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.