My friend has a sign above a door frame in his house. The first time I saw it, it looked like a random grouping of small wooden pieces, but I knew it had to mean something. After staring and squinting at it off and on for an hour, I couldn’t figure it out, so I asked him what it was. He took the sign down and told me to look again.
Even with it right in front of me, in my own hands, I didn’t get it. My friend had to tell me to look in the spaces, not in the raised bits of wood. Aha! The sign said: JESUS.
Jesus had been there the whole time—I just couldn’t recognize him because I didn’t know where to look.
Isn’t that so often how it goes. We have all the promises from Scripture:
“Be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20 NLT)
“For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:8 NLT)
“For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” (Zephaniah 3:17 NLT)
Yet we have our ideas about how God is going to reveal himself, about what it feels like to be in God’s presence, and these can get in the way of experiencing Jesus.
I know a man whose daughter died when he was in his 70s. He built a beautiful garden in her honor and would go and sit there, hoping to feel her presence. He felt peaceful there, but he’d been hoping for her to show up in some visible or audible way, and when she didn’t, grief would pierce him anew. But it was his expectation that prevented him from realizing that the peace he felt in her garden was a gift in that emotionally tumultuous time.
We can all wind up like Isaiah, expecting God to be in an impressive windstorm, or earthquake, or fire, but God announced his presence with a “gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:12 NLT).
Here’s just a short list of times I’ve known Jesus was there:
- Doing liturgical dance in church
- Seeing a child worship God with all her heart.
- Being tackled by an entire giggling children’s worship group.
- Laughing instead of getting angry or frustrated when a 3-year-old (who’d been sweetly disruptive all morning) burped in our closing prayer.
- A friend asked God for exactly what I needed prayer for without my telling her what it was.
- Linking arms with a group of women to surround someone in prayer.
- Walking in the Calvin Nature Preserve.
- In the communion circle, when the elder giving me the elements told me I was God’s beloved.
- I was ice skating alone on an outdoor rink, flying around the oval.
- Curled up in a ball and sobbing during a Garden of Gethsemane prayer service.
- Any time I’ve been patient when everything in me wanted to blow up.
- My church surrounded me with love and care and tangible help when I went through a family upheaval.
- My children dragged me out to a soccer game when I was sad, and it turned out that sitting with them and cheering on a team was exactly what I needed.
- When a tough decision gave me peace.
We’ve all got our list. Making it is a good reminder of all the different ways God has been at work in our lives. Make your own list as a rehearsal of God’s deeds in your life—and don’t forget to look in the gaps.
Here’s another funny thing about that sign: Every single photo I’ve taken of it, from every single angle shows the word JESUS plain as day. Now and then, if I change the size of the image, I can catch a moment where it looks like a random collection of shapes, but it soon resolves into JESUS. Which is the point, driven home yet again. Jesus is always with me. And with you. Whether we recognize him or not. Just like he promised.