We bend down on our knees, we reach our hands out, we smile broadly, and use our best toddler-encouraging voice, “Come on darlin’ you can do it. Just take a step and I’ll catch you!” Few of us would have ever learned to walk without such encouragement.

We stand in shoulder deep water, reach our arms up, and promise, “I’ll catch you after you hit the water. It will be fun, and you will want to do it again, I promise!” Not many of us would have ever jumped off the side of the pool into the water without strong arms to catch us and an encouraging voice to urge us to jump.

We bend over and grab one handlebar and the back of the seat and run as fast as we can urging our child or grandchild, “Peddle… peddle… you’re doing great… keep it straight… you are balancing on your own… yes, you are doing it…” Even with a few crashes, skinned knees, and wobbly expeditions, these words of assurance helped most of us ride our first bicycle.

If we are honest, we all need the assurance that we are not alone to live our Christian lives. So we shouldn’t be surprised when Paul gives this kind of reassurance to the young Philippian disciples. Paul promises that the Lord is close to us with three key statements in his closing encouragement for the Christians at Philippi [NOTE] (Philippians 4:4-9):

  1. The Lord is near.
  2. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
  3. And the God of peace will be with you.

Can I really trust what I am reading is a promise for me?

So often, I fear preachers and writers are cherry-picking verses out of context and making promises to me that they can’t really justify and aren’t really true for me. Can I really walk by faith in these promises when I am facing trials? Diving into my life’s messes is often very hard and threatening when I’m already drowning in problems.

What assurance do I have that these promises of Paul are not specific just to the folks at Philippi whom Paul was writing? Is it really okay for me to believe that Paul’s promises are actually true for me and my complicated world and my self-inflicted messes? I can’t simply soft pedal my way through my problems. I am going to have some emotionally skinned knees as well as some serious emotional wipeout moments.

Doubts about God’s abiding presence are going to ebb and flow. Knowing with certainty that Paul’s promises to the Philippians are also promised to us is essential. When trials, persecutions, difficulties, and life crises come, we need to know with certainty that…

  1. The Lord is near.
  2. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
  3. And the God of peace will be with you.

We need to know that these were not just promises made by Paul to the Philippians. We need to know with certainty that Jesus meant these promises for us, too!

To help us confidently trust that these promises are true, I want to take us back to the night Jesus was betrayed. Many emotional, traumatic, and history-changing events occurred that night. Some were precious moments of grace. Others were horrible and bewildering. Jesus had shared the Passover meal, instituted the Lord’s Supper, washed his disciples’ feet, warned his followers that they would forsake him and some even deny and betray him. His closest friends couldn’t stay awake and pray for him in his agony as he submitted his will to the Father. While Jesus’ closest friends and followers proved themselves immature and weak, Jesus repeatedly ministered to them. He prepared them for his absence. He served them at the table. He washed their feet. He taught them about loving each other, abiding in his word, and the Comforter that he would send to them — the Holy Spirit who would guide them into all truth.

During these precious moments of grace with their Savior, Jesus made a promise to them that many of us have heard read at funerals:

[Jesus said,] “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:1-3).

Most followers of Jesus love this promise. It helps both our loved ones and us hold onto faith during those last trying moments of life before our bodies quit on us. For some, this promise motivates them to remain faithful because of the promised blessings ahead. Unfortunately, however, for many, Jesus’ promise sounds more like “pie in the sky for the sweet bye-and-bye” than comfort when they are drowning in problems, messes, pain, losses, abandonment, and the death of their dreams. For this last group — maybe even you at times — Jesus’ promise makes God’s presence feel distant, maybe even irrelevant, in the middle of life’s disasters.

Thankfully, Jesus’ promise to prepare a place for us and come back to take us to be with him where he lives is only half of Jesus’ promise in this setting. The Lord lets his friends and closest followers know that until we can come home to be with him, he will not abandon us but come to us. Jesus, the Holy Spirit (the Advocate/Comforter/Counselor/Helper), and the Father will come and make their home with us.

Because we have to wait to go home to God, the Father decided that he wouldn’t wait to make his home with us and in us. Jesus emphasized his presence with us as God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (see bold text for emphasis). Notice that he included us in what he said (see underlined words for emphasis):

[Jesus said,] “If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever — the Spirit of truth. … I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.

Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (John 14:15—23)

Jesus’ promise is clear. He won’t leave us or abandon us (Hebrews 13:5) as orphans. The Father will send the Holy Spirit as our helper, our advocate. Jesus and the Father will show themselves to us, they will come to us, and they will make their home with us! While what Paul promised the Philippians was great, what Jesus promises us is even more specific. And, Jesus promised it to us! Notice Jesus said these promises are for “anyone” who loves him and does what he says — in other words, his disciples in any age!

Over the years, whether in hospital rooms, jails, countries hostile to faith, or times of deep emotional struggle, I have prayed consistently with people for one thing: for God to show his presence to them in tangible ways. I pray for the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit to show their struggling believer their presence in undeniable ways. I believe and trust that the Lord is there with them, the Holy Spirit is present guiding them, and the Father is present loving them. They need to reach out and claim that promised presence especially when the circumstances seem to contradict the promises of Jesus and Paul.

We all will likely find ourselves in times when we feel abandoned. Our Lord Jesus did. On the cross, Jesus cried out the beginning words of Psalm 22:1. However, our feelings of abandonment do not mean we are abandoned. Jesus knew that the Father would not abandon him (John 8:29; John 16:32) or leave his dead body to rot in the grave (Acts 2:27-31). While Jesus felt abandoned during his crucifixion, he also trusted in God’s plan to deliver him and use his faithfulness to lead a people yet unborn to faith, just as Psalm 22 emphasizes:

You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help. … All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations. … Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it! (Psalms 22:23—31 NIV11)

Dear friend in Jesus, dear brother or dear sister in Christ, Paul’s three promises are true. They are intended for you and me just as much as they were intended for the Philippians. How do I know? Because Jesus made a very similar promise on the night he was betrayed. His honest emotions and his faithfulness under fire ensure that…

  1. The Lord is near.
  2. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
  3. And the God of peace will be with you.

 We may feel abandoned. We may not feel included in the promise. We may even wonder, as Jesus did, where the presence of the Lord is in our time of suffering, trial, abandonment, loss, discouragement, self-loathing, doubt, and brokenness. But if we hold onto faith that God is going to do something much greater than we can see at the moment, and if we will look for his presence, Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit as our comforter. Even further, he promised that he and the Father would show themselves to us and make their home with us. And, Jesus rooted this promise in the events that saved us in the first place.

No matter what life, what Satan, and what circumstance suggest, our assurance is that we will never be abandoned by our God (Romans 8:32-39)! So…

We can keep trying to walk in faith, even if we fall down and skin our knees, because the Holy Spirit will give us strength to keep getting up.

We can take that needed leap of faith into the unknown because we know our Father is waiting with open arms to welcome us.

We can get off the ground after a wipeout or two or three, and ride with Jesus into a glorious future.

Those who know your name trust in you,
For you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you
(Psalm 9:10).


NOTE This is the fourth of six thoughts on the promises that Paul makes to the Philippians as they face their challenges to rejoice in the face of difficult and trying times. Here is the list of encouraging posts on the LORD’s abiding presence with us. The series of messages is called, The Lord is Near!

  1. Longing
  2. Promises
  3. Doubts
  4. Assurance
  5. Acorns
  6. Shalom

    Return to Top