THE LORD IS WITH YOU WHEREVER YOU GO

THE LORD IS WITH YOU WHEREVER YOU GO
A Sermon by Rev. Brian W. Keith
Preached in Glenview, Illinois
April 10, 1988

“Be strong and of good courage: do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

Being alone, truly alone, is a terrifying experience. When there is no one we can rely on, no one whom we can call and even talk to, we feel cut off – as if we don’t belong anywhere. And when we feel that we are without friends or family, we know fear. We know fear because we feel helpless – as if no one cares, as if the hurdles we face are insurmountable.

The Children of Israel knew this loneliness. They had journeyed for forty years in the wilderness. Everything had been provided for them – the strong leadership of Moses, manna for food, and the Lord going before them in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night.

But now their routine was coming to an end. They had reached the Jordan River, entrance to the land of Canaan. The Lord would no longer lead them openly as before. The manna would cease. And Moses, their patriarch, had just died. They felt terrified of what lay ahead, and all alone in the face of difficult struggles. Could they leave the old ways behind? Could they overcome their enemies? Would the Lord help them as before?

The Lord then called upon Joshua, and after renewing His assurance that they would inherit the promised land, charged him saying, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

They did not have to be worried. They did not have to feel desolate. They did not have to feel alone. For whatever happened, the Lord would be with them wherever they went. Or as the Psalmist wrote, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me” (139:7-10).

The Lord’s presence can bring comfort and courage. It can remove the sense of loneliness; for whatever may happen, the Lord will always be there. His love is so all encompassing that it will never be taken from us. It will never cease to be with us. And the Lord’s presence can strengthen our spirits, renewing our youth like the eagle’s. It lifts us up that we may have the power to do what is right, to speak what in true. We can be strong and have courage, be unafraid and hopeful with the assurance that we are never alone, for the Lord is with us wherever we go.

But how is the Lord with us? Where can we find Him? How can we sense His presence? Sometimes it is easy to feel His presence. Worship can do this for us (see AC 904). As we sing familiar hymns, say the Lord’s Prayer (and others), or sit quietly in church and reflect upon what is being said about the Lord, He can seem to be right next to us. It is as if by closing our eyes we can reach out and touch Him. And this is powerfully so when we are affected by the innocence of a child at his or her baptism, the love between a couple at their wedding, or the serenity of a holy supper service.

We can also feel the Lord’s presence in the Word (see AC 8652, 9378). As we read it, perhaps we are affected by the mercy of the Lord in the New Testament, the strong moral commands of the Old Testament, or the wonderfully reasonable explanations of the truth found in the Writings. We see and feel the Lord as we allow those ideas to flow into our minds, creating a magnificent picture of the Lord’s purpose for us – a heaven from the human race.

We might also sense the nearness of the Lord when we are at peace or feeling heavenly joy (see AC 9546). Perhaps after some frantic activity we sit outside on our porch, enjoying the solitude and beauties of nature. We are moved by what the Lord has created; it is marvelous in our eyes. We feel that He is there.

And the Lord’s presence is especially felt in all that is good (see AC 904, 2915). He is good itself, and resides in everything happy, productive, and positive. Our delight in justice – a good day’s work receiving a fair wage – is a delight in the Lord’s good. Our affection for our family, the time spent in the give and take at a meal, indicates the closeness of the Lord. And the joy we experience when we know something we have done has helped another reveals the Lord’s presence.

These are some of the ways in which we can feel the Lord is with us wherever we may go. But there are also many less obvious ways in which the Lord is constantly present with us. He is invisibly within, the source of all life (see AC 2706). He is the Vine; we are the branches. If He withdrew from us for even a brief moment, we would have no life at all.

His providence is also like a silent current, gently guiding us through the sea of life (see AE 25e). He foresees and is prepared for every least possibility. He leads us a step at a time that we may freely reject what is from hell, and receive what is from heaven. He knows how hard we need to be pushed, and how much mercy we require that our tender lives may flourish and grow.

