Home, Difficulties, and Opportunity
King David said that one day in the courts of the Lord is better than spending a thousand days somewhere else. Adam and Eve enjoyed unbroken relationship with God as they walked with Him in the paradise of the Garden of Eden before their fall and separation to sin. There is no better place to be than in the presence of God. His garden or orchard was where God chose to tabernacle on earth, and now God has provided access once again to unbroken fellowship through His Son Jesus Christ, the living Torah, who is the Tree of Life.
Jesus died for our sins. When we accept Him as our Savior, we are made right with God, yet struggles continue. How do we deal with the seeming discrepancy between knowing God and experiencing difficulties? God taught Elijah that problems in life do not catch God by surprise. As a matter of fact, God’s plan to form us into the servants He desires unfolds in the middle of our circumstances. He is our hiding place and our shelter from the storm. The Old Testament and New Testament teach about knowing God and experiencing His grace in real life situations. The key is walking with Jesus, trusting His voice, and doing His will. Doing so guarantees our walking with God in paradise, in the full grace and truth of Jesus.
As good as that sounds, humanity faces a dilemma. How do we actually experience paradise? Is it even possible that unbroken habitual fellowship with God can be more than just a platitude, especially considering what a powerful force sin exerts in life? Or are we resigned to say we believe in walking with God without really being able to experience the power to do it?
We know Christ died to save us from our sins and to unite us to God. That is a fact, but He also has given us the process to eat from the tree of life. Jesus in Revelation 2:7 says, “He who is having an ear — let him hear what the Spirit saith to the assemblies: To him who is overcoming — I will give to him to eat of the tree of life that is in the midst of the paradise of God.”
Eating from the tree of life is a reward for overcoming and specifically, according to the context of Revelation and the message for all who will receive it, for returning to the first love for Jesus by doing our first works, remembering from where we have fallen.
I remember as a new Christian, I diligently studied God’s word nearly every moment I could. Taking the action the Lord identifies for us, however unique that may be, is a way Jesus has revealed in His word to restore our first love for Himself. Though the promise of eating from the Tree of Life in the paradise of God may not yet be completely fulfilled until Jesus is revealed from heaven, we now find strength in His love, His word gives us life, and in some measure He has begun to give us our portion in the paradise of God, but all this takes a turning or what may be considered a retuning of our hearts to God’s will for us.
T’shuvah is the Hebrew word for return, not necessarily a physical return as leaving one state or country and traveling back to one’s homeland, but a spiritual one. It is more like a re-alignment of our hearts with the heart of God. In that way, it is our return home.
The amount of our attachment or detachment to the light of God’s will reflects our return or our need for it. How we relate to the darkness around us, that is, either being enveloped by it, or by overcoming it, even transforming it, reveals the quality of our love for our Savior and how close we are to enjoying the fruit of the Tree of Life in the garden of God.
Though the prophet Elijah fled from his difficulties, God gave him food and the strength he needed to travel forty days to arrive at the mountain of God. When on the mountain, Elijah knew better than to associate God’s voice with outward physical circumstances such as the destructive physical elements of wind, earthquake, and fire. Had he rushed out of the cave at the inappropriate time, he would have been killed, but instead he recognized God’s voice and responded to it at the right time.
God is unchanging and He still speaks today. He provides the strength we need to find Him, and if we will only listen and obey, the Spirit of God leads us to where we should be when we should be there. He even protects us from our own naiveté if we will just listen to Him beyond what we perceive with our senses.
The Lord’s word to Elijah made it clear that God’s will involved the prophet serving Him in the midst of life’s circumstances. Experiencing true wellbeing in Christ and beholding Him in glory is not about forcing circumstances to comply with the will of God but rather obeying His voice in our unique environment, for our transformation and the eventual transformation of all creation.
Obedience may not involve direct assault against a perceived enemy to bring about the change we want. We may need, instead, to listen and follow the voice of Jesus, even though we may feel we are walking through the shadow of death. Even if we feel the right answer to a situation is something other than what we hear Jesus saying to us, the answer to our deepest need is following the voice of Jesus and not the calling of our own desire, no matter how long or loud that voice shouts to us.
When Jesus brought Peter, John, and James his brother up to a high mountain alone with Him to behold His glory, Jesus led them and they responded with obedience to His initiative, as we today must willingly respond to what Jesus says to us.
The apostle John described Jesus walking among us and beholding the glory of God similarly to God walking in the garden of His creation, when the apostle said in John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh, and did tabernacle among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as of an only begotten of a father, full of grace and truth.” Jesus exemplified the grace and truth of living in perfect fellowship with God.
Jesus is not in the storm. He is our hiding place from it. Psalm 27:5 says, “For He hideth me in a tabernacle in the day of evil, He hideth me in a secret place of His tent, On a rock he raiseth me up.” According to Jewish scholars, this reflects the experience of young Joash, whom God protected as he was hidden “in the attic of the holy of holies” (according to Rashi) from the sword of Jezebel’s daughter. If God provided guards to watch over Joash, He can guard our hearts with His power.
The story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the days of Daniel the prophet may be one of the most dramatic illustrations of God tabernacling among those who choose only listen to His voice and no other. Because the brothers refused to bow down to the golden image of Babylon and would not serve any of the Babylonian gods, the king commanded the furnace heated seven times the customary temperature to kill the men, but even the most intense heat could not harm them.
Their faith became a shield and their love for God their testimony. God kept them from being burned, their hair from being singed, and their clothes from the smell of smoke. Jesus Himself as The Angel of the Lord was with them in the furnace. He sheltered them from harm, and the king’s heart was changed. He declared that the men would be permitted, even encouraged, only to worship the Lord God Most High. No longer would they be expected to serve idols. In the furnace, God tabernacled over them, they knew His deliverance, and the king’s heart was changed. The Lord may choose our circumstances to demonstrate His power and change the lives of others in the process.
Listening to what the Spirit says to us corresponds to our being tabernacled over by the Lord Jesus and beholding His glory, full of grace and truth. Suffering to complete God’s will is clearly part of being able to see the reign of God despite circumstances. Beholding Christ in glory is not about constructing physical booths on top of a mountain but about delighting in the word of the Lord Jesus Christ and in Christ Himself, who always does the will of God.
The apostle Paul did not confuse difficult circumstances with God’s will. On the voyage to Rome, the ship carrying him as prisoner ran into a terrible storm. Paul had no power over the storm, but he did instruct his captives and saved their lives.
The reign of Christ in and through our lives today transforms times of intense distress into opportunities to bring glory, honor, and praise to God.