Psalm 72:19 in the MSG says: Blessed God, Israel’s God, the one and only wonder-working God! Blessed always his blazing glory! All earth brims with his glory. Yes and Yes and Yes
The Psalmist is spot on.
So the photo above is my absolute favourite photo that I ever shot.
I am not much of a photographer and I know that there’s a million features that your average smart phone cameras do not have that you DSLR’s do, but I am still always astonished how beautiful this thing looks despite being shot on a Galaxy S2. Yes that’s right, an S2!
However, I like it the most is because it has a bit of a story behind it. so here we go.
It was back in 2013, a couple in our church has asked me to solemnise their wedding for them. I gladly agreed and was even more exited when it turned out that the venue was going to be Dwellingup chalets. Both Alycia and I thought that since I wasn’t rostered on for anything the Sunday afterwards and the reception would go well into the night on Saturday, we’d take advantage of the venue, book some accommodation and make a bit of a weekend of it.
Meanwhile, I was going through a time of real Spiritual…how do you say…warmth, in my life. I’m not saying that I was necessarily any closer with God than I am now or was before, it’s just that for some reason my emotions were really resonating with my spirit.
I now think these are very special times in the life of a believer and they particularly present opportunities for re-commitment and re-devotion of our lives to God.
Anyway, It was on the Monday morning, the day we were due to leave, that for some reason I felt the urge to just step outside into the freezing cold (it was around late April) and just take in some crisp, clean country air. This is of course what I stepped out into.
Looking at the beauty of the Sun rising through the trees, amidst the pristine air, to the sound of the bird songs I realised that for about the first time in my entire life, I understood how people have had encounters with God, (even conversions) through their experience of nature’s beauty. There was no doubt God was present.
I had always been mystified by this, because for me, God has always spoken to me through reflection upon Scripture and through people/community. I have, I’m not proud to admit, on occasion even rolled my eyes when some people have waxed lyrically about how they experienced God looking at a sunset and I guess the conservative evangelical part of me started to become too focused on making sure they were not in some way advocating ‘natural theology’ as sufficient for salvation and complete revelation of God outside of Christ.
But I suppose that introduces the first of many lessons that this experience taught me.
1.An experience of God always results in joy-soaked repentance.
I had to repent of all the times I had, albeit internally ‘rolled my eyes’ as people described their experiences of God through nature….and I was glad to. Maybe that’s the sign of real repentance, it’s not a begrudging “ugh, if I have to I’ll give this up.” But more of a “Wow, thank you God for revealing that to me, it could have really poisoned my soul and I want nothing to with it because you’re worth indescribably more” To meet God, is to be glad to give up the old way. A bit like Zacchaeus I guess.
2.Never take it for granted.
It’s pretty self-explanatory, but an awareness of God’s presence is not something that can be earned, bought, paid for or whatever. It is, like salvation itself, the purest gift of all because that is the only way it can possibly come; via generosity. Thus, it is of the utmost importance to never take it for granted. To stay grateful. It enjoy reflecting on this moment and thanking God for it years later and the interesting thing is that every time I do, somewhere in my soul, some of the ‘magic’ returns.
Maybe that’s why Exodus to Deuteronomy spends so much time telling the Israelites to not forget the mighty acts of God in their presence. I believe that maybe my greatest spiritual enemy is my own forgetfulness. Forgetfulness is often a product of selfishness.
3. Remember that it changes nothing, it only confirms everything.
We’re not close to God when we’re ‘on fire’ for him than we are at our weakest and visa versa. Perhaps this is the most ‘easier said than done’ statement of them all. It’s amazing how much we are ruled by our emotions. But without faith it is impossible to please God. Faith is the thing that which rises above mere feelings to claim truth. That truth becomes the basis on which we step forward in obedience to his will, an act which would never have occurred had we remained under the complete rule of our emotions.
I praise God for this wonderful moment, but I do not (or try not to!) use it as a measurement of my closeness with him. It is wonderful to realise that God knew all my future failures at every moment of revelation in my life. There was no way of knowing that around 14 months after this experience, I would traverse some of the darkest spiritual deserts of my life. But God did. As I look back with hindsight on both experiences, I can say for sure that God was no less or more present in either circumstance.
4.God is with us, but are we looking?
It occurred to me soon after this that the very first announcement of the messiah’s birth in Isaiah 7:14 says: All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin[f] will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).
Meanwhile, what are Jesus’ last word to his disciples? Matt 28:20b And LOOK! I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Jesus’ story is book-ended by a promise and an instruction. The promise is, he IS with us but the instruction is: Look! Pay attention.
That morning, I happened to be paying attention. I wonder how many time’s I have ‘missed’ the presence of God because I wasn’t? But also, How many more experiences of God’s presence may there yet be if I only look?
Maybe God’s trying to get your attention right now, Are you looking?