Bethel, the Presence of God, and Restoration

I’ve talked recently about how God has been speaking to my heart about Bethel and Restoration.  As only He can do, God has built on these concepts (line upon line and precept upon precept), taking them from being mere words in my vocabulary to life realities, so I wanted to talk a little bit more about them.

On Sunday at church, we were wrapping up a series on prayer, and my pastor began by saying (and I’m paraphrasing here) that successful prayer begins and ends with honestly seeking God.  Not seeking God for what I can get from Him, but seeking God Himself.  On Monday, I was going through my email, and I stumbled on an email from Enliven entitled Unstoppable Momentum and the Glory of God.  Although I’m subscribed to the blog, I don’t always read these emails, but this one caught my attention.  In it, Helen Calder talks about encountering God’s presence, not just manifestations of God’s presence (and I confess, guys, I hadn’t really thought about the distinction before reading that); in short, encountering God Himself.  And I thought, God must be trying to tell me something.  As I prayed about it, I really felt God calling me to know Him more; not so much on an intellectual level, but with my whole heart (Jeremiah 29:13).  Later, either on Monday or Tuesday, I was reading Tom Short’s post on fearing God (because I’m studying Proverbs this year and fearing God is a big topic in Proverbs), where he talks about fearing God being the key to intimacy with Him, to knowing God Himself.

I began to suspect that this idea of seeking and encountering and knowing God Himself was somehow tied to what God has been teaching me about Bethel and Restoration, so I started praying about that, too, and revisited Jacob’s story at Bethel in Genesis 28.

When he [Jacob] reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set.  Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep.  He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.  There above it stood the LORD.

Now, in the notes for the phrase there above it, my Bible says that some translations say, “There beside him.” I’m not a scholar of the Hebrew language, and I haven’t investigated enough to say which phrase is the most accurate, but I can’t help but think how profound it would have been if when God promised to be with Jacob, He was actually right there beside him.

Then I was thinking more about Bethel, and how it means house of God; essentially, God’s dwelling place.  It signals God’s presence.  And whenever I think of God’s presence, I think of Emmanuel, God with Us: God’s fellowship with Adam and Eve before sin (Genesis 2); Jesus taking on human form and dwelling among us (John 1:14); God declaring that His dwelling place was with the people (Revelation 21:3).

In my personal devotions, I’ve been reading through 2 Samuel.  I’ll be honest, I haven’t really been connecting with it. (I rarely connect with the Bible’s history books, which is why I’ve challenged myself to finish reading them this year).  I was in the middle of the story of David and Absalom, where David’s heart longs for the banished Absalom, so Joab sends this woman to talk to David, almost through a parable.  Anyway, this woman says to David, “Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But that is not what God desires; rather, He devises ways so that a banished person does not remain banished from Him” (2 Samuel 14:14 NIV).

And you guys, that’s when it hit me full in the face: God wants to be with us.

I’m a writer, so I ponder things like character and plot development in my own writing and when I’m reading or watching or hearing a story.  I even think in terms of character and story when it comes to various life circumstances.

One of the things you’ll often hear storytellers talk about is a character’s motivation, or goals; in short, what the character wants. When I start planning a story,  I set up my characters by saying, “More than anything, so-and-so wants…” There are many different characters and they all have various goals, but the over-arching goals that come out in the plot are those of the protagonist and antagonist.  The protagonist is driven by achieving some goal and everything he or she does is related to that; the antagonist has an oppositional goal and therefore creates obstacles for the protagonist. Therein lies the story.

Often in the human story, we cast God as the Author and ourselves as the protagonists and anyone who opposes us (and therefore God, as we often think in moments of pride) as the antagonist.  I don’t think that’s entirely inaccurate, but I’ve been considering something a little bit different this week: that this human story is actually God’s story, and He is the protagonist in it.  If I was setting up God as a character in His own story,  I would say,  “More than anything, God wants to be with people.”

Think about it (and start in Genesis if you don’t believe me): everything God has done throughout history is to draw people to Himself.  He wants to be sought, encountered, and known by us, and He is all about making a way for that to happen!

“God, in His dealings with us, always keeps us up to the original terms.” ~ The Miscellaneous Writings of C. H. M., Vol. VI, ‘Arise, Go Up to Bethel’

I think of how He created the perfect spiritual, physical, and emotional environment for us – in close relationship with Him, and how ever since we messed that up,  He’s been trying to get us back to that.

I think of Jacob’s dream, that stairway from earth to heaven, when God met with Jacob, and then never left.

I think of Jesus, fully God, and taking on our humanity.  Becoming one of us to mediate the difference our sin had created between God and us, as the Only One who could.

I think of Peter, who betrayed Jesus, and wept.  Maybe he thought God was through with him.  Jesus left him with the same call he started with, “Follow Me.”

I think of my own story, being a “late bloomer” for having grown up in a Christian home.  I think of my journey from knowing the gospel to understanding God’s love for me and my need for Jesus.  I think of the decision I made four years ago to lay down my own plans and to pursue God’s will for my life, how easily distracted I’ve been from that every time my will rears its ugly head, how many detours I’ve consequently taken, and how every time, God calls me back.

And what does He call me back to?

Is it to Seattle, and the missional vision and passion He’s planted in me? Maybe a little.  Is it to writing? Maybe a little. Is it to children’s ministry? Maybe a little.  Is it to being a team-builder? Maybe a little.  An intercessor? Maybe a little.

But more than anything, God calls me back to Himself.  To seek Him, to encounter Him, to know Him.

And you know something? I think that’s one thing that holds true for all of us.

“‘You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 29:13-14a, emphasis mine).

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One thought on “Bethel, the Presence of God, and Restoration

  1. Pingback: ‘Bad Blood’ and A Heart for Restoration | Lydia Thomas, Author

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