It’s the small words that get me: the sight words we learned in first grade. Sure, I can talk about predestination, sanctification, eschatology, and all the rest, but the simple words are the ones that often bring me to my knees or cause my hands to raise in praise.

Recently, one word keeps rising to the surface, like blueberries in milk. The word is with. I’m calling it “the preposition of presence.” From Genesis to Revelation, the Story of God is about presence: His presence with His people and our presence with Him.

In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve’s banishment from the Garden of Eden meant they could no longer be with God. The rest of the Bible is about restoring that relationship, sewing up that separation, pursuing His Presence.

In Exodus 3, Moses faced God in the burning bush, and God answered Moses’ first objection by saying, “I will be with you” (Exodus 3:12, emphasis added here and throughout). In fact, all His answers imply His continued presence with Moses.

As the Hebrew people trekked through the wilderness (still in Exodus), Moses begged God to stay with them…

The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. … What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”  –Exodus 33:14-16

Conclusion: The Presence of the Lord distinguishes His people from everyone else.

In Numbers, the Lord gave Aaron a blessing for the priests to use over the people:

“The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”  –Numbers 6:24-26

The Hebrew word here translated “face” is the same as “Presence” in Exodus. So when the priests blessed the people, they were asking for God’s Presence to remain with the people!

When Joshua stood before the Lord, seemingly shaking in his shoes because Moses was dead and he now had to lead the Hebrew people (Look how many times he hears, “Do not be afraid!”), God said to him,

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”  –Joshua 1:9 (See also Deuteronomy 31:1-8, 23.)

Conclusion: The Presence of the Lord comes with grace, blessings, and courage.

King David said to God,

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4

On the hardest days, David knew God remained with Him. As an aside (can’t get into it too much here), sometimes the way He makes us aware of His presence is through correction (also Proverbs 3:12 and the correlating Hebrews 12:4-11). Just think about that one for a minute.

In Daniel 3, three Hebrew friends stood despite Nebuchadnezzar’s command to kneel, and they were thrown into a huge furnace heated to seven times its usual temperature. God didn’t save them out of the furnace but through it, and He went through the ordeal with them. (See also, The Strength of His Presence.) Nubuchadnezzar said,

“Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”  –Daniel 3:25

Conclusion: The Presence of the Lord does not indicate an absence of trouble.

Isaiah prophesied that our Savior would be called Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14), which, Matthew explains, “means ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:23).

Then Jesus came, and John tells us, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14), meaning He came to be with us.

Jesus Himself promised presence on earth in two ways. First, He told the disciples in the upper room,

“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth.”  –John 14:16-17a

Second, as He commissioned His disciples for the work ahead, He said, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

Conclusion: The Presence of Jesus on earth paved the way for the Holy Spirit’s permanent indwelling—His withness—of believers.

When Jesus began to talk about leaving the disciples, He said,

“If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”  –John 14:3

Finally, in his vision about the new Jerusalem, John heard a voice saying,

“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be is people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.”  –Revelation 21:3

We will be with God and God will be with us.

Conclusion: Presence—His and ours—is the essence of Heaven.

Throughout Scripture and throughout history, His Presence is the point.

We can disrupt the relationship, the reciprocity of presence, with God.

I’ve heard it said, “Sin is anything that separates us from God.” On one hand, we can’t be separated from God because He is omnipresent. But on the other hand, we can disrupt the relationship, the reciprocity of presence. It’s like when one of my children is disobedient and we haven’t reconciled the situation yet. We may be in the same room, but we are not together.

In this time when we cannot be with each other because of this global pandemic, God remains with each of us. Looks like a good time to work on recognizing His Presence. And on the days you find the isolation more unbearable than most, you can be even more certain He is there because Presence is the point of it all.

What’s the most important small word in the Bible? It might be “with:” the preposition of presence. My #presence with Him and His with me are #NotAboutMe.

I’ve done little more than make a list of Scripture here, but somehow, it’s very meaningful to me. What additional examples can you give for the Presence of the Lord in Scripture…or perhaps in your own life? Leave me a note in the comments below!

Some thoughts on being present with others, even in the face of social isolation:

The best book ever on maintaining an awareness of God’s Presence: The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence. You’ll be profoundly challenged to experience His Presence in the practical pursuits of life. (And yes, I’m getting a kick out of this alliteration.)

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