Traveling with friends, we approached an intersection with a flashing red light. We stopped, but as we continued, the driver kept jamming on the brakes when the light blinked on and hit the gas pedal when it went off. It hit me that often we erroneously perceive God’s presence with us in the very same way - sometimes He is with us and sometimes He is not.
I often ask groups, “What is your default prayer for missions?” Inevitably, it is “God be with the missionaries.” Unfortunately, that is not helpful because God promises his presence, “...And behold, I am with you always...” (Matt 28:20b). The author of Hebrews clarifies that this is not restricted to the twelve disciples as he encouraged his people, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5b). The writer of Hebrews under the leading of the Holy Spirit applied God’s promise to Joshua (Deuteronomy 31:6) to all believers!
Why do so many Christians today doubt whether God is with them? I believe we have misinterpreted the common and slightly varied benedictions of: “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you” and “The Lord be with your spirit” (II Timothy 4:22). Paul’s words were meant to be words of great encouragement, not an indication that God was fickle with his presence. It is interesting that in these passages, there is no verb in the Greek. It could be translated, “The Lord is with your spirit!” When the angel spoke to Mary, the verb is implied as well, but it is translated, “the Lord is with you!” (Luke 1:28b ESV).
Often people say to me, “How can you go to a place like Nigeria?” My response is, “I can go because I know God is with me.” The best prayers are biblical prayers. The early church and Paul requested boldness: “and also [pray] for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the Gospel” (Ephesians 6:19).