• 02Jun

    The Sacrifice of Presence

    20 - Preacher Diary

    The Power of Stillness

    Being still can sometimes be very tough.  It is a lesson that adults have learned in dealing with little children who, like restless fireflies, seem wired to fly.  At Heathrow airport some time ago, I took interest in passengers with little children: Chinese, Indians, Africans, Caucasians, Arabs; all the children behaved the same.  They generally seemed pricked by a common bug which made them jump, run, climb, kick a leg at nothing, or scream for no reason that I could see.  The younger they were, the more boisterous.  Being still seemed an adult sickness that they could not endure.  Some of them had to be tethered, like biped pets.  Even with those, what their legs lacked, they made up with their wiry voices like tireless radios.

    Jesus visited the home of two sisters.  One sat still at the Master's feet, the other was everywhere, excusably engaged with giving her honoured Guest a deserved bounteous hospitality.  The busy sister was understandably vexed, persuaded that the sitting sister was out of order.  Promptly, she protested to Jesus, urging Him to rebuke her 'idle' sister and send her to join the 'work force,' which seemed more proper than sitting still, 'doing nothing.'  Jesus' response was a surprising endorsement of the still sister, not the other who had been very busy, even though in His stomach's interest (Luke 10:38-42).

    Is God as pleased with activities for Him as with fellowship with Him?  Ask those sisters.  Even when He might never have complained about huge Martha-tic engagements in His presence, He might not have been very impressed.  Stillness could be hard labour to vagrants unused to the blessedness of the His presence where days hasten away like seconds, where a thousand years count merely as one fleeting day (2 Peter 3:8; Psalm 90:4).

    The Sacrifice of Presence

    I lately came upon a perplexing clause in Exodus 24:12; God called Moses up into His presence to do something very strange: nothing.

    And the LORD said unto Moses, Come up to me into the mount, and be there: and I will give thee tables of stone, and a law, and commandments which I have written; that thou mayest teach them (Exodus 24:12).

    That was a very strange call: "Come up to Me, take the pains to climb up the mountain, but when you shall have done all that to get to where I am, just 'be there.'  No sacrifices, no talking, no busyness in my name, just 'be.'"  If I invited a friend all the way from Africa to meet me in my country home in Australia, if I bought his business class ticket and invested so much to fly him over, should I sit him silently by my side in my study, day after day?  Will it be fair to have passed him and myself through so much cost just for him to 'be there' in the silence of my presence?

    For the first six days while Moses was "up ... there," God said nothing to him.  Moses' calling was simply to "be there."  He got greeted by a cloud, but there was no voice (vv.15-16).  It was not until the seventh day that God spoke again, calling him, we might say, out of the 'waiting room' into the 'Bedroom,' and then there was silence again for forty days and forty nights (v.18), such unusual silence that the activity-prone Israelites assumed something must have gone wrong with Moses (Exodus 32:1, 23).  I do not blame them much, for my own generation acts no differently in its interpretation of the presence of God.  It believes that God's authentic presence cannot mean impotent silence and stillness or mere 'being-ness'; it has to be strong thunders and fires, so we create the thunders and fires if they wouldn't come naturally.  Unfortunately, in the natural tendency to thus objectify the Divine, we have often declined into forms of idolatry: what we can see, feel, hear; or whom we can see, touch, hear.

    And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments (Exodus 34:28).

    Not always is God's mountain presence synonymous with noise and motions.  Sometimes the key into the next higher realm is that time of stillness in His presence. Unfortunately, we occasionally get so deafly noisy that He does not call us inside, or we do not hear when He calls.  Not all thunders and fires announce His presence; some tell the opposite story (1 Samuel 4:4-5, 21-22).

