7 Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
Psalm 139 has long been one of my favorite psalms. Years ago, this psalm was brought up at the funeral of my father’s brother, which was the moment at which I first experienced how a death feels to those left behind. Thus, the psalm has also become one of the most memorable psalms in my quiver of Bible verses. Even though I was too little to recall much from that day, I remember the psalm being explained as a poem of presence – that is, being always in the presence of God, whether in life or in death.
It’s also taken on meaning for me as I live abroad, reminding me that there are people and places that I’ve left behind, too (whether temporarily or permanently). I look forward to returning to my home church of Grace in Standale, my temporary home of Calvary in Hull, and the bubbles of community in each city. I’ve consistently attended a Dutch church with my host family here, and it’s a wonderful feeling to experience worship in another language! But I am more than qualified to look back now and realize how valuable it is to belong to a community of believers who know and are known by me, a community in which I feel the presence of God communicated through each individual around me.
Still, wherever I end up and wherever I choose to call “home” for the moment is a place where God dwells with me. Where shall I go, away from the Spirit of the Lord? If I were to ascend to the tallest mountains in Central Europe, the Swiss Alps, I would look out over the green hills and white snow and see God in the immensity surrounding me. If I made my bed in the lowest parts of the Netherlands, sometimes 15 or 20 feet (5 or 6m) below sea level, I would sense His presence, His design, in the winding canals and the fields of pastureland. I see His hand of intelligent design in everything around me, and in turn I feel His eyes on me always. If I were to take up a backpack and start out in any direction with no plan and no phone, with none to guide and leaving nothing to remember me by, God would be there with me as well as with those I left behind. I am known by a mighty God, from here in an unfamiliar country (slowly becoming familiar), to a little college town in the middle of Nowhere, the United States of America, the continent of North America, Earth. You and I are so small, a blip on the radar of history, but your history – the places you have been and have called home – are known and remembered by this God we worship together.
As you prepare for worship this coming Lord’s day, consider this psalm (and the many others that speak of God’s presence in the lives of believers). You may be in your comfortable house in a neighborhood where everyone knows your name. You may be a college student in the midst of hundreds or thousands of strangers, planning an early ride with a friend or two to catch the morning service tomorrow. You may be a stranger in an unfamiliar land, across the world from your comfort zone. But wherever you are, God is there. Our God is a mighty and ever-present God.