How much do we value God's presence?
"Elvis has left the building." These are words that used to signal that the concert really was over and it was time to go home. People, until then, had been reluctant to leave in case the "great man" would come on and do another encore.
Sometimes the thought of someone leaving our lives for good can be a devastating one. Our lives are crushed. That can happen, for example, when the one we love chooses to leave us for someone else. Or when our best friend decides to emigrate.
Why am I saying these things? I say it because we have the great privilege, as the converted people of God, of having God as our God. But how much do we grasp hold of, and delight in, and treasure this great fact? How much would it hurt us if the Lord were to say to us the words he says to Israel through the prophet Hosea, "Woe to them when I depart from them!" (Hosea 9:12b)?
Can there be any more dreadful words uttered than these? What terrible certainty is within them. He does not say "if" he departs from them but "when" he does so. Israel had an immense privilege of having the very presence of the living God in their midst. A previous generation had seen the glory of the Lord descend on the temple in the time of its dedication under Solomon. They had an astounding God as their God, but they had treated him so casually that he was about to depart from them in judgement. And what is shocking is, even after Hosea has announced God's word to them, they continue to treat him casually. They do not take Hosea's words seriously. Oh what a dizzy height they had fallen from that the Lord should say that he is about to depart from them.
God, through his prophets, threatens a harsh judgement on Israel for its worship of false gods. But surely none of it can be worse than for them to hear God say, "I will love them no more..." (Hosea 10:15). Any of you who have gone through the pain of separation or divorce will know the searing hurt of a loved one saying that he or she no longer loves you or cannot live with you anymore. How much worse ought it to be that the Lord of glory might speak those words; the one who has our eternal destiny in his hands? "My God will reject them" (Hosea 9:17) are surely the most dreadful words that could be pronounced? Yet Israel heeded them not one jot!
We as the church of Christ need to take note. God is our gospel, our good news, and his presence is the gladness of our renewed hearts. Christ, his beloved Son, who is the very radiance of God's glory (Hebrews 1:3), is, or ought to be, our delight. God's love for us is the sweetest nectar to our aching and yearning hearts. Or it should be. As sinners saved by Christ, what could be so precious to us that we could risk God departing from us to gain it? What pleasure can sin offer to recompense for God's judgement of withdrawn love? What moment, however sublime at the time, can ever be worth the potential price of our God rejecting us?
The presence of our God is our most valuable possession. It is the free gift of God. Free to us because we do not earn it or merit it, we simply receive it by faith. But it is costly to God because it is won by the blood of Jesus Christ. God is our greatest good. "Who have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." (Psalm 73:25-26). What utter folly to treat this inheritance casually! Worse would be to sell our portion of him for a passing pleasure of the sinful life, like Esau selling his birth right for the momentary satisfaction of his hunger.
I wonder how many of us, who call ourselves Christians, really value this close presence of God as our God. How many of us would even notice if God left the building? Let the words of Hosea be a wake up call to us to delight in, rejoice over, marvel at, be awestruck by, sing songs about, give daily thanks for the wonderful fact that our God is our God and that he has chosen to be present to us, not in a building but, through his Holy Spirit, in our inner most being.