Thursday, June 16, 2016

Does God Always Beat You?

For a time, these signs were everywhere.
Right in the middle of a department store, the little boy said, “Mommy, don’t beat me when we get home.” Puzzled and perplexed, the mother looked at her son and asked, “Honey, I never beat you. Why do you say that?” “Yes you do, Mommy. All the time. You always beat me to the front door.”

I heard this story at a recent men’s breakfast and we all chuckled. Ah, from the mouths of babes.
Obviously the child wasn’t talking about being paddled or abused, although the casual bystander might have jumped to that conclusion. He just didn’t like the idea of his mom, a grownup, always beating him to wherever he was going.

There’s humor, but also some truth, to this little exchange. Most of the time, we enjoy being the first – unless we’re confronted with something unpleasant, like having to get a shot at the doctor’s office, taking some vile-tasting medicine, or going to the dentist. Then we’re perfectly fine with, “Please, by all means, after you!”

In a sense, that’s also true for us spiritually. There are the times when we’re dead-set on having things our own way and follow whatever path we’ve decided to take. When we get there, we find God has arrived there first – and often we don’t like it. Especially when we know our “destination” doesn’t meet with His approval. That’s when we feel guilt, or conviction, and conclude God is nothing but a divine spoilsport. “He doesn’t want me to have any fun.”

But that’s the problem we sometimes have in knowing God is “omnipresent” – He’s everywhere. In one of his psalms, King David wrote, “Where can I go from your spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast” (Psalm 139:7-10).

When we’re in trouble, in distress, or confounded by life’s circumstances, it’s reassuring to know God is in every place, that wherever we go, He’s already “beat us” there. At times He may be silent or seem unresponsive to our complaints or pleas, but as Jesus promised His followers just before ascending to the heavenly realms, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

But when we’d rather be left alone to pursue our desires or plans without having to wonder what God thinks, it bugs us to know He beats us. And not just some of the time, but all of the time.

Recently billboards around my city of Chattanooga, Tenn. carried only one word: “UBIQUITOUS.” This word we rarely use in casual conversation is defined as “the property of being present everywhere…most commonly used in a religious context as an attribute of a deity or supreme being.” We’ve just learned these ads are part of a Coca-Cola marketing campaign to promote the idea that the soft drink can be found almost anywhere, even remote parts of the world.

But as God is described in the Bible, the term ubiquitous seems suitable – although the word “omnipresence” gives understanding of this divine attribute an even more universal scope. You might not find Coca-Cola atop Mount Everest or in the depths of the ocean, if you happen to go to such places, but you will find God there.

So, how does that work? How can someone be busy working at their desk in a place like Chattanooga and acknowledge God, then fly to a destination out of the country on business or for a vacation, maybe to China or South Africa, only to find He’s there, too?

Some of my most profound spiritual experiences have involved traveling to places like Brazil, Jamaica, Hungary, Germany, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Mexico, El Salvador, and Venezuela, where I discovered that despite geography, language and cultural differences, the same God I serve is at work there as well.

Sometimes life seems to be moving smoothly, no bumps in the road, no significant problems to address. At times like that we can shift into cruise control and enjoy the ride, giving little or no thought to the Lord. Then there are times when difficulties confront us no matter where we turn. Those are the times when God’s omnipresence, His ubiquitous nature, means the most.

It might be in a hospital, where we or a loved one awaits surgery for a serious, even life-threatening malady. It might be sitting at the kitchen table confronted by a stack of bills and a checkbook lacking the funds needed to pay those bills. It might be in the boss’s office, about to receive bad news about our job. No matter the circumstances, isn’t it a source of comfort and reassurance to know that whatever we’ll have to face, God has already beat us there?

“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11). In other words, God is saying, “Fear not, My child, I’ve beat you there. Now watch how I work things out for you.”

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