3 Truths about God’s Presence

Will next year be worse than this one?

How high will prices continue to climb?

Are we living in the end times?

One thing is certain about every new year—it dawns with a slew of question marks.

Uncertainties are ugly. We loathe what’s unpredictable because it makes us feel out of control—and this sensation, in turn, sparks stress. So, if all indications point to the new year yielding more unexpected (and probably unpleasant) news, what is the best way to prepare?

The apostle John reveals a crucial piece of advice…

During Stressful Times, Remember Jesus’ Love for You

Here’s the scoop. In the Gospel he penned, John christened himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved five separate times (John 13:23John 19:26John 20:2John 21:7John 21:20). He initiated this practice in chapter 13, skipped it in chapters 14-18, and resurfaced the title in the last three chapters.

The reason the terminology John coined for himself went missing in chapters 14-17 was because these chapters, almost exclusively, contain Jesus’ monologue at the last supper. Because John did not speak at all, there is no need to refer to himself then.

It’s curious that the next chapter—18—John self-referred twice, but without his adopted nickname. Notice the italicized phrases for the apostle’s self-description: “Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard, but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the servant girl on duty there and brought Peter in.” (John 18:15-16).

So, John began considering himself as the one Jesus loved in chapter 13, but failed to follow suit in chapter 18. He associated himself with the religious leader of the land instead.

Why might this be?

Declare His Love for You

Perhaps the context can shed some light. Chapter 18 tracks the aftermath of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus into the hands of the Jewish leaders. According to John 20:9, John didn’t understand that Jesus had to die and be resurrected until after Jesus was resurrected. So, back in chapter 18—when John witnessed the compliant Jesus being arrested and dragged to face religious authorities—it’s likely that he’s dumbfounded by a narrative he didn’t have any framework for.

And in the midst of the unanticipated turmoil, John forgot that Jesus still loved him—even during that shocking moment.

Pilot twists do that to us sometimes. They can stun us into second-guessing God’s fiery love for us. Between the continuous COVID scare, the skyrocketing inflation, and rising societal division, it’s easy to overlook how God’s love for us extends well beyond Christmas and into eternity—because God has vowed never to leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).

There’s one simple antidote. Douse the new year with declarations of how much the Lord loves you:

  • “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” (Jeremiah 31:3)
  • “Whoever touches you touches the apple of His eye” (Zechariah 2:8).
  • “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)
  • “The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in His love He will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).

Feel free to borrow John’s original phrase as well.

Start referring to yourself as the one whom Jesus loves—especially when stress threatens to run the show.

What about the Trials?

But let’s keep it real. Clinging to the truth of God’s intense love is challenging when we’re battling distress and despair. Even though Jesus has promised that trouble will never cease to exist (John 16:33), we keep entertaining the stubborn—but erroneous—belief that if God truly loves us, He’ll somehow shield us from trials.

This is the opposite of what Scripture teaches. His love is real, but so are difficulties. