Sunday, February 4, 2007

The Five R’s of God's Presence - Felix Abrahams Obi

Luke’s gospel gives a graphic account of how the prodigal son retraced his steps back to his father’s presence. They were not part of a movie script nor was he taught by anyone to follow such esteemed steps back to his father. His sense of despondency, desperation and need for his father’s presence drove him back to the very place he had disdainfully left in pursuit of pleasure and freedom. When he had an overdose of life at Vanity Fair outside his father’s presence, the realities of real life and the vanity offered by pleasures of this world, he needed no prophet to deduce for him that nothing outside could fill that emptiness within, which only his father’s presence could fill.

He no longer could tolerate a life outside the confines of his father’s house. He didn’t listen to the alluring call and pull of his hedonistic peers. He shunned their jeers and sneery attacks on his feelings of homesickness. All that now mattered was how he can be brought before his father. He didn’t even bother what he‘ll face before his disconsolate father who had suffered the pinch of scandalous neigbours. Like a flint, he turned towards the direction of his father’s loving heart and his anxious face, and nothing on earth was able to detract nor deter him.

How honorable it will be for us the church to make the same resolution of this prodigal son who turned his back on the prodigal world to seek his father’s presence We can also follow the same paths the he cut in his trip back to his father, which I have labeled as the 5 R’s of God’s Presence.

1. He REVIEWED his life

In the midst of the threatening famine and hunger, he began to review and re-evaluate his life vis-à-vis;
- Where he came from
- Where he was at the moment
- Where he should have been
The result of the self-evaluation hit him so hard, he knew that he either would stay back in that far country and be ravaged by hunger and penury, or go back to his father’s house. None of the choices or options available was easy to follow for he had to deal with the sense of pride, the fear of rejection on his father’s side, and the threat of animosity and attrition from his brother, which stared at him rudely. But go he must, else his hunger-ravaged body would suffer dehydration and depletion. He might die and become a carcass for the scavenging birds and animals to feed on. In spite of his imagined and real fears, he had to face the future he wanted so desperately and moved on to the next step (Luke 15:14-17).

2. He RECKONED He had goofed

“When he came to himself, he said,
How many hired servants of my father’s
Have bread enough and to spare,
And I perish with hunger?”
(Luke 15:17)

The product of that self-evaluation was a genuine sense of contrition. His folly thus stared at him. How he must have battled with deep sorrow and an over-whelming burden of guilt. He must have cried endlessly, in hushed voice and suppressed sobs; with tears of godly sorrow streaming down his famished face.
Unknown to him, he was following the divine pattern for repentance as God had ordained.
“Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry,
but that ye sorrowed to repentance;
for ye were made sorry after a godly manner,
that ye might receive damage by us in nothing.
For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation
Not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world
worketh death”. (2 Corinthians 7:9,10)

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9)

Though he wished to confess his sins before his father, little did he know that he already has been forgiven by God, and would need no more confessions before his earthly father! For in our secret closet will God visit us when we confess our sins to him. Having dealt with the looming mass of sin that stood before him and his father’s face, he took the first next homebound steps!

3. He RESOLVED to go back home

Buoyed by the sense of freedom and forgiveness for his prodigal life, he made a firm resolution to go back to his father. The sense of condemnation at this point had lost its grip over him, and not even the delusion of procrastination could dissuade him again.

“I will arise and go back to my father…” (Luke 15:18)

He filled his mind with the pictures of home, and his heart also became so home sick, that he no longer could stay back in the far country.
By extrapolation of same principles used by the prodigal son, when we sense the lack of God’s Presence in our lives, we need to get so hungry for God, that we desire nothing else other than his presence. Like the sons of Korah, we need to so treasure God’s presence to the point we can say with passion:

‘My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord,
my heart and my flesh crieth for the living God …

For a day in thy courts, is better than a thousand.
I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God,
Than to dwell in the tents of wickedness”.
(Psalm 84:2,10)

“I will arise and go back” is such a grave decision for someone who had willfully eloped from his father’s house. Such strong resolution is sine qua non for anyone who desires to experience God’s Presence in his life. God will not disdain anyone who passionately longs for his fullness in their lives. The prodigal son’s testimony validates this clearly!

3. He RETURNED to his father

“And he arose, and came to his father”. (Luke 15:20)

This is the hardest stage of the prodigal son’s trip back to his father. No matter how well thought out or strong a resolution is, the actual test is in the doing of the resolution. One is reminded of innumerable resolutions passed by the United Nations and New Year Resolutions which were never implemented or enforced accordingly. So one will appreciate what sort of will power and mindset the prodigal son had to develop in order to act out his decision.

Like Mike Murdock once said,
“The proof of passion is in its pursuit”.

Returning back to his father was never an easy journey by all standards. He had no haversack or knack sack strapped to his back to store food reserves which he need on the way back home. More so, it was in a far country that he had lodged; else his father would have located him long ago. He must have looked disheveled, emaciated and slovenly dressed for he had no money to even eat. But in spite of the physical deprivation and hunger he battled with, he matched and trudged back home, not moved by the mocking looks of bystanders and detractors (his buddies) that would have discouraged him from going back home.

