In his most recent book, What Good is God, Phillip Yancey makes a remarkable observation about God’s work in the world. He says, “I am struck by the phenomenon of God ‘moving’– not in some mystical sense but geographically moving from one part of the world to another.” He goes on to note that the Apostle Paul addressed his epistles to churches that were in the Middle East; yet today, to find them one would need an archaeologist as a guide. The Christian faith spread westward across Europe into Britain and Ireland, reigning there for over 1000 years. But today, though much of the architecture still stands, less than 3 percent of the population goes to church. In time, the Christian faith spread to the Americas where a lively, yet dimming, presence remains. In recent years the greatest advance has been in Africa and parts of Asia. So much so that now less than a third of Christians come from Europe and North America. However, today the explosive growth of Christianity is in China! There are some 20,000 conversions a day happening behind the bamboo curtain.
Yancey asks the rhetorical questions, “Why are there so many formerly Christian countries? Why does it appear that Christianity has hop scotched around the globe”? His answer is amazing. He says, “I’ve concluded that God goes where he’s wanted. And when a society feels less need for faith, God quietly moves on, to a place that senses more need.”
Not only do I believe that Yancey is right, I believe the Biblical record supports that assertion. The Bible repeatedly reveals a God that always makes Himself available without ever pushing His way into our lives. He patiently waits to be invited. Why? He wants to be wanted! Mark 6 tells the story of the disciples at sea in the midst of a storm, “and Jesus saw them toiling in rowing; for the wind was contrary unto them: and about the fourth watch of the night he cometh unto them, walking upon the sea, and would have passed by” but they cried out to Him in their distress and He came to their rescue. Luke 24 recounts the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus and says that when “they drew nigh unto the village, whither they went: he made as though he would have gone further, but they constrained him, saying, Abide with us . . . and he went in to tarry with them.” One of the final pictures we see of Jesus is Him standing at a door knocking, saying, “if any man hears my voice, and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.”
Conversely it is true that when God is no longer needed or wanted He moves on. The Old Testament narratives of the nation of Israel make this very clear. Israel had suffered in Egypt under the yoke of slavery for almost 400 years. Their life was so bitter that they, “sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage”. God miraculously delivered them from Pharaoh’s hand and started them on an amazing journey through the desert to a land of “milk and honey.” During the years of wilderness wandering they were forced to depend on God. He fed them, clothed them and planned their daily itinerary. He hovered over them in a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. They went on to conquer the land and build lasting cities. They grew strong, prosperous and plump—and promptly forgot all about God! And the short step from not needing Him to not wanting Him was finally taken. So an unwanted God withdraws. In His absence Israel is overrun by her enemies, disgraced by foreign gods, taken into captivity and finally scattered to the ends of the earth. This is the story of individuals and nations that no longer want God.
The good news is that God is willing to come back! I Samuel chapter 7 tells the story of a defeated Israel languishing under the heavy hand of the Philistines and suffering the indignities of their heathen worship. Verse two describes the mood of the nation, “. . . the time was long, for it was twenty years; and all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord.” During these bitter years there began to develop a better mind in the children of Israel. Their conscience began to stir; their soul began to be weary; and there arose a long and sorrowful cry after the Lord. They wanted God once again! And the God who wants to be wanted responded to their cry with revival and renewal!
If we are enjoying His presence in our lives it’s because we want Him in our lives. If He seems far away then remember the words of Jeremiah, “. . . You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD”. God goes where He is wanted!