And He sends His angels over us, to keep us in all our ways (see Psalm 91:11). Unbeknownst to us, His love directs them to be with us at all times (see AC 5992). They inspire a confirming certainty in the truths we know, and a desire to act charitably. They moderate our affections, attempting to turn us away from evil and to what is good. When evils confront us, they call forth our heavenly affections and our true ideas, setting them in array that we may fight against hellish influences.

In these, and numerous other obvious and hidden ways, the Lord’s presence is with us. We are never alone. We are never abandoned. We are never without Someone who loves us and takes care of us.

This was powerfully shown in the story of Elisha and the Syrians. The Syrians were attempting to invade Israel and entrap their army- Elisha perceived their military plans and revealed them to the Israelites. The Syrian king assumed that one of his inner circle was betraying him. Upon being told it was the prophet Elisha who was providing the information, he sent his soldiers to capture or kill him. They surrounded the city of Dothan, and Elisha’s servant was terrified to discover their hopeless situation. They were defenseless. They would die.

But was Elisha worried? Not at all. He said, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them” – an amazing statement. The servant could plainly see they were badly outnumbered. Then Elisha allowed him to see ‘the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around [him].” And when the Syrian army came down they were struck with blindness and easily led into capture.

Why did the servant not see the army protecting Elisha? He lacked strength and courage. He was afraid. He did not believe that the Lord was with him wherever he went. But Elisha knew that “nothing at all could harm people whom the Lord is protecting, not even if the whole of hell were surrounding them, both from without and from within’ (AC 968). The Lord’s presence affords Divine protection that stands against all, that defends against any problem.

Such protection is ours as we receive good into our lives (see AC 9049:6; HH 550; AE 556:8). To the extent that we are attempting to become better people, the Lord is nearer, giving us more and more protection against the hells. For ‘love to the Lord and charity to the neighbor has this effect, because they who are in this love are more closely conjoined with the Lord, and are in the Lord, because they are in the Divine which proceeds from Him; hence nothing of evil can reach them’ (AC 6370). Nothing of evil can reach them – the good protects them.

This is why the Lord said we are to turn the other cheek, for protection is ours if we do not respond with anger or hatred. It is only when we leave the Lord’s protective arms by being selfish and concentrating too much on worldly things that we open ourselves up to evil.

What this means is that we have nothing to fear! As we strive to do what is right, there is nothing at all that can harm us! Nothing in this world or the next can take away what is truly important or vital to our life or the life of loved ones. As the Lord is with us, we are immune to evil.

But does this mean that life will be easy? Of course not. Consider the Lord. Certainly the Divine was always with Him, but He suffered more than anyone else and eventually was crucified. Was this a tragedy? No. In spite of what happened to Him, He was protected from all harm. His life was victory, not defeat.

Think also of Joseph. The Lord was with Him. Yet he was hated by his brothers, sold into slavery, and unjustly cast into prison. He could have felt alone and given up. But by his following the Lord in the face of misery, the Lord was able to save the Hebrew people and lay the groundwork for the establishment of the Israelitish Church in the land of Canaan. The Lord’s presence and protection was then seen in hindsight, for it was always there.

And in our own spiritual growth, although the Lord is always with us, His presence will not prevent attacks from hell (AC 5036:2, 8227). In fact, the anger of the hells will be unleashed because they sense that the Divine is with us. They will inspire doubts. They will lead us to think we love evil. They will create natural and spiritual difficulties that may appear overwhelming.

Will the Lord’s presence and protection prevent this? No, but it will lead us through the problems that we may not be defeated. As the Psalmist said, “the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and He delights in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down, for the Lord upholds him with His hand” (37:23, 24).

We can pray to have our eyes opened to all that the Lord’s presence is doing for us, even as the servant’s eyes were opened to see the horses and chariots of fire protecting Elisha, so that we feel “those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Although we may experience problems, the Lord is ever caring for us and guiding our footsteps. If we fall, we will not be utterly cast down. For nothing can harm those who trust in the Lord.

So let us be strong and of good courage. Let us not be aftaid nor dismayed. For the Lord our God is with us wherever we go. Amen.

