The Answer of Presence

We have come to the end of Faith/Works, Avalon’s sermon series on James. As I have been reading through the end of the book, I noticed that James uses some of the same words here at the end that he used in the beginning of the book. He once again reminds us to be patient in our sufferings, to persevere. The NIV uses the word blessed in 5:11, but I like how the King James version says, “we count them happy which endure.” Remember at the beginning of the book when he encourages us to “Count it all joy when you face trials of many kinds…”? Patience and joy in our trials, persevering: themes that James wants us to remember. So much so that he gives us three examples to follow.

First he tells us to consider the prophets in 5:10. The prophets were the people in the Old Testament that spoke the word of the Lord to people who often didn’t want to hear it. The author of Hebrews gives a short summary of some of their stories in Hebrews 11. Verses 32-38 list multiple trials that the prophets had endured including torture, mocking, flogging, stoning, jail and death. But they believed God’s promises and endured. They didn’t necessarily live to see God’s promises fulfilled, but God was present in their lives. He gave them the words to speak to the people, and His presence is what carried them through and helped them endure.

Then in James 5:11, James tells us to look at Job as an example of patient endurance. Do you know Job’s story? You can read it in the book of Job, but it’s 42 chapters long, so I’ll summarize it for you. Job was an upright and righteous man. He was very wealthy, owning oxen, donkey, sheep and camels. But God allowed Job to be tested. First, an army came and took his oxen and donkeys and killed his servants. Then his sheep and shepherds were consumed by fire from heaven. Then another army took the camels and their shepherds. And finally a great wind came and caused the house where his family was to collapse, and he lost all 7 of his sons and 3 daughters. And all of this happened in ONE DAY. That is one tough day.

But Job remained righteous. This is where the famous verse, “…the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21) comes from. But then he was stricken with sores or boils over his whole body. And then the Bible says he sat at the fire and scraped his sores for days. His friends came and sat with him. And then for 37 chapters, the friends blame Job, and Job defends himself and questions God. But in Job 19:23-27 we see Job’s deep desire to see God, along with his confidence that it will happen. These are some of my favorite verses in all of Scripture.

I know that my redeemer lives,
    and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed,
    yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him
    with my own eyes—I, and not another.
    How my heart yearns within me!

Job 19:24-27

And finally at the end of the book God shows up. He doesn’t answer Job’s questions, but what he gives Job is His presence. And for Job that is enough (Job 42:1-6). God ends up restoring Job’s health and his family and his wealth, but even before that, God’s presence was a complete answer.

Lastly, James offers Elijah up as an example for us to follow. “Elijah was a human being just like us.” James talks about how Elijah’s prayers were effective in verses 17 and 18, which is true. But in 1 Kings 19 we read what happened to Elijah after his effective prayers. He ran for his life from the death threats of the evil queen Jezebel, sat under a tree, and asked for death. Elijah was done. Have you been there? Tired? Exhausted? Hungry? Frustrated? Depressed? Guess what God’s answer to Elijah was? He gave him His presence. The narrative tells how there was a wind, an earthquake and a fire but that God wasn’t in any of those. He appeared in a gentle whisper. And Elijah was strengthened and he went back to work. God answered Elijah’s plea for death with His presence.

God gives us His presence too. He sent Jesus to be present with a specific people in a specific time and place 2000 years ago. And yesterday we remembered how he died at their hands. Tomorrow we will celebrate Jesus’s resurrection from the dead. It is through his death and resurrection that we have access to God’s presence in our lives all of the time. In John 14:16 Jesus says that he will give us another Counselor to be with us forever. Later he says “It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you (John 16:7).” Jesus gave us this Counselor, the Holy Spirit, to be with us forever. God’s presence is here. And we can talk to Him anytime we want.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

So as KPaul said on Sunday, where do you turn when you are in trouble? Is it to the greatest power ever that happens to be with you at all times? It is through him that we have the ability to patiently endure our sufferings as we wait for the promises to be completely fulfilled. May you know God’s presence in your lives today, tomorrow and always. And may it be enough.

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