Visiting Liberty University

Visiting Liberty University

Friday, May 15, 2015

The "With" Factor

This blog has been silent for far too long. This has been bothering me for a couple of months. We started out intending to post weekly, but evidently that hasn't happened. I tend to get irritated with myself when the plan or vision I embarked with "fails." This has happened entirely too many times in my life, in my opinion.

But the primary reason I've "failed" to communicate on this blog has been because I was spending a lot of time with people, in person, at college. And that has not been a failure.

The cello family--or most of them, anyway--after an end-of-the-year game of Sardines.

My Dad used to always tell me, "People are more important." This was his oft-repeated reminder to me in the time-crunch and stress of dance productions, when I turned into a big hairy control freak and started putting details and logistics above loving people. 

I didn't really understand how important -- and practical -- that mantra was, though, until I went to Liberty. Suddenly I found that it was infinitely more important to spend my time pouring into people and listening to them than it was to worry about schoolwork. There have been SO many times this last year when Rachael and I watched hours of planned homework time drift out the window while a friend or hall-mate opened up about something close to their heart.

Us with our sweet roommate, Shirley.

And every single time, it was worth it. I don't regret how I spent my time on any of those evenings. And amazingly enough, it never really cost me in the way of grades. Strange things would always happen; my Business Law chapter would be the half the length it usually was, or my Theology teacher would unexpectedly give us a free quiz grade just for showing up to class (and sometimes let us get Starbucks and have class outside; that's always a possibility, too).

As my SLC (Spiritual Life Coach) would say, "What are the two most important things? God and people." My Dad has emphasized that for years: The two greatest commandments are to love God and love people. We have a bit of family terminology called the "With" factor. It refers to spending quality time with people. Sometimes the most valuable thing you can give to someone is your time, regardless of what the activity is.

Our SLCs, prayer leaders, and some friends from our hall who came to our last orchestra concert of the year.

Loving people, utilizing the "With" factor, has been my focus this year, more so I think than any other in my life so far. I'm so grateful to God for the changes He has worked in my heart to bring me to this place, and for the ability He has given me to love others with His love. I also recognize that I need to apply this same principle of love and quality time to my family, not just my friends.

But that's the second greatest commandment. 

The first greatest commandment is, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength."

This semester, that mandate has largely fallen by the wayside in my life, and I've felt the difference. Whereas last semester I experienced God's presence and love in amazing, vibrant ways almost daily, I have drifted through the spring in a largely complacent, apathetic doze when it comes to spiritual things. 

And that needs to change.

I started reading through the Old Testament a few weeks ago, when I was still at school. I've tried to do this 2-3 times before, and I don't think I've ever made it through the Pentateuch in chronological order. Certainly not past Judges or the Samuels. Hopefully this time I'll make it through to Malachi by interspersing some NT readings along the way. But anyway, that's not the point.

As I've re-read the familiar passages of Genesis, I've tried to focus on what they reveal about God's character. Today I read Genesis 25-26, which chronicles the death of Abraham and the birth and early lives of Jacob and Esau. What God pointed out to me, though, were a couple of phrases He spoke to Isaac in the middle of all of that. Twice in chapter 26, God speaks to Isaac and confirms that the covenant He made with Abraham is valid for Isaac as well. 

"Stay in this land for a while," God instructs Isaac in Gen. 26:3, "and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham."

Later in that chapter, Isaac has been driven away from the land of the Philistines by Abimelech's herdsmen because they are jealous/afraid of Isaac's power and wealth. After digging several wells, most of which are stolen by Abimelech's herdsmen, Isaac reaches Beersheba. "That night the Lord appeared to him and said, 'I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham.' " 

What stood out to me was that in both instances, God says, "I will be with you," or, "I am with you," BEFORE He says, "I will bless you." God's presence -- the "With" factor -- is of primary importance. You've probably heard the saying, "Seek the Giver, not the gift."

God was WITH Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and when they sinned, they hid from Him and were eventually driven from the garden. Enoch "walked WITH God" before God took him away. King David cried, "Do not cast me out of Your presence, or take Your Holy Spirit from me." Isaiah prophesied the coming of "Emmanuel, which means God WITH us."

The significance of the tabernacle and the calling of the nation of Israel was that God literally lived among His people again. His presence came down on the Tent of Meeting in a cloud of glory. Whenever the cloud lifted, the people packed up and followed it. Wherever God's presence, as signified by the pillar of cloud or fire, stopped, the people stopped and set up camp.

As a child of the Internet, I sort of pictured God's presence as a Wi-Fi hot spot. His people desired to have access to Him and communication with Him, so they moved wherever His presence was, just like we seek out coffee shops and other areas that give our laptops, tablets, and phones free access to the Internet.

Speaking of which, having a smart phone makes it much harder for me to be still and quiet before the Lord. I roll out of bed in the morning to turn off the alarm (on my phone) and the next thing I do is check for new text messages, emails, and Facebook updates, when I really should be sitting wtih God and letting Him prepare my heart for the day ahead.

This is what convicted me in my devotions today. In Genesis 26:23-24, Isaac travels to Beersheba and God appears to him. Then, in verse 25, "Isaac built an altar there and called on the name of the Lord. There he pitched his tent, and there his servants dug a well."

God spoke to Isaac. In person.

In the Old Testament, this didn't happen every day. The patriarchs did not have the Holy Spirit living inside them like we do today, as believers in Jesus Christ. This was a big deal.

Isaac has encountered God's presence, and like his descendants will do in the desert of Sinai four or five centuries later, he stops and sets up camp. He does not hurry to move on. He memorializes the place with an altar, seeks God's presence again by "calling on the name of the Lord," pitches his tent, and digs a well.

Do we do this today? Do I do this? Do we stop and soak up and sit in God's presence? Do we actively seek it out? Or do we run around all day with our own agenda and tune Him out? I know that's how I live my life, day to day. Most days, I'll pray, but it's a one-way deal.

I don't take the time to stop.

And listen.

And be still.

And just SIT in God's presence.

God desires time WITH me just like I desire time WITH my friends. In fact, He desires it SO much more than I do. And those times spent with Him are always so sweet and refreshing. But it's easy to forget, to get caught up in the rush and bustle and the noise and chaos of our crazy, crazy lives. Not to mention our electronics!

This summer, I want to seek God's presence like Isaac, then stop and "pitch my tent" and just soak Him in. I pray you will, too.

God bless.



  1. I read your blog Natalie! and I enjoyed it :)

    1. Randy! Hey! Glad you enjoyed it. Hope your summer is getting off to a good start!