27 January 2016

Of the True Presence of God

A friend recently told me that my finest quality was my willingness to stand by my convictions despite the consequences.

It was one of the most meaningful compliments of my life, though I doubt how strongly I stand by my convictions at times. I appreciated that somehow, despite what I consider failures, someone has seen this in me.

As I pondered this statement, it occurred to me that while I don't always stand proudly for things I believe are right, but I have a tiny twinge of doubt about, there are some things to which I hold firmly: that every life is valued, wherever or however it originated; that it is the Christian responsibility to protect life of any kind; and the reason I care about life is because I believe, without a shadow of a doubt in the One Who gave us life - God. And I believe He is intimately involved in the details of these lives He created.

While I have believed, as long as I can remember, this God existed, and while I have read His Word nearly daily for two decades now, I can point you to the exact moment I knew without one shade of questioning that He was there and that He has His hand constantly near to His creation.

It was the last day of August, 2004.

I had spent the entire summer working at a Christian camp for girls (an absolute dream) - which meant I had spent an entire summer in "worship" services that consisted of the camp theme song for that year and various other child-relatable songs. Perfectly wonderful for them, not quite enough to scratch my own soul-itch, though.

I longed for the type of worship service I had become accustomed to: contemporary songs, dim lights, hands raised high as I praised my Creator.

And on that last day of August, back in school again, our university hosted their first worship night of the new semester. I was so thrilled to be there.

Yet, in the dim-ness of our small campus chapel - the historic building that evokes the quaintness of 100 years of worship - surrounded by fellow students raising their hands to sing to God, I could not put my heart in that place. I felt stifled, surrounded by bodies, oppressed by heat and with a sudden urge to just escape.

So, I did - pushing gently past those lost in song, climbing over others bowed to their knees in prayer and heartfelt adoration, just shoving toward the door.

I stepped outside and breathed deeply. Fresh, cool air.

I had the sudden realization that the soul-drink I truly needed wouldn't be found in a room filled with bodies and sound, but in the quiet alone-ness of my own heart.

I walked across our dark, mostly deserted campus, to the steps of the much-larger chapel, the one in which the student-body gathered weekly as a mandatory qualification to attend this school.

I climbed up the steps, sitting near the top, looking out over the large marble cross towering over the walkway leading up to the building. In the distance was the small white chapel from which I had just escaped, and from which emanated softly the sounds of the continued worship set.

I held my Bible in my lap and I sat in silence. Listening. Waiting to hear God speak, as I had longed to learn how to do for many years after I once and for all invited Him into my life, to lead me as I followed.

And in the quietness of my soul, I heard "Habakkuk."

Now, I knew this to be an obscure book of the Bible - one of the "minor prophets" - a two-page book toward the end of the Old Testament. I knew that much.

But I didn't know anything else. I didn't know where, exactly, to find it - between which other small, obscure books it was sandwiched. I didn't know what it said. And I had certainly never thought to look there before.

For all these reasons, I felt maybe it was God asking me to turn there now. But, then there was that part of me that always speaks up when I think I hear His soul-whispering: Was that God? Or just one of my own random thoughts?

But, then, who randomly thinks of Habakkuk?

As I contemplated, I began to slowly sift through the pages of my Bible, vaguely trying to find my way there.

Of course, I was in Oklahoma - and we all know what comes sweeping across the plains of Oklahoma. And as I meandered through the tissue pages, the wind came along and began fluttering them swiftly by. I leaned back on my hands, simply watching the flitting pages of my Bible resting on my lap, wondering, bemused, if maybe the wind would carry me where I needed to go.

The pages stopped.

I looked at the top of the page on the left. Nahum.

Well, that's not Habakkuk. And that's where I was headed, right? So, I gently lifted the right side of my Bible, hoping the still-blowing breeze would pick up the pages once more to continue turning to wherever I felt called to be.

The pages would not move.

I wiggled the book a little more forcefully. Tried to slightly lift a page to give the breeze something to cling to, but there was nothing.

Still, the pages would not move.

They were held fast in place.

Well, fine, I guess my fingers would have to do the work.

The fingers of my hand began to lift the page on the right and I stopped.

Right there, opposite that final page of Nahum I had seen on the left, was the large, bold title of the next book.


I tremble as I type this now, as I do every time I tell this story, as I'm sure I did in that moment, when all I could do was sit in shocked silence, not even attempting to find a verse or passage, but giving the moment the full weight of what it was.

The God of the universe had come down, or at the very least, commanded the wind itself, to turn the pages of the Bible sitting in my lap to the exact place He wanted me.


I have never in my life felt as small as I felt in that one moment. I looked out over the darkness and saw tiny insect wings in flight, as is common on a late-summer evening, recognizing He designed every detail of that seemingly insignificant insect. His fingers formed the grass and placed the stars in the sky. And He knows them all by name.

And He knows me.

Who am I? Who am I that He would care to carry me to the place in Scripture He wanted me to be?

I was completely, entirely, humbled.

And in that moment everything I had ever believed was finally and ultimately confirmed. There is a God. And He is intimately involved in the workings of His creation. And He deeply cares for His children.

I am a child of God.

I know that I know that I know this - and I will cling to this truth for all of my life.

Now, a side-note, because while, for me, the importance of this event in my life is so much more about the way God showed Himself than the words I read on the page after, I know others will be curious.

Habakkuk, if you ever open your Bible to read it, is not an uplifting book.

There is a reason no one has heard of it.

It doesn't have the pretty poetry of the Psalms or the wisdom of the Proverbs. It doesn't tell a great story like Jonah or give us insights into the life, death or resurrection of Christ.

It's about destruction and despair and violence. It's a man crying out to God for vengeance for His people.

And it's in the Bible for a reason, but it's not a typical book to turn to when you're in need of some soul encouragement.

However, He did point me to Habakkuk 1:5 - which was the only verse I'd heard from the book up until that point:

“Look among the nations, and see;
    wonder and be astounded.
For I am doing a work in your days
    that you would not believe if told."

Again, this doesn't quite hold the same meaning in context as it does when it's read right there, all by itself. Because what God is referring to regarding what will happen among the nations is, yes, destruction of them. BUT - there is an amazing feeling knowing there are still things happening among the nations that we would not believe if we were told. Some wouldn't sound that great. But some would. And God is still working.

In fact, the very next day, on the heels of this passage, and of this humbling that fully convinced me to go wherever He would lead, He sent me on a journey I would have never predicted or seen, one that carried me all the way to Russia, where I fell in love with a people that most of the western world doesn't understand.

And, finally, at the end of the short three chapters of the entire book of Habakkuk, there are these verses, a prayer of the prophet who just delivered these words of destruction to God's people, verses to which I still cling, especially on the hard days:
17 Though the fig tree should not blossom,
    nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
    and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
    and there be no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
    I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
19 God, the Lord, is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the deer's;
    he makes me tread on my high places.

So, there you have it - these are the words that most spoke to me that one dark evening in August - unexpected words of encouragement tucked deep in the Old Testament.

But mostly what spoke to me that night on the cold stone steps was the real, tangible presence of God, right there in our midst.

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