Do you stop to notice God?
I wonder: How often do we hurry through our days without ever noticing God? Take a moment and answer that question for yourself. As I look at the answer for myself, I have to admit that there are far too many times I don’t stop to notice God. There are many reasons we do this. We are busy and focused on other things. We hurry through our days because have so much to do. We often don’t think of looking for God.
For many of us, the times that we actually notice God’s presence is in a time of need. Recently, when I asked people to name a time they were aware of God’s presence with them, many (about 85%) of them mentioned a time of crisis in their lives, such as a death of a loved one. They were aware of God’s presence because at that time in their life, they noticed how God touched them with his peace, or his assurance, or his comfort.
During John’s recent illness, I notice this too. On the first morning of the Tuesday Experiencing God through Scripture Bible Study, John was in severe pain and needed to go to the emergency room at 5:45 AM. As we awaited the ambulance, I threw on my wrinkled clothes from the day before, gave my teeth a quick brush, and got John ready to head out the door. When the life squad arrived, they took John to the ambulance and I went to my car. To me, it seemed to be taking them a long time to get him ready to go. As I sat in my car in the garage, waiting for the ambulance to pull out, I felt God’s first nudge: “Go back in and get your computer, and grab a protein bar for breakfast.” So I did, and still got back to my car before the ambulance left.
When I arrived at the hospital and was allowed in his emergency room, I found John in even worse pain than before. The liquid Tylenol didn’t seem to be helping. They took blood and urine samples, and sent him for a CT scan, after which he just curled up in a ball covering his head. And we waited for the test results. As 8:30 AM approached, I knew that I was going to have to leave him in emergency without even knowing what was wrong, and go on to church. It was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. But since that Tuesday morning Bible study was part of my Doctor of Ministry project, I had to be there to lead it. I couldn’t ask someone else to lead it, nor could I postpone it–two options I would normally have considered. Doing either would seriously affect the results of the study. So at 8:30, I left the church’s phone number with John’s nurse. He promised to call if he needed anything or there was something I needed to know. Then I headed to the church to prepare for the study, grateful that I had my computer, which I needed for the study.
As I was driving to the church, I heard God saying me, “Now you need to let go of John and leave him in my hands.” And I knew it was so. I could not effectively lead the study that morning if my focus was still in the emergency room. So I started praying that God would help me focus on the women who were coming to be part of the study. I set up for the study and prayed some more.
I cannot adequately explain how God answered that prayer. I felt assurance of his presence both with John and with me. Throughout the preparation for the study, and throughout the study itself, my focus was almost totally on the women and the study as I had prayed. About three or four times when the women were talking in small groups, John came to mind, and each time he did, I felt God say, “It’s okay. He’s in my hands.” I was amazed at how completely God answered my prayer. I was completely aware of God’s presence with me.
Literally, just as the Bible study was breaking up, the call came from the hospital that John was being released. He had been diagnosed with a severe case of sinusitis. I returned to the hospital and took him home, then worked from home the rest of the day so I could care for him. He would need a number of days more for recovery, but he was going to be okay.
God had been present with us that morning in powerful ways. I continued to notice God’s presence throughout that day. I looked out the window and saw God in the neighbor who was cutting our grass later that day, and in another neighbor who was weed-eating. I had not asked them to do so, but there they were being a channel of God’s grace for us.
Throughout the coming days, I experienced God in the prayers and well-wishes of so many people. God shone through so many people around us. I thank God and all of them.
As I said earlier, we often notice God’s presence in times of crisis. The question I ponder is this: Is God more present with us during difficult times or is God always with us and we just notice God more in times of crisis? I believe it is the latter. Jesus said, “Lo, I am with you always.” (Matthew 28:20) Psalm 139 assures us that God is with us everywhere. I believe that we notice God’s presence more in the times of crisis because in our need, we are looking for him. And I wonder: What if we looked for God on ordinary days too?
In her classic poem “Aurora Leigh” Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote: “Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God, but only he who sees, takes off his shoes.” May we all have eyes to see God’s powerful presence with us, not just in times of crisis, but every day.
Pastor Diann O’Bryant is the minister of Gilman United Methodist Church, 312 Gilman St., Marietta. Thoughts of Faith is a weekly column written by various ministers and lay people.