“Then His people remembered the days of old, of Moses. Where is He who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of His flock? Where is He who put His Holy Spirit in the midst of them, who caused His glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses, who divided the waters before them to make for Himself an everlasting name?” (Isaiah 63:11-12)Our journey away from God does not happen overnight, it is a long path composed of many individual decisions that lead us away from the presence of God. Sometimes the incremental loss is so unperceivable that it is only after time, when we look back over our lives, that we realize how far we have drifted. This is the story of Israel. Life went on year after year and one day they woke up to realize that God was no longer with. It is important to realize that what Isaiah laments the most is not the loss of the miraculous working of God, although that was most certainly missed, but the loss of the presence of God. God had placed His Holy Spirit in their midst, but that was then and this is now. They still were in the Promised Land, they still had the law and the priests, the temple had not yet been destroyed, but they did not have the presence of God.
Moses understood the importance of the presence of God to the nation of Israel. “And He said, ‘My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.’ Then he said to Him, ‘If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here. For how then can it be known that I have found favor in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not by Your going with us, so that we, I and Your people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?’” (Exodus 33:14-16) What distinguishes believers from the rest of the world? It’s not the blessings and the gifts but it’s the presence of the Lord. When people come into our churches, it’s not enough for them to feel blessed and experience the moving of the gifts of the Spirit, as important as they are, but above all they need to experience the presence of God.
How does one find his way back to God after he has drifted so far? The church of Ephesus found its self in just such a place. God awakened them to their condition with these words, “I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name's sake, and have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” (Revelation 2:2-4) The church at Ephesus was doing many things right. They had deeds, toil, and perseverance, but they had lost hold of what was of chief importance, their love for God. How were they to return to their first love with the Father? “Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first.” (Revelation 2:5) God counsels them to do three things: remember what they had lost, repent for their own waywardness, and return to their first deeds. Do you remember your early days with the lord, when His presence was so near to you and you enjoyed your intimate times with Him? Have you since drifted away from that place with Him? If so, repent and do the deeds you first did when you first came to know Him. If you do this then, in short order, you will again find the blessings of His presence and the sweetness of His intimate fellowship.