My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. Psalm 22:1-3.
The opening words of this morning’s reading are, of course, familiar to us as the so-called “cry of dereliction” uttered by Jesus from the cross, and I have written about them in that connection elsewhere (Cry of Dereliction?). This morning, however, I am thinking of them as they are spoken in their present context — words cried out by David who, in distress and fear and pain, cannot detect God’s presence anywhere near him. “Why have you left me, abandoned me, deserted me?” he asks.
But even as he forms the question, David knows that what he is suggesting cannot be true. In truth … in objective reality, God is still present with him. That is part of God being God. As David will later write: “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me” (Psalm 139.7-10). God is always present, everywhere — but there are times when, for David … and for me … his presence simply cannot be sensed, or be felt, or perhaps even, for a time, be believed in.
This is something that it is important to acknowledge: that God’s presence is a constant but that my experience and awareness of his presence is a variable. It comes and goes. It waxes and wanes. This is why it is OK to pray, “Please be with me, Lord.” I once heard someone say that we should never pray that prayer because it denies the truth of Jesus’ promise never to leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13.5). Nonsense! When I ask Jesus to be with me, I am not denying that he is there; I am simply asking for an awareness and an experience of his presence … and that is a prayer that I know he can answer.
The awareness and experience of Jesus’ presence is also something I can do something about in ways other than praying for it. James says: “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4.8). The picture I get is of me bustling about, attending to this and that, checking emails, making a cuppa, while Jesus stands over by the window, looking out to the hills … present but ignored. Then I turn and say, “Lord Jesus …” and as I begin to talk to him, he turns and moves across the room to join me. It is a truth that Kari Jobi expresses wonderfully as she sings …
The other picture I have is the lovely one that David gives me in this morning’s reading. Recognising that the Lord is present whether he, David, can feel his presence or not, he says: “Yet … you are enthroned on the praises of Israel.” God has a throne in heaven but he has one on earth too. It is a throne that comes into being as God’s people worship him in music and song and poetry and praise; and God moves out of seeming absence into experienced presence as that throne is built and as he takes his place upon it. One of my best-loved songs for starting off home-groups and the like is Paul Kyle’s “Jesus, we enthrone you” …
Jesus, we enthrone you,
We proclaim you our King.
Standing here in the midst of us,
We raise you up with our praise.
And as we worship, build a throne,
And as we worship, build a throne,
And as we worship, build a throne;
Come, Lord Jesus, and take your place.
Do I want to experience the presence of Jesus in my life today? Do I want to be aware of him, close to me, involved with me, sharing with me in all I do? Then, I need not only to pray that that will be so but to help make it possible by drawing near to Jesus now and by building for him in my heart a throne of praise.