I sometimes wonder how it is that Jesus is present to me. I don’t mean present in the sense that he is in my mind or that I am in some way attempting to emulate him in my everyday I life. I mean really, really present, as in with me.
The reason that I wonder about this is that I’m often not present to Jesus. It may be that he is really, truly, with me, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m with him, at least not consciously. My energy is frequently drawn to activities that are related to success and failure—grasping for the former, desperately avoiding the latter—and in those efforts I lay my life in my own hands. If Jesus is there, I don’t really notice.
But we are told in scripture that Jesus is indeed with us. He is referred to as Emmanuel—God is with us (Matt. 1:23). He tells his followers that he will always be with them (Matt. 28:20). When some early missionaries attempted to go into a particular region, they claimed that the “spirit of Jesus” redirected them (Acts 16:7).
In this world, we are not alone. But sometimes we act like it.
What qualifiers does Jesus have when it comes being with us? Is his presence with us something that requires certain actions on our part? Certainly the cultivation of attentiveness to his presence is a good and valuable practice. But what happens when we fail at that, get distracted by things that seem overwhelmingly important to us, resulting in a lack of awareness of Jesus? Does he find someone else to be with until we get it together?
I am comforted when I think of young Saul (soon to be the apostle Paul), on the road to Damascus, breathing threats against the emerging Christians that are threatening the religious status quo (Acts 9). Jesus becomes present to him in a dramatic way, surprising Saul out of his violent, arrogant mission. Saul was not attempting to be present to Jesus, but Jesus was with him nevertheless.
How astounding! Here is Saul, blind to what God is doing all around him, chasing down Christians like they were vermin to be destroyed, and Jesus shows up. Jesus is present to him. In all of Saul’s self-centered, judgmental misdirection, Jesus is there.
Yes, I take comfort in that. And maybe you do, too.
I can find a thousand different ways to forget about Jesus. I get wrapped up in this or that, focusing my attention on those things that I think have high value, and then Jesus fades from my consciousness. But when I stop, detach myself even briefly from my tasks, I find that Jesus has been with me the whole time. Even in my inattentiveness, he has been there. Even when I am broken and sinful, he is there.
I have heard people speak of God as being eternally angry at us because of our rebelliousness against him. We sometimes get fearful that God will abandon us and leave us to our own distorted devices. But when Jesus tells his friends, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father,” (John 14:9), he shows us the face of God that is truly God with us. Here is Jesus, present to his followers who usually don’t get it and end up running for cover when the going gets rough. And, yet, he comes to them again and again, restoring them in friendship.
It is a good thing for us to learn the rhythms of life that keep us attentive to Jesus. The practices of our faith are a lifelong journey that require our ongoing intentions. But we drift sometimes—we really do—and Jesus, in grace and faithfulness, reflecting the incomprehensible love of God the Father, continues to be with us.
And in that, we can take comfort.
– Mike McNichols