Through the ages, faithful believers have never ceased to develop ways to encounter God in Scripture. From meditation, prayer, to song, God’s Word has held a special reverence among his peoples. David conveys the primacy of God’s word in the first psalm. He writes, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” The special link between God’s word and God’s presence was also physically expressed. The stone tablets with God’s inscribed commands were placed in the Ark of the Covenant within the Tabernacle. This was the most holy place where God dwelt with his people. So it is no surprise that we Christians also hold Scripture dear to our lives. We read, meditate, and pray through Scripture to encounter God the Father. We read with the expectation that God will be present with us.
There are many ways to encounter God in Scripture, and I hope we all have an established method. What I will share is just one way. Most of us come to Scripture looking for answers. There are questions that we hope God can address by speaking directly into our situation. A simple yet powerful way of encountering God in Scripture is by deep-diving into an event, person, or writing that shares core elements with our circumstance. Scripture is filled with narrative of imperfect men and women who have lived through failure, disappointment, shame, and suffering. And narrative is not the only literary vehicle. There is poetry, prayer, song, letters, imperatives, and prophecies, to name a few. The great story of God’s redemption that spans Genesis to Revelation is filled with examples that can speak into our situation.
So how is this done?
Identify a passage whose themes resemble your current predicament. Narratives can be a great selection. They usually highlight specific people who voice their plight, thus offering a way for us to connect. Ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten you as you turn to the passage.
Establish the context. What is the background of this passage? Who or what events have led to the predicament? And what is at stake? Such questions can help us understand the nuances that are otherwise missed.
Examine the event. What happens in the passage? What is said? Listen to the tone. Follow the trajectory of the event. Allow your emotions to engage the passage.
Examine the resolution. How was the issue addressed? Did God answer? If so, how? Was there a purpose behind the story?
Invite God to speak. What is the story telling us? What is God trying to say? Can we turn our thoughts into prayer? Our focus is creating a fertile ground where God can sow the seeds of his Word.
Dwell on the passage. Don’t rush through these steps. Spend time on the passage, slowly chewing on it in your heart and mind and savoring what it has to say to you. Focus on the parts that stand out to you and speak most to your current situation.
Personal Example – Where is God in a time of crisis?
In a time such as this, does God hear us? Is God with his people? As we witness the sufferings plaguing our world, we may question whether God cares at all.
If you are like me, these questions ring louder the more suffering and uncertainty I face in my life. When the ground beneath my faith starts to shake, however, there is one place in Scripture I often go for reaffirmation – the Divine revealing at Sinai in the Book of Exodus. Here, I am reminded afresh just how piercing God’s presence is, has been, and always will be for his people. And Moses serves as a powerful example of how God’s presence can be invoked.
Chapters 32-24 of Exodus narrate the most pivotal turning point in the history of Israel. While Moses is up on Mount Sinai convening with God, the Israelites committed the most serious of sins by constructing an idol for worship. Even after experiencing God’s most dramatic delivery from slavery, the Israelites regress to their accustomed Egyptian ways by worshipping a golden calf. Furious, God sends Moses back down to rebuke the people. Seeing how ‘stiff-necked’ the Israelites are, God has told Moses that He will not go with Israel (Ex 33:3). His divine presence will not accompany Israel in their journey.
In this crisis, Moses reveals several things about the dynamics of ushering God’s presence. His circumstance was unique and singular in all of history, yet there are important lessons we can glean from this narrative.
Humility. In a tent intentionally set up far away from the Israelites, Moses comes before God in humility. He petitions, “Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people” (Ex. 33:13). Often, it is the posture of our hearts that sets the conditions for meeting God.
Persistence with the knowledge of God’s Character & Covenant. It worked. God affirmed Moses’ plea for His presence. Yet, Moses presses the issue still. He says, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I found favor in your sight, I and your people? Further, Moses asks God point-blank, “Please show me your glory.” Wow – talk about boldness. How often do we approach God with such boldness? I am reminded of C.S. Lewis’ critique: he writes, “Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak.” Moses was bold not for boldness sake, but because he knew God’s character and His covenantal promise. Moses knew that He was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Ex. 3), fulfilling the covenant made with Abraham in Genesis 12. And Moses knew that God’s character was defined by hesed, his steadfast love. When we take these truths to heart, we can exercise boldness similar to Moses. Indeed, the author of Hebrews writes, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Communal Vision For Moses, the presence of God was a matter of life and death for the nation of Israel. Moses asks God, “Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” The reality facing Israel was harsh. The non-Israelite populations around them were undoubtedly wondering whether Israel would survive post-Exodus. God’s presence was thus the assurance needed to navigate the precarious existence of a nation. What does this mean for us? Our vision must include the needs of the greater people of God. When our hearts yearn for others, God presents himself in a powerful way.
God’s Presence Through Moses’ humble pleading and bold plodding, God presented himself to Moses on top of Mount Sinai. Descending on a cloud, He revealed his holy name while proclaiming his character – his steadfast love and faithfulness. And like before, God etched his words on the tablets of stone, thus sealing once again God’s presence to his people.
In our time of crisis today, let us follow Moses’ example in the posturing of our hearts, our attitudes, and our vision. God will answer, for He has already overcome the world.