It’s funny how sometimes I will remember something differently to someone else. We were both at the same event, but our recollections of what happened are not entirely the same. I am happy to concede that my memory is not always perfect. There are some memories, however, that are very strong for me, and I am confident in their accuracy. One such memory took place in a church I attended while I was a student at university.
We had a visiting missionary. I always enjoyed listening to those men and women who were serving in challenging locations, and this occasion was no exception. The missionary shared about some of the things he had done, and then he said that he was going to read from Isaiah. Without giving us time to find the place in our own Bibles he quickly read:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be watching over you.
I can even recall what I was thinking as the missionary informed us that he was reading from Isaiah 43. I was thinking how great it was that God was watching over me when I go through difficult times. I was thinking that it’s always nice when someone is watching over you. When parents go to watch their children perform, perhaps in a school play, or maybe at a sporting event, that child is often looking out for her parent. It feels good that someone important to me is watching over me. And not just when good things are happening, but God is watching over me when I am perhaps not performing very well, I am struggling. But then the missionary quickly spoke again. He admitted that he had read it wrong. It didn’t say what he had initially read to us. He offered to read it again, this time correctly.
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.
I still get goosebumps when I read that verse. God isn’t simply watching over me from a distance. He is not sitting up there in his home, comfortably watching what is going on in my life. When I pass through the waters, when I am struggling, and perhaps feeling overwhelmed, God is right there with me. If I let him, he will hold my hand. He will give me a hug. He will whisper truth into my innermost being. He will tell me that he loves me.
The one thing that God will not promise to do, however, is change my circumstances. He might. But more likely he won’t, at least not straight away. But he will not leave me on my own to struggle through the waters that may be threatening to drown me. And if I do feel like I am drowning, dare I suggest that he will drown with me. I don’t mean that he’ll stop breathing, that he will die, he just won’t leave me. And if I feel like I am under the water, he will be under the water with me.
God doesn’t promise to carry me as I struggle through the waters, although he might. The most important thing though, to me, is that he promises that whatever I go through, he will be with me. I am his. And he is committed to me forever.
During this Advent Season we are reminded again that God is with us. Emanuel, God with us. Such a precious truth. He is not watching us from a long way off. He is not staying at home and viewing us through some powerful telescope. He came to earth to be with us. That is what Christmas is all about. And yet God was here before Christmas ever happened. God has always wanted to be with his people, all people, anyone who would put their trust in him. Embrace the truth afresh this Christmas time. God is with you. He wants to hold your hand.