry? You must bring home the poor, the homeless. When you see the naked, you must cover him, and you must not hide yourself from your relatives. 8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall grow quickly. And your salvation shall go before you; the glory of Yahweh will be your rear guard. 9 Then you shall call, and Yahweh himself will answer. You shall cry for help, and he will say, ‘Here I am!’ If you remove from among you the yoke, the finger-pointing and evil speech, 10 if you offer your soul to the hungry, and you satisfy the appetite of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness, and your darkness will be like noon. 11 And Yahweh will lead you continually, and satisfy your soul in a barren land, and he will strengthen your bones, and you shall be like a well-watered garden, and like a spring of water whose water does not fail.Isaiah 58:1–11 (LEB)
As I descended from the top of this hike, I was dwelling on this passage and realizing that God had given me a message to share with others. I did not know how or when I would share it, but I began considering what I would say. As I did, it occurred to me that I might not be the right person to deliver this message. I considered this passage and the kind of service God was calling for from His people and I could not see how I had fulfilled any of His requests from this passage. I knew what I could share, but I began to question God about whether I was qualified to share it.
As I disqualified myself as a valid messenger for this message, the Lord brought to my mind a decision I had made about 3-4 years before this hike. I was reminded of changes I made to my finances. I implemented a more disciplined budget and reduced monies available for optional expenditures. This included the decision to stop going out to eat as much and other changes that changed various habits. This restructuring of finances was intended to ensure that there was more money to give to mission work in Cuba. As I remembered this decision and its implementation for the previous 3-4 years, part of the passage from Isaiah 58 came to my mind.
Is it not to break (or divide) your bread for the hungry?Isaiah 58:7
In that moment, I realized that God was crediting me for having heeded what is in Isaiah 58. I had not credited myself with having done anything in Isaiah 58 to help others, but God was showing me that He was giving me credit because of some of my previous choices. God was showing me that He thought I was an appropriate messenger for this message.
Shortly thereafter, I was given the opportunity to share this message in the church that I was attending at the time. In summary, I was sharing with others that God was calling His people to consider serving others rather than just seeking His face or to be in His presence. I made it clear that this was a call to sacrificial service. Service that required paying a price that cost something for the benefit of others. When I shared this message, I knew that the message was being communicated by the Lord to more than just me. Without sharing the specific details, I can share that there were a few people who heard this message and it changed their lives. The Holy Spirit spoke to them through this message and their lives are drastically different today than they were before. This wasn’t because I gave a good message (aka sermon). It was because God was using the words He gave me to share to speak to their hearts and they responded. What I have seen happen through their lives since this time is amazing to me and I have an ongoing praise in my heart to God for what they have done since then.
I want to be clear that I am not taking any credit for what these ones have done. To be a messenger and deliver a message is just that and nothing more. However, it is still an honor to be able to participate in the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ as a messenger and to share what is on God’s mind with your brothers and sisters in Christ. It is also a praise to see when your brothers and sisters in Christ respond to God’s message and lives are changed and the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ through believer’s is carried forward for the benefit of those who need more of Jesus in their lives.
The Message Continues
The story of Isaiah 58 didn’t end with the message I shared in 2016 at one small church or even with those who heard and responded to this message. In my upcoming posts related to a trip to Cuba in November 2018, God brought it back again. This time, I believe He was showing me that this is a message for the entire American church. I will share what happened in my next few posts and how God applied Isaiah 58 to a broader context in my understanding.
In closing, I believe it is time for many more to serve. As a believer, it is time for you to serve but not from your excess or extra. It is time to consider before the Lord what sacrifice(s) you can make for the sake of others. No one can force you. The appeal for you to consider this is simple. Look at your life. What has the Lord done for you? How well has He served you? Consider offering your service to others in response to His service to you. Ask the Lord to lead and guide you into the service that He would have you do. It may be big. It may be small. The size or seeming level of importance is not the issue. The real issue is in the heart and that you have a interaction with God to find what kinds of sacrifice He would have you make from what He has given to you to take care of the needs of others.