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God with us when we seek God (Horizons 4)

“God’s Promise: I Am With You”
Lesson 4: 1 Chronicles 28:1-21; 1 Kings 11:1-13, 29-30

“Sinners in the hands of an angry God” was a sermon preached by Jonathan Edwards in 1741. Edwards’ most famous sermon describes the torments of hell for those who do not repent and accept Jesus Christ. This theme has not been the tone of the churches of which I have been a part. Instead, God’s love and forgiveness was emphasized. In doing so, I wonder if we portrayed God as someone who dispenses grace like candy without our having to pay any price.

In every meaningful relationship, there are sacrifices to be made and standards to be kept. When Solomon is named as King David’s successor, David says to Solomon: “And you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve him with single mind and a willing heart; for the Lord searches every mind, and understands every plan and thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will abandon you forever” (1 Chronicles 28:9). David’s words describe a mutual covenant in which commitments are made on both sides. As author Amy Poling Sutherlun describes, Solomon’s relationship with God is a love story (study guide, page 36). All relationships take mutual commitment to work. God’s faithfulness to us may depend, in part, on our willingness to follow God and walk in God’s ways.

God’s promises of faithfulness and love in this way are like a marriage covenant. The individuals promise to be devoted to each other in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health as long as they both live. The basic standard in marriage is that the couple forsakes any intimate relationship with others. After that basic commitment, a couple has to work out who does what chores and how the toothpaste tube gets squeezed. Praise, communication, mutual accountability, forgiveness, quality time and treating each other in supportive, caring ways are essential to good marriages. To make our relationship with God a healthy and thriving one, we also forsake other gods, do the chores, praise, communicate and spend quality time. In addition, we live in a way that reflects the love that God has for us.

Many things are detrimental to committed relationships: broken promises, failure to communicate, unwillingness to forgive or other priorities becoming first. King Solomon lets a great many people turn his heart away from God: 700 wives and 300 hundred concubines. Solomon is a lusty and strategic king. (How did he make the time for them all?!) In marrying the daughters of the leaders of other nations, Solomon builds alliances. Then to satisfy the religious desires of his many wives to worship their own gods, Solomon builds worship sites and eventually begins to follow those gods. More is at stake here than a single individual’s commitment to God. As goes the king, so goes the nation.

There are always consequences when we are unfaithful to a relationship. Trust is broken. If we break faith with another, we are the ones who must turn back to repair the damage. For God to abandon us, we abandon God first.

Of course, we can feel abandoned by God even when we are devoted to Christ and a Christ-like life. We may experience a time of spiritual dryness, of forced prayers that feel like they bounce back off the ceiling, or of a deadness of spirit. There are seasons of grief or illness through which we feel that we are trying to move through a wall of mud that no one can pull us through, not even God. Chained by addiction, God can appear impossibly remote, a galaxy away. Depression can bring isolation and despair. Abuse may leave us believing that God is abusive as well.

During these dry and miserable stretches, there are no easy formulas. We may rail at God as the psalm writers did. We might only manage to read the prayers of others, which can be a lifeline. We may keep showing up for worship, even when we draw little from it, because showing up is half the battle. Sometimes, God drops in when we least expect it, blessing us with tears or a swelling of our chests in love.

Psalm 23 says, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” The word “follow” is stronger in the original Hebrew. It means “pursue.” Even though, we may not sense God’s nearness, God is always running after us. If we have abandoned God, we can turn around and receive God’s grace. If we have not abandoned God, we can hold onto the hope that God will show up again.

rosalind-banburyRosalind Banbury is the interim pastor of Tinkling Spring Presbyterian Church in Fishersville, Virginia.

You can purchase the PW/Horizons Bible study book through the PC(USA) Church Store.