Psalm 139:7 -- "Where can I go from your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?
The word presence, in both the Old Testament Hebrew and the New Testament Greek, is always the word for "face."
When David, therefore, was praying, "Where can I flee from your presence," he was not only confronting the fact that God was there, but even more, he was reveling in the fact that God's face was turned his way.
"Oh God," David was saying, "You're not only here, but you are looking my way! You are always aware of me!"
When God, therefore, speaks of his presence -- his face -- he is saying much more than simply that he is there. It is a term that underlines a most wonderful truth: the reality of personal relationship.
Encounter in the Moonlight
Years ago, while pastoring a church in Southern California, I found myself becoming increasingly discouraged. Not with the church -- I could not have asked for finer people. Certainly not with my family. And not with my surroundings, either. Our coastal resort town was a delightful place to live.
I was discouraged with myself.
Sometimes, rather than driving to work, I would walk down the few blocks from our home to the beach. There I would follow along the shoreline for a mile or so, to finally climb the steps of the sea cliff to the church, only a block from the beach. What a daily commute! But there were times upon arriving at the bottom of those steps that I had to talk myself into making the climb. Beyond those stairs was a ministry that glaringly exposed my inadequacies.
"Oh God," I found myself praying, "please . . . if I could only just keep walking and walking by the sea until I could not walk anymore. Why do I have to climb those steps?"
Late one night my depression seemed especially dark. Not being able to sleep, I left our home and found myself minutes later standing as close to the sea as the incoming waves would allow. In spite of myself, I could not help noticing the great orb of the full moon hanging out over the ocean. For a long time I simply looked and listened to the thunder of the surf. I noticed that sometimes when a series of huge breakers rolled in, the moonlight would dance across the phosphorescent foam, tumbling upon itself, swishing far up the sand. And then, as though spent, the sea would calm and a streak of light from the moon would lie flat with a brilliant sheen all the way across the wet sand to my feet.
"That's amazing!" I thought. "Since the sea on either side of that streak appears dark, it is as though the moon is putting on a private show for me. Just for me. If I step this way -- the streak stays with me. And if I jump away over there -- it's there, too!"
Just for the fun of it, I ran down the beach. The streak of light kept right with me. It never stopped. It was never too late. It never got there before I did. It was just there -- wherever I stood. It was as though the whole moon concentrated its radiance straight through the vault of space, across the vast Pacific . . . to me.
Then I thought to myself, "Well, David, this is what God is to you, isn't it?"
The Lord taught me through that late-night object lesson. It was as though he was saying, "David, my face is your way. You can run as fast as you can. You can travel as far as you like. You can hide as long as you will. My face will be toward you. I will never turn away."
My mind began to carry the analogy further. Sometimes the streak of moonlight exploded in the tumult of the breakers, the curling phosphorescence and backwash of the waves. At other moments the streak seemed serene and undisturbed. And God seemed to say, "David, it makes no difference what your circumstances are. Twisted and troubled like a riptide, or completely calm and at rest. It doesn't matter, David. My face is still your way. All that I am is yours to dispel the darkness."
"Lord," I found myself praying, "If that is so, the moon shows more glory when the sea is most troubled. Could it be that you are best seen in those times, too?" (I thought of the disciples in the storm.)
But what if someone had been standing right beside me at that moment? Would he or she see exactly what I was seeing? No, he or she would not. He would see his own private display of the moon's glory . . . a picture formed by the unique circumstances of those particular ways between that person and the moon.
Would my private display of moonlight be lessened if someone were standing next to me? No -- not a bit. What if a million people crowded onto that shoreline, each person on his own little niche of sand, each one with his or her own private display of moonlight? Would my display be diminished? Not at all!
As I walked back home that night I rested in the mystery that my omnipresent God was also my personal God. Yes, he is everywhere, and yet his face is most personally toward each of his children. Each of us!
Perhaps someone reading these words at this very moment is grappling with loneliness and discouragement. Hope seems so distant, so unreachable. God's face is your way! Right now. Can you see him? Picture the moonlight on the sea. All that God is -- not just part of him, but all that he is -- is your way.
David C. Needham
Close to His Majesty (Multnomah Press), pages 55-59