Remain: Dwelling with God

If I nodded toward a park bench, breathless from our long walk, and said, “let us tarry here a while,” what would you do?

a. Push onward
b. Pout, reluctantly handing me your terry-cloth towel
c. Pop-a-squat and sit a spell 

It’s my hope that you would have taken a break with me–because to tarry is to stay. Maybe longer than intended, thus delaying a departure or arrival. It often infers the idea of remaining in a place.

And, that’s exactly what we’ll be doing in this space for a few weeks. While we at once return to this idea of what it looks like to dwell, as it relates to our faith, we will also plow deeper furrows, planting ourselves firmly in God’s presence. 

Remain with God

Our previous series focused on one facet of what it means to dwell with God–to inhabit–and we looked at a physical way of dwelling–like in tents or with Jesus as He walked the earth. Now we’re ready to shift into the spiritual, which best translates the idea of dwelling as remaining. We’ll look at what that meant for the Israelites and compare it to how it plays out in our faith journey with Jesus. This week focuses more on what it means to remain in God’s presence while the rest of the series will look at how that works.

Remaining absolutely means dwell–as in, we intentionally step into the space where God exists, that holy place opened to us through Jesus’ death. This is relationship. It’s togetherness. It’s God’s desire and hope:

“My eyes will be on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me.”

Psalm 101:6a, NIV

But, remain can also imply staying for a long time, which is what Hannah promises as she brings her miracle baby, Samuel, to dwell with God in the temple (1 Samuel 1:22). She doesn’t mean for a week or even a summer. She’s talking about his entire life. Samuel remains with God in the physical and spiritual sense of the word.

When Jesus leaves His throne in heaven to dwell among us (John 1:14), it’s not a quick weekend away. Rather, He tarries here for a long while–because His remaining on earth has purpose. Everything on His holy to-do list comes from God, which is why He tells us that He does nothing by Himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing (John 5:19). And the only way to accomplish God’s work is to stay in God’s presence. In full-blown Jesus style, He both remains with us and remains with God. To do this consistently, Jesus gets away by Himself to pray with His Father again and again (Matthew 14:23; Luke 5:16; Mark 1:35; you get the idea).

Jesus, God-in-flesh, feels the feelings, faces the temptations, and fights everything we do. Yet, instead of relying on Himself to get the job done, He develops a rhythm that puts Himself in God’s presence–not once a week, not just when He needs help, but daily. Hourly. Minute-by-minute. Jesus models for us this life of remaining with God.    

Staying Safe

There’s a beauty and depth to the old languages, specifically Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament), because their words contain such strong imagery and multiple nuances. Yashab is Hebrew for dwell, but its facets of meaning vary. We hit on a few of the uses in our first series and see the word employed in the Old Testament verses above. It can, in its various forms, be both the tent and the action of tent-dwelling. It can mean both sit and stay, as well as, abide and endure. 

But, sometimes it’s the subtle suggestions of meaning that capture our spiritual imaginations–like when ‘remaining in God’s presence’ hints at the idea of the safety we find in Him. Micah, the prophet, has a beautiful way of describing this kind of safety, as experienced in the last days:

Everyone will sit under their own vine
    and under their own fig tree,
and no one will make them afraid,
    for the Lord Almighty has spoken.

Micah 4:4, NIV

Micah’s prophecy describes all this sitting as happening on the “mountain of the Lord,” aka: Jerusalem (v.1, 2). The Hebrew word for ‘sitting’ is yashab (surprise!), implying God’s people will be safe forever because they will remain in God’s presence constantly.

Photo by Moritz Knöringer on Unsplash

This end-times vision is reflected in Revelation:

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.’”

Revelation 21:3, NIV 

The literal translation of the Greek here knocks my socks off: “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will tabernacle with them.” In other words, when we’ve all slid into our resurrected bodies and moved into our eternal homes, we will literally remain in God’s presence forever and ever. Safe and sound. Sitting and staying a very long while. 

