…now I am going to Him who sent Me; and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. (John 16:5-8)
The disciples had been with Jesus for three years. They had lived life with Him. They had walked with Him, prayed with Him, eaten with Him, and slept when He slept. They not only witnessed a multitude of miracles, they had even played an active part in them. They had sat under Jesus’ teaching and He had answered their questions when they didn’t understand.
For three years, the disciples had truly been experiencing Immanuel, “God with us.”
In John chapters 13-17, we encounter Jesus and the disciples on the night of His betrayal. The evening has been a somber time, full of mixed emotions. Passover was always a solemn event, but this night even more so. It began with Jesus–their Rabbi, their Lord, the very Son of God–stooping down to wash their dirty, smelly feet. They are humbled. They are once again in awe of Him whom they thought they knew.
As they are eating their Passover supper, Jesus announces that one of their own will betray Him. Unthinkable! Impossible! How could it be? They search their hearts for any trace of unfaithfulness. Their thoughts are running wild. Their hearts become heavy.
As if that wasn’t enough, after supper, Jesus takes the cup and the bread and declares His impending death: “This is My blood,” He says, “shed for you. This is My body, given for you.” Another challenging concept to try to wrap their hearts and minds around!
When supper is over, the disciples go out walking and talking with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.
“I’m going away,” He tells them, “I am returning to my Father, and you are full of sorrow.”
It seems like such a short time that Jesus has been with them. It seems they were just beginning to fully understand who He is – just beginning to comprehend what it really means for Him to be Immanuel Incarnate, God Himself living among us in human flesh. And now…
Now He tells us He is going away…?
“But I tell you the truth,” Jesus declares, “it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.”
To our advantage? How could it possibly be to our advantage for You to go away?
We waited for years… our people have waited for centuries! We have waited for the Father’s promise through the prophet Isaiah to come to pass: “Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” (Isa. 7:14)
And now… now You are going away?? How can that possibly be to our advantage?
They didn’t understand. Not yet. They wouldn’t understand until after Pentecost had come.
But it WAS to their advantage. It is to OUR advantage.
Jesus had to leave them. He would no longer be with them as Immanuel Incarnate, as God in human flesh. What they didn’t yet understand was that Immanuel Incarnate must go so that Immanuel In-dwelling could come. He told them,
John 14:16 I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; 17 that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.
Jesus had to leave as God with us so that the Holy Spirit could come as God in us.
You know the Spirit, Jesus said, because He has been right here with us. What you have seen in Me has not been Me alone, but the Holy Spirit in Me. You have seen the Father in Me and you have come to know the Father in Me because the Holy Spirit has revealed Him to you.
And if I go, I will send the Holy Spirit to you so that He may also be in you!
And when He comes, He will be your Helper. He will guide you into truth. He will reveal to you the Father’s will and help you to understand My teaching. He will expose sin and show you the way of righteousness. When your heart is so heavy that you cannot pray, He will intercede with groanings too deep for words.
Through the Spirit, you will be My witnesses. Through the Spirit, you will do the works of My Father. Through the Spirit, we will be one, and I will never leave you.
At Christmastime, we think of Immanuel – God with us as a little baby. God living among us in human flesh. But that was a limited experience for a limited number of people in a small part of the world for a limited number of years.
Even during the time Jesus lived among us, not everyone had the chance to see Him. Not everyone had the chance to hear Him speak. Not everyone was able to come to Him and be healed of their diseases or freed of their demons.
But God’s promise of Immanuel did not end when Jesus returned to sit at the right hand of the Father in heaven. The promise of Immanuel, of God with us, is here for us today.
Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, came in human flesh and dwelt among us. He suffered for us. He died for us. He rose again and ascended to heaven where He intercedes for us. And after He had ascended, He sent the Holy Spirit to be Immanuel–God with us–for all who believe in Him, for all who receive the gift of grace for salvation through Jesus Christ.
Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ dwells in the hearts and lives of His people.
My question to you is, do you know Him as your Immanuel? Do you realize Him as God with you? Do you experience His presence with you throughout your day?
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There was a man. His name was Nicholas Herman.
One cold winter, as a young man, Nicholas gazed at a tree, standing silently, bare of its leaves and fruit, waiting patiently for summer’s abundance. In that moment, Nicholas realized the unfailing grace and sovereignty of a God who was faithful to bring the seasons in their turn. In that moment, a love for God took root in his heart that continued to grow throughout his life.
