The greatest promise of Christianity is not “come to Jesus and all your problems will go away.” Rather the greatest promise of Christianity is that God promises to be with his people regardless of the situation they find themselves in. It was this promise that caused the Apostle Paul to be content even when God did not heal him of his ailment, because God promised him something greater than physical healing, his grace (2 Cor. 12:7-9). It was this same promise that made Samuel Rutherford, the Scottish Pastor to write,
“It is better to be sick, providing Christ come to the bedside and draw by the curtains, and say, “Courage, I am Thy salvation,” than to enjoy health, being lusty and strong, and never to be visited of God.”(Rutherford, 2005)
What causes a man not to fear evil even when he is going through the valley of the shadow of death? King David was a man who had his fair share of persecution and affliction. In Psalm 23, he summed up the believer’s greatest promise. In the darkest hours of his life, it was not his position, wealth or health that brought him the greatest comfort, rather it was the presence of God. Although many Christians point to Psalm 23 as promising wealth and abundance for the Christian, yet a closer look at the text shows that David was not talking about wealth and health. Throughout the chapter he was exulting in the presence of God and what that meant for him.
In verse 1, he writes, “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.” The emphasis here is on the Lord being his shepherd rather than he not wanting anything. We know this is true because throughout the Psalm he mentions different situations of life, and in each case his greatest comfort regardless of the situation was the presence of God. When he talked about his daily needs, he wrote, I don’t worry about it because the Lord is my shepherd, he will provide. In his adversity he writes, I fear no evil because the Lord is with me. When his enemies assailed him, he wasn’t worried because the Lord was there with him. And he summed up his ultimate desire in 6b, that “[he] shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”
What is the greatest promise you hold on to as a Christian? Jesus once asked the people who were following him, “what are you seeking?” (John 1:35-38). We all go through different circumstances of life; affliction, persecution, sickness, betrayal, various kinds of needs and the list goes on, but in all these circumstances, the greatest comfort of the Christian is not so much the physical deliverance as the promise that God will be with us. This is what David meant when he wrote in Psalm 23:4, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me…” The presence of God changes everything in the believer’s life. That is why the three Hebrew boys could walk around in fire, because the presence of God was with them (Dan. 3:8-30).
The presence of God should therefore become every Christian’s greatest pursuit, which leads also to the most important question, how do we find the presence of God? Is the presence of God only in heaven? Jesus said in John 14:23, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” We will not only know the presence of God when we die and get to heaven, right here on earth we can know the blessedness of God’s presence. It was said of the Puritan Richard Sibbs by Izaac Walton that,
“Heaven was in him, before he was in heaven.”(Beeke, 2007)
Jesus teaches us clearly that we find God’s presence in his word. As we study God’s word and meditate on it and pray and obey, we are transported through the eyes of faith by the power of the Holy Spirit into the very presence of the Most High, where the child of God finds true joy and pleasure forevermore. David tells us in Psalm 16:11b that in God’s “…presence there is fullness of joy; at [His] your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in, the presence of God is the Christian’s greatest comfort.
How are you doing in the holy disciplines of studying, meditating and praying the word of God? You want joy? Look no further. You want pleasure? Don’t look hard! They are as close to you as your Bible and the space around your bedside. Don’t short-change yourself my Christian friend. Don’t trade true joy and pleasure for crumbs being peddled around as blessings. Don’t exchange the presence of God for a promise of health and wealth in this present world, because this world and all that is it in is passing away. God has promised us something greater than earthly wealth and health, he has promised us himself!
Beeke, J. R. &. P. R. J., 2007. Meet the Puritans. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Reformation Heritage Books.
Rutherford, S., 2005. The Letters of Samuel Rutherford. Florida: Chapel Library.