Enduring Stubbornness

But, perhaps what I love most about the idea of remaining with God is its persistence, its stubborn unwillingness to leave God’s presence no matter what lies are thrown at us or what storms bluster about us. 

I think of the flowers that grab hold of the soil when the spring winds rage, refusing to relent. I picture a two-year-old who globs onto a toy, locked on, never to let go. 

Friends, as much as we can trust in God’s perpetual presence, we also need to make sure that we are positioning ourselves in this holy space. And when we do, we can stubbornly fight to keep what we have. It’s why Paul repeatedly exhorts us to ‘stand firm’ (Ephesians 6:11, 13, 14). The spiritual battle rages every moment of every day, so God offers Himself as the steady One we can remain in.

Case in point–the Isrealites receive a message as they lament their exile. Nothing in them wants to remain in Babylon–a foreign land full of idols, mockers, and harsh servitude. A land absent of the one thing they miss the most: the presence of God. God’s word to them through the prophet Jeremiah is one of enduring hope:

“Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce.”

Jeremiah 29:5, NLT

“Jeremiah sent a letter here to Babylon, predicting that our captivity will be a long one. He said, ‘Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce.’”

Jeremiah 29:28, NLT

First, this message is repeated, so it’s important. Second, in both cases, the Hebrew for ‘stay’ is yashab, again! Then, in the second rendering lies the phrase, “our captivity will be a long one.” God prepares His people for a long season of perseverance. He calls them to tarry on, embracing and enduring the hardships of exile.

Yet, this appeal for a steadfast sojourn is not without hope. Between the two demands to ‘stay’ lies the famous “I know the plans I have for you…to give you a future and a hope” verse (v.11). God’s promise-laden words command endurance but with the reminder He has not abandoned them. They don’t have to struggle on their own. Rather, they are to stay. With. Him. Remain in faith, with hope. 

Jesus wants us to have the same kind of stubborn resilience. On the night of His betrayal and arrest, He asks His dearest friends to “remain here and keep watch with Me” (Matthew 26:38, NASB). This is no simple “sit here on this bench with me so we can rest” moment. This is an appeal for righteous remaining. A staying that requires a holding-tight. A dwelling that perseveres despite sleepiness or confusion or fear. Friends, our Savior calls us to the same. 

Life on earth batters and cajoles us into letting go of our Anchor. But our remaining in God is a tenacious tarrying that brings peace and promises hope. When we sit with Him, we are safe. And the miracle of staying with Him is finding the strength to hold on and stand firm. 

As we follow Jesus’ lead and get alone with our Father, our remaining in Him centers us and gives clarity. And, it’s only when we’re with Him that we can know Him, really know His character and His love, His forgiveness and His heart. So, when we wrap each finger around that space of His presence, we root ourselves in Him. We stay put with staying power.

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  • Many thanks for meeting me here for this second series on what it means to dwell with God! If you missed part or all of the first series on dwell, called “Inhabit,” you can find them on my blog page or start here with the first one.
  • If you’re new here, I always create a Spotify playlist to correspond with each series. Here’s our Dwell Playlist. If you’re back for Round Two, this is the same playlist from earlier in the year. I included songs for each series in our dwell theme. I’ve loved getting back into the playlist–the earlier songs remind me of what we learned in “Inhabit,” and the later songs get me excited for what’s to come. The right songs really help me step into and remain in God’s presence. I hope you experience the same!
  • If you haven’t journaled in a while, now’s a great time to begin (again). A journal topic this week could be this idea of remaining in God. Brainstorm a list of what that means to you and how that might look practically for you. I’d love to hear from you–I do not have this all figured out! So, I love to think of these posts as bouncing off places to help each of us see, hear, and think creatively about God so that we can know Him better–and draw closer to Him. The more we share, the more we all benefit. Blessings!

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Published by Shelley Linn Johnson

Lover of The Word. And words. Cultivator of curiosity about all things Christ. Lifelong learner who likes inviting others along for the journey. Recovering perfectionist who has only recently realized that rhythms are so much better than stress-inducing must-do's.

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