    11 And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake:

    12 And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice (1 Kings 19:11-12).

    I have known the exhilarating thunders and seen a few lightnings; I have sometimes shouted myself hoarse in worship and warfare, but my more memorable moments have been those enveloping times of intense stillness and silence, drawn so deep that one cannot dare a sound, cannot dare the profanity of moving a limb even to drive off a nasty fly or answer an itching spot; so wrapped in the awe and ambience of His presence that time becomes a distraction, fleshly hunger a distant irreverent call, and human voices an outer court some hundred miles away as moments tumble timelessly and outer skin also mercifully partakes, at times, in the moment's transfiguration.  It is silence of the lips, not of the soul; wordless prayerful silence deeper than lips could ever have framed the prayer there where "deep calleth unto deep" (Psalm 42:7).  It could be so strong that sometimes one slips across, or straddles the two worlds of here and there, afterwards returning dumb but full and fresh with what Paul would describe as a fragrance; "the fragrance of His knowledge in every place" (2 Corinthians 2:14, NKJV).

    2 And the word of the LORD came unto him [Elijah], saying,

    3 Get thee hence, and turn thee eastward, and hide thyself ... (1 Kings 17:2-3).

    Be Still and Know...

    No matter what we know of God, there is knowledge of Him we may never find unless in the place of stillness.  That seems to be the point in Psalm 46:10: "Be still, and know that I am God." Does stillness impart knowledge?  Wouldn't we rather teach by voices and noises?

    "Be still and know" could mean, on the contrary, 'be loud and stay foolish'; 'keep noisy and miss knowledge.'  Alas, how much of His knowledge we have lost to conventional holy noises!  Now I hear echoes from Prophet Isaiah, that there is great strength and salvation "in quietness and in confidence," plenteous benefits in "returning" into "rest" from holy wanderings.

    For thus saith the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel; In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength: and ye would not (Isaiah 30:15).

    Gifts from 'There'

    To Moses, God said, "be there: and I will give thee"; in other words, there are divine gifts that we may never receive until we can climb up and just "be there."  Similarly to His disciples, Jesus commanded that they should "not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for THE PROMISE..." (Acts 1:4); in other words, climb up the Upper Room and "be there," although they were never told how long the 'wait' was going to last – in that certain place of appointment with Him.  It turned out to be ten days of silence, until the sudden sounds of "a rushing mighty wind" from heaven accompanied with transforming tongues of fire (Acts 2:2-3).

    Human nature is used to 'doing,' not to workless stillness; it is used to "much speaking" (Matthew 6:7), not to worshipful and attentive silence.  A man once asked Jesus what he could 'do' to inherit (read, 'earn') eternal life.  Jesus disappointed him by stating that it was not so much about 'doing' as it was about 'being' – in relations to reverence for God (Luke 10:25-27).  Sometimes trustful stillness can be hard, but it could be the key to a higher realm, the access from the 'waiting room' into the hallowed 'bedroom.'

    The Coming Season

    The season shall soon come, of the two companies of Martha and Mary – the servers and the waiters; the priesthood or sacrifice of activity and the priesthood or sacrifice of presence in the face of loud disapproving sisters sincere but wrong by Heaven's estimation.  If it had not been for Martha's audacious fault-finding but self-justifying complaints, how might we have known how less Jesus thought of her voluminous tangible sacrifices compared to Mary's intangible but invaluable sacrifice of presence?  The seasons come again, of conflicts between tables and altars (Acts 6:1-3), between Marthas and Marys, between excusable 'doings' and disdained worshipful stillness (Luke 10:38-42), between Moses and Aaron, between intangible stillness and golden idols (Exodus 32:1, 23).  Know this, that the sacrifice of presence can sometimes be greater service than the sacrifice of presents; being 'there' 'doing nothing' can sometimes be greater sacrifice than a basketful of choice grains.  Nobody receives gifts at an address where they are not.  Some gifts come with the moment and the manner; they are gifts missed when one misses those protocols of location and relationship.

    And the LORD said unto Moses, Come up TO ME into the mount, and BE THERE: and I WILL GIVE THEE ... (Exodus 24:12).


    From The Preacher's diary,

    May 9, 2020.

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