You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.
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 139:5-10
When God Hems You In – Rejoice In His Presence
Have you taken note of God’s presence and his leading wherever you go? Can you echo the thoughts David expressed in Psalm 139?
When I am on vacation I don’t usually seek out a local church to attend, but instead read my Bible. I probably have missed out on a lot because, as essential as reading the Bible is, God seems to delight in speaking to me through other Christians. When I have gone on short-term missions trips or have spent extended time away from home and do attend church, I have discovered that God doesn’t miss a beat. Either the sermon picks up where my home church pastor’s last sermon left off or the sermon is extremely timely and relevant for my life in a different way.
Such was the case last November while visiting my wife’s family in Coloocan, Philippines. We walked with my mother-in-law and brother-in-law to a service at their local church situated among houses in a residential neighborhood. The church, with a flat metal roof, would probably escape your notice should you drive by it on a weekday morning. Open on three sides, with numerous fans to keep churchgoers reasonably comfortable in the tropical heat, contemporary Christian songs rang out into the neighborhood to be heard by believer and unbeliever alike. Here, thousands of miles from home, a message prepared for the benefit of others encouraged and strengthened me just when I needed it most.
A Little Background
Have you read testimonies of people who were content with success as the world defines it only to be compelled by God to quit their job and embark on a different path? Perhaps you have experienced such a dramatic life change yourself. As I sat down in church that Sunday, it had been over two years since I quit my job in obedience to God’s calling yet I had not finished the work God had placed before me. I was beginning to think I would never finish. Sometimes I even entertained the thought that I had misunderstood God and had taken a wrong turn. In this context, God met me on the far side of the sea and spoke to me through one of his servants.
The sermon that Sunday was a forward look into 2016, acknowledging the evil times we are in while encouraging the congregation to exhibit the kind of obedience and perseverance that Noah did. In the sermon, the pastor made some observations about Noah that were apropos to our times and to my situation. (I have placed quotation marks around his comments below).
“Noah lived in the midst of evil.” Noah was 600 years old when the floodwaters came making him 480 years old when God declared his drop-dead date for humanity (Genesis 6:3; 7:6). Imagine how long Noah must have lived in a world full of violence (Genesis 6:11). Noah lived blamelessly among wicked people for possibly hundreds of years before God spoke to him and then Noah obediently built an ark over a span of decades believing God would bring about an event that defied probability. By comparison, my task and the obstacles I faced were miniscule. Why should I be discouraged?
“Noah warned his neighbors about things not yet seen.” I felt God’s hand hemming me in as the pastor spoke these words. Though not the primary reason for quitting my job, a call to warn others about things not yet seen provided the impetus to write my book. In this moment, God’s guiding hand did not feel heavy or burdensome – it felt exciting, as if the only misstep I could take would be to remain silent.
“Noah was obedient to a hard task appointed to him.” Now, as I listened, I felt convicted. I wanted to give up when the going got really tough. Or, take the easiest path forward. Writing the book was not easy, but getting it published was more daunting as it meant developing skills I didn’t care to learn or utilize. “A man of faith is a man of action.” Ouch! Inaction, procrastination and complaining had to stop. I had to press on.
“God remembered Noah and he will remember you.” I love promises, especially when combined with the conviction that God is ever-present and guiding me. He will remember to provide what I need and he will enable me to complete the task he has given me.
“God is always on time.” God’s thoughts are not my thoughts and his ways are not my ways. I must trust him.
Held Fast In God’s Hand
Even now as I recall this message, in the midst of the temptation to once again shrink back from the task ahead, God’s call compels me to persevere in obedience.
By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith. Hebrews 11:7
God still gives his people hard tasks. Some are unique; some are common. In some cases our obedience will benefit many people; sometimes it only affects one person. In either case, when God guides us, when he hems us in – it is wondrous. Proceed in awe and with a holy fear for you are in the hand of Almighty God!