His Presence or Presents?

"but let [she] who boasts boast about this: that [she] understands and knows Me..." Jeremiah 9:24 (NIV)

We put our house in Detroit on the market in January of 2005 because my husband had gotten a job offer in Nashville. After being shocked with what our realtor said we could probably get for the house, we didn't even list the house for what we had hoped for, but for considerably less. And then began one of the biggest tests of my faith. The house did not sell.

We made an offer on our new home in Nashville without the contingency of our Michigan home selling first. We figured that by early spring when the market got "hot" again, we would be able to sell it with no problem. Plus, as part of the relocation package offered by Rob's new job, we would get three months of mortgage payments for the lesser of the two mortgages. No problem. April 1st was the beginning of double payments, but with the company's help financially and a couple very interested in the house, we didn't sweat it...yet.

However, the interested party's financing fell through. Suddenly there was no buyer. Our realtor called every week with horrible stories of houses just not moving and urging us to slash the asking price even more. We didn't think we could and decided to try to hold out. We were covered until August 1st when we would have to start paying the two mortgages ourselves. We held firm to the asking price.

There was absolutely no interest on anyone's part to even look at the house. Our realtor couldn't even get traffic in the door. By late June we decided we really needed to sell the house. Paying two mortgages was something we just could not afford. By then, true panic had set in on my part.

I was desperate for hope. On my daily walk through our neighborhood, I would pour out my heart to the Lord. My conversations with Him changed daily, depending on my level of panic. On the good days, words like this would come out of my mouth:

"Thank you, Jesus, that You are in control. Thank You that You know when our house is going to sell and that it will be perfect timing when it does."

When my anxiety got the better of me, my thoughts were more like a demanding child:

"Lord, what are You doing? We prayed for two years to move here. It is undeniable that You opened up the door to come. You have got to sell our house! (And please hurry up! I would mumble under my breath.)

It was sometime towards the middle of July that I started reading a book by Dr. Larry Crabb called The Pressure's Off. That book revolutionized my way of thinking about God's blessings in my life like no other except the Scriptures. Dr. Crabb asked a profound question that I have continued to ask myself in the years since I first read it:

Am I more interested in God's presence or His presents?

The premise of the book is that the pressure that we put ourselves through is to live a life that will line up for God's blessings being able to be on our lives. There is absolutely nothing wrong with seeking God's blessing. But the pressure comes when life does a nosedive and we suddenly are left without a formula to explain what just happened to our world.

What is God's blessing? Is it a dream house, a huge stock portfolio that is actually bringing in revenue, a comfortable life with everyone healthy? Is lack of God's blessing an absence of any one of those things? I slowly started to realize that our financial crisis was forcing me to seek out God's presence--not His presents. I had completely bought into the fallacy that there was a formula for finding God's favor--giving 10% of our income as a tithe to the Lord, leading Bible study, crucifying ungodly behaviors, praying more, witnessing of His power in my life to others. I believed with my whole heart that if I did those things, God's favor HAD to be on my life.

That is my American style Christianity. Talk to my beloved Congolese friends about what the blessing of God is and it will make you stop still in your tracks. Pastor Gary Kapinga watched and heard his beloved wife, Suzanne, scream her way into the arms of Jesus in the months prior to her death because there was no morphine I.V. in her arm to help deaden the excruciating agony of her liver cancer. She lost twin babies during her final days on earth. They had buried three other children before she became ill. They have never owned a car or lived in more than four rooms in any house on earth. Their diet has almost zero variety in it. They have rarely enjoyed tasty food. Where is God's blessing on such a seemingly miserable existence?

If you met Gary, his joy would shock you. Gary has learned what I pray God will be able to teach me in the midst of all my comfort. Jesus' presence is far more fulfilling than His presents to me. Life has been pure horror for Gary at times in his life, but this man thinks nothing of fasting and praying for our family for four days straight over a prayer request of mine. He has found the secret to lasting joy. This verse is the reality of his life, seemingly devoid of God's blessing to my way of thinking, on earth:

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Psalm 16:11 (ESV)

With that perspective, my bank account, house, car, and comforts just become the empty stuff they really are. Oh, my sweet girlfriends, have we ever experienced His presence? Have we ever experienced true fullness and satisfaction? Or do we constantly run after things that will never satisfy us in His presents to us? Where do we find our pleasure?

Our house did sell in September after eight months of waiting. In the beginning, I thought the wait was far too long. But as I look back, I realize that I was given the greatest gift I have ever received--the gift of His daily presence given to me out of my desperation. I simply can't look at my stuff the way I used to and hope to find fulfillment. I need HIM, desperately! What a gift He gave me in the wait!

What are you waiting for? A baby, a house, a friend, a spouse, a new job, a confirmation of His calling on your life, or new love in your marriage or with your children? My sweet sisters, in the wait, let's not miss His presence looking for His presents.

Jesus, Your presence is what I long for, whether I know it or not. Only You have the capacity to fill this unquenchable desire of mine to be filled and satisfied. Nothing I possess even comes close to soothing that ache. Keep teaching me that knowing my Provider is so much more important than Your provision. Give me the eternal treasure of Your presence that can be mine even when the wait is over.