We were in a church on Sunday, a church with a small congregation, some of whom I have previously spoken with on several occasions. I was sitting at the back (the chairs there were more comfortable!) and so, because I was looking at the back of people’s heads, I recognized very few of them. No surprise then that I felt very little connection with anybody. Unconnected, that was, until afterwards (we stayed for coffee) when I fell to talking with a few different ones. Those who recognized me came up and chatted, and the warmth of their smiles, and their welcome, gave me a very different picture of that little community. Everyone looked very different face to face. I saw pleasure and kindness, sorrow, and pain, joy and even ‘faith’ in the different faces and suddenly, seeing them face to face, my joy at being there significantly increased.
There is so much we can see in a face, and it got me thinking about David’s use of the word ‘face’. There is no Hebrew word for ‘presence’, and so when he wants to speak of God’s presence he uses the Hebrew word for ‘face’, Psalm 16:11. He literally writes, “you fill me with joy as we come face to face.” When we ‘see’ someone’s face, catch their eye, see their smile, they suddenly become ‘present’ to us. We know this because the converse is also true. If someone doesn’t want to invite us into their ‘presence’, they don’t give us eye contact, or they ‘freezes us out’, may be even turning right away from us.
So, in the light of this truth, we can look again at the incredible blessing that the Lord, through Moses, directed Aaron to speak over the Israelites, “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face towards you and give you peace.” Wow. Read that slowly. I feel His presence and pleasure just typing that out! And I believe that every time we give thanks from our heart, it’s like we lift our face to His and He turns His face towards us and we know that He is smiling, if not even singing, over us. (see Zephaniah 3:17) Then look at what God says next, He says that if the priests bless the children of Israel in this way, “So they will put my name on the Israelites and I will bless them”. Numbers 6:24-27. His face, His name, His presence, His blessing, let’s have it all.
Turning next to Paul’s words ‘For God who, said “Let light shine out of darkness,” made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’ 2 Corinthians 4:6. I began to realise that this whole year of thanksgiving has been about turning our hearts and faces towards Him, and seeing His face a little more clearly day by day. It has not been about a simple formula, but about making and keeping a deeper, stronger connection with the Almighty.
There is a difference you see, between the ‘thank you’ that I give the person at the ticket office as I pay for, and collect, my train ticket, and the ‘thank you’ that I give a little grandchild who has painstakingly drawn me a picture or made me a card. The former I may not even notice as I go on my way, especially if the train is about to leave!! To my grandchild, on the other hand, I will give my full attention, catch their eye and smile, conveying my delight and pleasure over the gift and, by way of acknowledging the effort put in etc, I will express in detail what it is about the picture that I love. The connection is then complete. The child also smiles and glows with happiness receiving the affection and affirmation coming their way.
I think now that I may well need to revisit many of these blogs that we have written, and maybe repent of any times when my thanksgiving has been a ritual or formulaic. I don’t want to take for granted that God has given us, in this simple way, immediate access into His presence. I want to thank Him again and again for this beautiful way of coming face to face with Him. And that is where we started this journey, just over a year ago now. It started with Psalm 100:4, (so unforgettable) ‘Come right into His presence with thanksgiving. Come bring your thank offering to Him and affectionately bless His beautiful name!’ (from The Passion Translation) or in effect, ‘Come face to face with God as you give Him your heartfelt thanks in all and every situation’.