Lessons: Joshua 1: 1- 19; H Kings 6:8-23; AC 5992

Arcana Coelestia 5992

The angels, through whom the Lord leads and also protects a man, are near his head. It is their office to inspire charity and faith, and to observe in what direction the man’s delights turn, and insofar as they can without interfering with the man’s freedom, moderate them and bend them to good. They are forbidden to act with violence and thus break the man’s cupidities and principles, but are, enjoined to act gently. It is also their office to rule the evil spirits who are from hell, which is done in innumerable ways, of which the following only may be mentioned. When the evil spirits pour in evils and falsities, the angels insinuate truths and goods, which, if not received, are nevertheless the means of tempering. Infernal spirits continually attack and the angels protect; such is the order.

The angels especially regulate the affections, for these make the man’s life and also his freedom. The angels also observe whether any hells are open that were not open before, and from which there is influx with the man, which takes place when the man brings himself into any new evil. These hells the angels close so far as the man allows, and remove any spirits who attempt to emerge therefrom. They also disperse strange and new influxes that produce evil effects.

Especially do the angels call forth the goods and truths that are with a man, and set them in opposition to the evils gnd falsities which the evil spirits excite. Thus the man is in the midst. and does not perceive either thc evil or the good, and being in the midst, he is in freedom to turn himself either to the one or to the other. By such means do angels from the Lord lead and protect a man, and this every moment, and every moment of a moment; for if the angels were to intermit their care for a single moment, the man would be precipitated into evil from which he could never afterward be brought out. These things the angels do from the love they have from the Lord, for they perceive nothing more delightful and happy than to remove evils from a man and lead him to heaven. That this is a joy to them, see Luke 15:7. Scarcely any man believes that the Lord takes such care of a man, and this continually from the first thread of his life to the last of it, and afterward to eternity.

EFFECTIVE HOPE AND EVERLASTING TRUST

EFFECTIVE HOPE AND EVERLASTING TRUST
A Sermon by Rev. J. Clark Echols, Jr.
Preached in Denver, Colorado, on June 26, 1983

“Wait silently for God alone, for hope is from Him … Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your heart before Him…” (Psalm 62:5, 8).

For what should we hope? In what should we trust? Obviously we should hope for salvation, and trust in God. And notice that we all have this hope now, and that leads us to trust in the Lord, even though hope applies to future things – what we would like later – and trust applies to the present – we want to trust the Lord now. We know this is true because as the Lord fulfills our hopes, we gain trust in Him.

Hope is commonly defined as a desire that we expect to be fulfilled. And trust is commonly said to be a confidence in someone or something. If this is so, why are so many hopeful people disappointed and hurt? And where is the evidence that our faith brings protection if we trust in it? And a final question: The Psalmist says that the Lord is “good to all and His tender mercies are over all His works” (145:9). What kind of mercy is it to let people’s dreams be destroyed by, say, a violent storm? What kind of mercy allows faithful, trusting people to suffer, not to mention allowing the innocent to starve, the young to die needlessly, the old to languish. There are answers to these questions in the Word, where we find that the hopes that are dashed and the trust that fails are not the hope and trust that are God-given. That is what the Word shows us: that genuine hope and trust are given to us by the Lord, not made up or manufactured by us.

What we are to do is to live according to the dictates of the Word at the same time as we are in the hope and trust that the Lord will save us. We are supposed to acknowledge that we do nothing good of ourselves at the same time as we feel assured by the hope that the Lord will grant us an understanding of truth from which we can live a good life. We are supposed to acknowledge that we bear the responsibility of the choice between good and evil at the same time as we trust that the Lord will lead us to do only that which is good and believe only that which is true.

Genuine hope is not simply the desire to have our expectations fulfilled. It is not a vague wish that things will go as we would like them to. That wish could be based on an evil desire; or we could be ignorant of what is best for us; it could go against what the Lord would have us hope for. When this kind of hopefulness is denied, it quickly fades, and we simply replace it with a new wish. It is a weak and temporary kind of hope. Genuine hope looks to what is eternal, so it never fades. It is given to us by the Lord, so it is most powerful. At the foundation of genuine hope for salvation is the promise the Lord has made that He will come to us and that He is in the constant endeavor to save us. That is His work. And we feel His work in us as a perception and assurance that the Lord helps us in our times of deepest despair – during combats of temptation.