By going back home, he had inadvertently giving up his freedom to do things his own way again. At home, his father is and would be in charge. He makes the decisions and is the custodian of the resources of his own estate. This reality he the prodigal son must have grappled with… no more freedom to self-indulge again!
But the joy and peace that would be his in his father’s house couldn’t be compared to all of the fleeting pleasures that self-freedom ostensibly had to offer. This he had tasted and ended up to loath with all of his being. Like David, he knew that,

“…in thy presence is fullness of joy;
at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.”
(Psalm 16:11)

5. He RECEIVED his father’s embrace

‘But when he was yet a great way off,
his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran,
and fell on his neck, and kissed him”.
(Luke 15:20)

He least imagined the cataclysm of events his return would unleash in both his father’s house and the community at large. While he was still way off from home, unpaid heralds (probably busy bodied gossips) filtered the news to his dad. They would have thought the sorrow stricken father would go for his own pound of flesh, and demand a restitution of his wasted riches, and ways to remedy the tarnished image of a father whose son had been reckless. They looked on and wondered what fate would befall this rascally son that had brought disgrace to his father’s name and reputation in the community.

But they received the shock of their lives. How could this heart-broken father run towards the direction of his once rascally son! The joy of meeting his lost son fuelled and energized him to run and meet his son- who was overwhelmed by guilt that he began to confess (like he had resolved earlier) to his father. And to his chagrin and awe, his dad’s ears were clogged with the wax of love, for he had compassion on his dear son!

In the place of angry recriminations and condemnation of his past life, the prodigal son received the “kiss of acceptance” from his father .He was given a new lease of life from his father who reckoned that his son must have had a brush with deprivation and hunger for too long. His ragly clothes were pulled off like sackcloth and burnt. The last vestiges of his past life no longer were brought to the public’s glare, after he was clad in the royal robe and shoes. He even received the signet ring as an heir to the father’s estate. There was great rejoicing in the whole neighbourhood, who had no choice than to join in the celebration and merrymaking. What other place on earth could be refreshing for this prodigal son like his father’s house where his presence abode?

Like the father of the prodigal son, our Heavenly Father’s arms are opened wide to receive the prodigal world and those in the church who may have strayed willingly or unknowingly out of His Presence. He wants all of us back for the ransom he paid through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross is for everyone, and no one is excluded. And irrespective of the loads of sin and guilt that cause our shoulders to drop, the heavenly father is so eager to have us back to his Presence.

“…and him that cometh to me
I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37)

God promises a stream of refreshing waters for anyone who brushes aside the sins of the past to seek his presence. This was echoed by Peter the Apostle when he addressed the congregation at the Synagogue.

“Repent ye therefore, and be converted,
that your sins may be blotted out,
when the times of refreshing shall come
from the presence of God”. (Acts 3:19)

Lessons from the Sycrophoenician Woman

Having looked at the model of getting back to God’s presence as typified by the prodigal son, it’s however important to caution that making the trip back to God’s presence may not follow the same pattern as his. But the buttom line is, every genuine seeker of God and his Presence, will surely find him as promised in the scriptures, irrespective of the pattern or route they follow.

Blessed are they, which do hunger and thirst after
Righteousness; for they shall be filled”. (Matthew 5:6)

Sometimes, God allows us to search and seek for him in a “hide and seek game” and why he apparently hides from us should not be our major pre-occupation. But the reality is that there are times God or his Presence seems impalpable and far from our reach of grip. Rather than be discouraged or despair in our pursuit of his Presence at such moments, we should intensify our thirst and hunger for him.
More so, only those who are really hungry and thirsty appreciate the vigor and energy a little amount of food and drink could provide to a famished soul. We need not be sapped of God’s essence before feeling the need to go back to him. And when we sense the urgent need for his presence and in our efforts, we face a brick wall standing between God’s presence and us; we need not sulk in despair.
We need to learn a vital lesson from the Syrophoenician woman’s encounter with Jesus who had “refused” to heal her daughter. Rather than feel slighted or disappointed with Jesus who seemingly had turned “tribalistic” and partial in choosing to only heal the Jews, she persevered in her pursuit. Jesus said things to discourage her, but she pushed on, putting aside her ego and launched into deeper depths of prayer and worship, which kept her hopes alive.
In no long time, her worship got to the heart of Jesus, who eventually obliged to heal her daughter --whom he had earlier on decided not to heal. Her perseverance in God’s Presence prevailed over the circumstances of her life.Her daughter’s life was touched because she never allowed anything to deter or restrain her from the pursuit of God in whose presence the healing she so needed was available

So when it appears that the pursuit of God and his presence is being rebuffed apparently, we should keep holding on. Who knows, he might be reviewing the hidden motives (of our heart) for seeking him in the first place. And if one is seeking God only for healing or miracles, that person will or may receive just that miracle he/she yearns for. But when you seek God’s presence with all your heart, you are sure to experience healing and other blessings that come with His presence.
For instance, this same Syrophoenician woman had access to both the person (Presence) of Jesus, and his miracles (Power). In essence, when we seek to abide in His presence, we not only will encounter God, His Power in addition will inadvertently rub off on us, and our inner man infused with his power and glory!

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