The Discipline of Presence: History Lessons

As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the LORD. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” – Exodus 14:10-14 (NIV)

I wish I could read this story and not be able to relate to the complainers.  I wish I could say the thought had never crossed my mind that sometimes it would be easier to not be a follower of Christ.  The reality is that I can fall into the unmerciful grip of the-way-things-used-to-be far more easily than I would like to admit.

Israel had seen the unmistakable power of God revealed through wonders, signs and plagues, and yet just a short time after the taste of freedom is in their mouths, they are willing to spit it out and eat the sour grapes of slavery.  But this story is not a window, it is a mirror.  I see myself and the ugly scars of my past misdeeds and am warned by the words from Moses, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today… The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

It comes down to understanding the redemptive power of God.  What the Israelites did not yet understand, and what we forget too often, is the power of being redeemed.  When God redeemed His people from Egypt, He didn’t go half-way, but their doubt in His ability to protect them doesn’t affirm this truth.  I have waned in my trust in God’s ability to be my redeemer in this present day.  I get stuck on thinking it would be better to go back to my life before God asked me to move forward.  I forget about the promised land on the other side of the raging waters and the barren desert.  At those times I need to rest in the power and presence of being still.

Being still is less about lack of activity and more about our attitude.  It is the absence of anxiety and busyness. It is the ability to exist in an atmosphere of calm despite how the winds in the world are whipping.  It is not easy, but life without being still before God is far more difficult.  The way to the Promised Land for the Israelites might have taken weeks or months, if they had found their satisfaction in that place of stillness.  Instead, it took them forty years.

I don’t want to keep hitting my head against the same wall.  I want to know what it is to be still before God.  I want to take that stillness with me through each day, resting in the peace of God.  Paul gives the best advice in moving toward this goal: “Only let us live up to what we have already attained.” (Philippians 3:16)  The Israelites were willing to regress in order to feel safe again, but Paul encourages us to keep moving forward, bolstered by what we have already experienced, learned and gleaned.  Paul challenges us to be perfectly who we are today so we can build one more layer tomorrow.

I am praying for a mind and heart that hunger for stillness.  I am praying for discipline to build on all that has come before to live perfectly in the present.  I am praying for faith that testifies, “The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

6 responses to “The Discipline of Presence: History Lessons”

  1. It truly is amazing how quickly we panic even when we have a history of the Lord working out our previous problems. We certainly are insecure people, aren’t we?

  2. We do need to develop a habit of healthy remembering in our lives. We’re told to “Bless the Lord and forget not His benefits…” and Psalm 77 is full of “I will remember” and “I will meditate”…on what? His deeds, His works, His wonders. Often the Jewish people were instructed to build stone memorials so they would remember, and teach their children. Like you said, we marvel at the Israelites’ forgetfulness, but I don’t believe we are so very different, are we? Good work and good reminder, Chris.

    • Thanks Deb. When I was writing this I kept picturing Dory from “Finding Nemo.” We are fish who look in a mirror and forget what we look like as soon as we turn away. Thank God for His mercy and grace.


  3. Great reminder that the Lord will fight for us…we need only be still. So often lately I toss and turn thinking of our waiting daughter in Africa and longing to be with her…and the Lord reminds me that HE is her advocate. He is fighting for her and for our family. He puts the lonely in families! So He asks us to REST as we WAIT on His perfect timing!!! Deep breath….breathing in His Spirit and trusting in Him! What I love about the Phil. verse is that God only asks us to live up to the understanding He has given us thus far…Takes the pressure off!!! LORD, Give us a willing heart to sustain us. That’s all you ask. You can do so much with our willingness. Break down and forgive us for all resistance and unbelief. We praise your name! Thank you for overcoming our stress, distrust, and restlessness! Give us REST and STILLNESS!!! mmmmm….Just soaking in your Presence. Praise you, praise you, praise you.

    • Krista,
      Thank you for the heartfelt prayer. We are so indoctrinated into the mindset that we need to be in control, but following Christ is all about surrendering control and doing the Father’s will. Praying for you all and your little girl in Africa.


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