We are not always conscious of it, but the Lord is very near us in states of spiritual struggle. If we continue to hope and trust in Him, and turn to Him, He can temper our despair with the hope of deliverance. Without Him there is no deliverer, no hope. He gives us hope in the realization that the purpose of temptation is that we will be saved and will receive heavenly happiness. Therefore, the hope we feel is His power working within us. Genuine hope is the Lord’s answer as He flows into us with the power of His glorified Divine Human. In so casting evil out of our minds, the Lord fulfills our hopes and earns our trust.

The danger in temptation, of course, is that we will lose hope and fail to trust. We do not readily feel the Lord’s help. In fact, we are most aware of the spiritual pain brought about by the hard choice before us. This mental, spiritual pain rules our thought, and anguish is our primary feeling. Yet in all this the Lord still maintains our ability to choose – that is His constant gift. It is His continual presence, in whatever state we are, that makes our freedom possible. We must make the choice – He cannot do that for us. Yet He does give us something of a perception of His presence. This perception is the hope He gives us, the hope He establishes. And it brings us consolation that our salvation is being wrought in us.

Now, the Lord wants to give us His hope, and He wants us to learn to trust Him. His Divine mercy will grant them to us when we have in us the vessels to receive them. These vessels are His truths, confirmed in our daily life. And so it is in His Word that we find the fulfillment of our hopes and the foundation for our trust. This hope continues with us to the farthest limits of despair; it is a hope that is not merely a desire for something we want; rather, it looks to our salvation and eternal welfare. In this hope we have a firm answer to doubt, despair, fear and death, for it is not limited by what we have or what we don’t have, or by the grave, but looks beyond it. It is not man- made, but applied to us by the Divine mercy of the Lord Himself.

Such genuine hope establishes real trust. Our hope for salvation, our hope for our future, establishes a trust in the Lord – that He is helping right now on our journey to heaven.

Consider for a moment trusting in the Lord to lead us to everlasting peace, joy and fulfillment. That has to be the greatest trust we can have. It is not simply confidence that our desires will be granted. It isn’t simply faith. if we believe that our faith alone saves us, our trust will be limited, and often too weak to stand up in times of natural or spiritual trial. When faith is not used in life, it is not saving; when it is, it becomes charity, which does save. We all must beware of the false sense of security merely having the faith can give us. If our trust in the Lord consisted merely in having faith in our memory, then all we would have to do is await salvation from the Lord, with our hands hanging down. This inaction does not reflect trust. In fact, such apathetic irresponsibility is what has led to the starvation, death and injustice that happens to the innocent and faithful that we wrongly ascribe to the Lord’s inaction.

Genuine trust in the Lord leads us to act from our faith. We trust that the Lord will guide our steps as we strive consciously to follow His path to heaven. Real trust is a faith that originates from charity in our will, from the sincere desire to do what is good. When we live according to the truths the Lord has shown us, then we are really placing our trust in Him. The ultimate of trust is to stake our eternal happiness on the truthfulness of what He says.

As we hope in the Lord, we uphold our responsibility to flee from evils and do goods, and we are given a lasting trust. This trust stays with us even in the midst of temptation. Like genuine hope, real trust is a force from within whereby we are able to resist evil. And notice the cycle here: as we become aware in ourselves of a willingness to submit ourselves to the Lord, even in temptation, He brings us victory and a perception of the security we have in Him. As we apply this perception of truth to our lives, He then inflows into our will with even more power, increasing our trust in Him. Therefore, every time we actually, with conviction, submit ourselves to our trust in the Lord, He comes with more and more power to cast evil out of our minds, to enlighten us, and to fill us with joy.

This trust endures throughout all the trials and tribulations of life on earth. We are taught that “for those who trust in the Divine, all things advance toward a happy state to eternity, and whatever befalls them in time is still conducive” to that eternal state (AC 8478). Such people do not blame the Lord for their temporal woes. They have the greatest confidence that the Lord will, if they let Him, use everything that happens to further their reformation and regeneration. These have genuine trust in the Lord.

