I am with you
When my children were younger, sometimes they would have to do things they were afraid to do – a common one would be greeting an adult or introducing themselves to someone new. After assuring them that there was no way around what they’d been asked to do, the first question out of their mouths was almost always, “Will you go with me?” Somehow having a parent’s presence with them gave them security and confidence to do the task before them.
One of the most common commands in Scripture is “Do not be afraid.” More often than not, the command is accompanied by the promise, “I am with you.” Moses would not begin to lead the people until God had promised to be with him. Joshua was able to lead the people with courage because God was with him as he had been with Moses. God promised Solomon that as he had been with David, so he would be with him. The angel Gabriel told Joseph that Jesus would be called “Immanuel (which means, God with us)” (Matthew 1:23). Throughout the Old Testament and into the New, God’s most common promise is that he will be with his people.
Twice in Haggai we have seen God make this promise. In 1:13 after the people respond to God’s first message with obedience, God tells them “I am with you.” Again in 2:4, God tells the people in the midst of their discouragement (because the new temple was so inferior to the old) to “work, for I am with you.” It seems that (and we see this more in Haggai 2:10-19) that circumstances had not changed much for the people. They were obeying, but they weren’t seeing much blessing. It seems they doubted that God was really with them and really for them.
Why do we find it so hard to believe God is for us? Why are we conditioned to think that we have to earn God’s love? If I do the right things or believe the right things…then God will love me. But doesn’t Paul tell us that “while we were still sinners” (quite apart from any good moral deeds or any right faith or knowledge) Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). In fact that’s the message of John 3:16 too! “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
God’s loving presence is not something we must earn; it’s something he’s already given. It’s not something elusive to be searched for and found; it’s something we must believe and rest in! It’s a reality every moment of every day whether we are aware of it or not. God promises that when we are in relationship with him, he does not leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).
It is surely possible for us to “break fellowship” with God. It is possible for us to walk away from his loving presence and to live apart from it. This is sin. But, He does not stop loving us. He does not stop desiring the best for us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).
The people of Haggai’s day looked around and were discouraged because the new temple was pretty pathetic. Maybe we look at our lives and realize they aren’t what they could be; they aren’t what we want them to be; and they surely are not what God desires them to be. But God said to the people through Haggai, and I think he says to us, “Don’t worry about how things appear. I am with you. I am working in you. Press on. Keep going. Let’s walk together. I’m more interested in the journey than the destination. It’s faithfulness in the journey that will determine where we go…Follow me and let’s get there together.”
I remember as a child breaking a window. I don’t think it would have been such a frightening experience except that I’d broken a few other things shortly before so I was afraid of what my dad would say. I was sorely tempted to not even tell him. The window was sort of out of the way and it would have been a while before anyone even realized it was broken. I might have been able to get away with it. No one would have known it was me who broke it.
But, I knew that wasn’t the right thing to do. Even though I knew I’d be punished, I also knew it was better to tell the truth and have everything over and done with. My guilty conscience wasn’t going to let me get away with it even if walking away would. So with fear and trepidation I went to my father and told him what had happened. His response surprised me. It was unmitigated grace. He took me in his arms and he thanked me for coming to him and for being honest. He said he would take care of it. Miraculously, he didn’t punish me, but even if he had, I now realize even that would have been an act of love.
That event has helped to shape my view of God as Father. Sometimes God disciplines me just as my earthly father did at other times. But he always shows me love and grace. And no matter what, I know God is with me. He is for me. And I walk in the shadow of his deep, abiding love. There have been times in my life I found that truth hard to believe. But God has shown it to be true time and time again.
Take time this week to rest in the love of your heavenly Father. Hear him say to you the words of Isaiah 41:10: Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. He doesn’t ask us to be transformed so he will love us. He promises his love…that we might be transformed. No matter what the circumstances of our lives at this moment, God loves us. He is for us.