You are here in the hurricane, You carry me through the driving rainAll I need to know is You are with me.
You are here in the desert sun, And in Your shadows where I belong
All I need to know, is You are with me.
We will never walk alone, Emmanuel, You abide with us, Emmanuel
You were there when the battle raged, Now these scars are a song of praise
All I've ever known is You beside me
You were there in the lions' den, You keep me safe til I'm home again
All I've ever known is You beside me
We believe that our God will keep us, Til the very end
You are here, You are here, Emmanuel, You are here, in the fire, Emmanuel
(Emmanuel by Martin Smith, from the album God’s Great Dance Floor)
Today in a church, one of many I have attended in my life, I sang this song. As I did, I pondered the significance in God being there, and His tangible presence being with me, in that particular local church.
His Spirit was definitely there today, in spite of the fact that there has been quite a mixture coming from the pulpit of this church in the past year- everything from bizarre manifest destiny revisionist history lessons by a nationally discredited guest speaker, to amazing sermons on prayer and the Holy Spirit from the senior pastor that contributed to my spiritual growth, to patriarchal marriage teaching on Valentine’s Day from a church elder that insensitively ignored the existence of singles, possibility of spousal abuse or the daily realities of single parents in the congregation.
You are here, you are here, Emmanuel.
I reflected again. It is really no less amazing that God showed up in an imperfect church where there is a mixture of good and bad, truth and lies today with His Holy Spirit than it is that He has done it many other times for me throughout my life, and throughout history for all His people.
He was there with me when, at the age of 20, I reluctantly left my non-demoninational church of choice to attend a traditional Baptist church. My mother had remarried a narcissist posing as a Baptist preacher and I was told that I needed to attend church with them in order to be right with God. I did, but continued to raise my hands and use sign language while singing traditional hymns, much to the alarm of the elders. Eventually I found I could close my eyes, shut them out, and still have my worship time with Jesus in that church too.
You are here in the fire, Emmanuel.
He was there with me when a few years later I was worshipping Him in the weekly services of a cult that I unwittingly joined. His presence remained with me there in a setting where I was almost completely controlled and deceived by a number of dangerous false teachings; where for almost two years I was told I had a spirit of Jezebel and was unable to hear from God or even pray apart from the direction and covering of male leadership, and where all of the congregation was taught that to go to a doctor for medical help for even a life threatening condition was lack of faith that would open us up to demons.
You kept me safe in the lion’s den.
He was there with me a couple of years later when I was praising Him weekly in one of the biggest Cantonese Christian churches in Hong Kong. I was surrounded by strangers who didn’t speak English, didn’t know me, and didn’t know that I was trapped in an abusive marriage and singing and weeping my heart out every week not out of joy, or from a burden for the lost, but out of desperation to enter God’s presence for a few minutes to get what I needed to survive one more week of hell on earth.
You kept me safe til I’m home again.
He was there with me in the church in Nepal, a foreigner singing in an unfamiliar language, struggling to understand the words of the sermon, swathed in local clothing and sitting at the back of the church on the floor nursing my baby under my scarf. He whispered to me there in the wind that came in the back door and reminded me that He spoke my language and fully understood what I could not clearly express to those around me.
All I’ve ever known is You beside me.
He was there with me in the California mega-church where I attended while I was fighting to hold my marriage together though my heart was broken in a million pieces by unfaithfulness, lies and betrayal. I offered up my praise and worship in tightly scheduled services and His Spirit slipped through the spaces in the script to comfort my heart. I heard God speak to me directly on grace and deliver me from a lifetime of legalism through a pastor who didn’t even know my name.
Now these scars are a song of praise.
He was there with me in the small Texas church where after my divorce I finally found the joy and freedom to dance in praise again. I encountered God and His anointing and provision multiple times in multiple ways in the seven years we attended and thought I had found my permanent safe place, totally unaware of the lack of ethics in the leadership. I would eventually be attacked and turned against and leave so disillusioned and deeply wounded that my children and I are still recovering several years later.
We will never walk alone, Emmanuel.
He was there with me where we visited more than one church, for seasons of each, looking for a good fit. No matter where we were, God’s presence found a way through whatever style of worship was there, and whatever type of message was preached. In each place God and His Spirit would always find its way through the imperfect form to our hearts with conviction, instruction and encouragement.
You are here with us, Emmanuel.
My mind traveled back over all these seasons today, and I again marveled at how God is not limited by the century, the environment, the culture, the script, man’s agendas, less than pure motives in leadership, church trends, size, politics, legalism or even false doctrine. He can and He will break through all of it to the hungry heart seeking Him and reach and them with His anointing, His Word and His truth.
I am not alone in my experiences. There are centuries of church history full of such stories. But He is faithful even when we get it wrong, or when the church we are worshipping in gets it wrong.
If it were not so, He would not be anywhere.
But He is here,
He is here,