Hope and trust in the Lord are not so hard to attain in this life. Actually, mere obedience to the Lord’s laws, the ten commandments, requires trust in the Lord, and implies our hope for salvation through obedience. Beyond this obedience it is our responsibility to come to see that we have hope and trust solely because the Lord’s Divine mercy affects them in us, and because they are the Lord’s to give us (see AC 30). The Divine mercy is applied freely to all, and is always effective for those who abstain from evil. The Lord’s mercy is of His Divine love which is constantly striving to lift us up if we allow Him to. Thus, the Lord grants His mercy not according to the doctrine we know, but according to the doctrine we live, that is, the charity we are practicing.

The Word teaches, then, that all real hope and trust are from the Lord, and are given to us from within. If our hope is in our salvation, then whatever we hope for will be granted. If we have trust in the truth we see working in our lives, we will always feel secure. The Lord has made this promise, and desires to give us these gifts. As we respond to His promise with a life of fleeing from evils and doing goods, out of the pure mercy of His Divine love the Lord will grant us eternal happiness. So hope and trust are gifts greatly to be desired.

As it is written in the 27th Psalm: “Though an army should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident. One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple” (v. 3, 4). Amen.

Lessons: Psalm 62, AC 8478

Arcana Coelestia 8478

[2] As in this verse [Exodus 16:191 and the following verses in the internal sense care for the morrow is treated of, and as this care is not only forbidden but is also condemned (that it is forbidden is signified by that they were not to make a residue of the manna till the morning, and that it is condemned is signified by that the worm was bred in the residue, and it stank), he who looks at the subject no more deeply than from the sense of the letter may believe that all care for the morrow is to be cast aside, and thus that the necessaries of life are to be awaited daily from heaven; but he who looks at the subject more deeply than from the letter, as for instance he who looks at it from the internal sense, is able to know what is meant by “care for the morrow.” It does not mean the care of procuring for one’s self food and raiment, and even resources for the time to come; for it is not contrary to order for anyone to be provident for himself and his own. But those have care for the morrow who are not content with their lot; who do not trust in the Divine but in themselves; and who have regard for only worldly and earthly things, and not for heavenly things. With such there universally reigns solicitude about things to come, and a desire to possess all things and to dominate over all, which is kindled and grows according to the additions thus made, and finally does so beyond all measure. They grieve if they do not obtain the objects of their desire, and feel anguish at the loss of them; and they have no consolation because of the anger they feel against the Divine, which they reject together with everything of faith, and curse themselves. Such are they who have care for the morrow.

[3] Very different is the case with those who trust in the Divine. These, notwithstanding they have care for the morrow, still have it not, because they do not think of the morrow with solicitude, still less with anxiety. Unruffled is their spirit whether they obtain the objects of their desire or not; and they do not grieve over the loss of them, being content with their lot. If they become rich, they do not set their hearts on riches; if they are raised to honors, they do not regard themselves as more worthy than others; if they become poor, they are not made sad; if their circumstances are mean, they are not dejected. They know that for those who trust in the Divine all things advance toward a happy state to eternity, and that whatever befalls them in time is still conducive thereto.

[41 Be it known that the Divine Providence is universal, that is, in things the most minute, and that they who are in the stream of Providence are all the time carried along toward everything that is happy, whatever may be the appearance of the means; and that those are in the stream of Providence who put their trust in the Divine and attribute all things to Him; and that those are not in the stream of Providence who trust in themselves alone and attribute all things to themselves, because they are in the opposite, for they take away providence from the Divine and claim it for themselves. Be it known also that insofar as anyone is in the stream of Providence, so far he is in a state of peace; also that insofar as anyone is in a state of peace from the good of faith, so far he is in the Divine Providence. These alone know and believe that the Divine Providence of the Lord is in everything both in general and in particular, nay, is in the most minute things of all, and that the Divine Providence regards what is eternal (n. 6491).

[5] But they who are in the opposite are scarcely willing to hear Providence mentioned, for they ascribe everything to their own sagacity; and what they do not ascribe to this they ascribe to fortune or chance: some to fate, which they do not educe from the Divine but from nature. They call those simple who do not attribute all things to themselves or to nature. From all this again it can be seen what is the quality of those who have care for the morrow, and what the quality of those who have no care for the morrow.