Nicholas was born in France of poor parents in the year 1614. Because of his poverty, he joined the army as a young man where he would be given food and a place to sleep. Later, having suffered an injury, he left the army and spent some time as a footman.
Struggling with concerns about his profession and the corruption and infidelity he observed around him, Nicholas resolved to pursue the teachings of the Gospel. He left his profession and spent some time in the desert, but found the solitary life did not bolster his faith. In the year 1640, Nicholas joined a Carmelite Priory in Paris where he took the name Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection. Within the Carmelite community, Brother Lawrence spent many years working in the kitchen. In his old age, when he was no longer able to work in the kitchens, he repaired sandals.
All in all, the life of Brother Lawrence was unremarkable.
Brother Lawrence is not remembered for his accomplishments or for any heroic deeds.
Brother Lawrence is remembered because he discovered one simple Biblical truth that he freely shared with others.
Brother Lawrence discovered how to practice the presence of God.
What exactly does it mean to practice the presence of God?
In correspondence, Brother Lawrence writes,
“The presence of God is the concentration of the soul’s attention on God, remembering that He is always present… this conversation with God occurs in the depth and center of the soul. It is there that the soul speaks to God heart to heart and always dwells in a great and profound peace that the soul enjoys in God.” (Lawrence)
It may require years of disciplining heart and mind to yield to God’s presence, but the reward is great. The one who learns to practice the presence of God discovers, as Brother Lawrence did, that,
“…by dwelling in the presence of God he has established such a sweet communion with the Lord that his spirit abides, without much effort, in the restful peace of God. In this center of rest, he is filled with a faith that equips him to handle anything which comes into his life…” (ibid)
To practice the presence of God is to experience community with God through the presence of the in-dwelling Holy Spirit. The apostle John called it abiding in Christ.
Abiding is not a word we use often. It means to dwell with, to remain or to continue.
Abiding carries with it the sense of sharing a home, but it means more than just sharing the same address. It is quite possible for human beings to live in the same house without truly abiding with one another in the Biblical sense. To abide with someone implies spending time together and sharing experiences in true fellowship. Abiding implies a sense of community and fellowship.
Practicing the presence of God means that, remembering that He is always near, we turn the attention of our hearts to Him and share the experiences of our life with Him. As Brother Lawrence discovered, we can practice the presence of God while cooking and cleaning in the kitchen just as surely as we can experience His presence in times of more formal worship and prayer.
– ♦ ♦ ♦ –
Jesus came as Immanuel Incarnate – God with us in human flesh.
He sent the Holy Spirit to be Immanuel In-dwelling – God with us in spirit, without the limitations of human flesh, always present.
If you would experience the reality of the abiding presence of Christ, you must practice the presence of Christ. As often as the Holy Spirit brings it to mind, practice turning the attention of your soul toward God. Listen for Him. Share the moment with Him. Speak to Him in the depths of that quiet place in your heart.
We have the privilege of living in the experience that God’s people waited and longed for: Immanuel – God with us. If you do not listen for His still small voice, if you put off spending time with God for a more convenient moment, you may miss it altogether. Abiding with Jesus – practicing the presence of God – does not require you to set aside a block of your day, although devoted time for God is a good thing. Abiding, turning the attention of your soul to His in-dwelling presence, is about communing with Him in the mundane moments of your day, listening for His voice, praising His goodness, sharing your thoughts and emotions. Allowing Him to lead you in your thoughts and actions.
Lord Jesus, thank you for coming as our Immanuel – God in flesh – our Savior. Thank you for sending the Holy Spirit to become Immanuel Indwelling – Your presence within our hearts. Heavenly Father, thank you for fulfilling Your promise that we might know You and abide with You through your Son and through the Holy Spirit. We ask that You would be faithful to remind us of Your presence often, that we might learn to turn our hearts toward You.
[NOTE: The teaching of Brother Lawrence comes to us primarily through conversations with his friend, Joseph de Beaufort who considered that Brother Lawrence’s wisdom ought to be shared, and through correspondence with those who sought his guidance. These have been compiled into a small volume called The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence.]
Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God, Spiritual Maxims: The Presence of God.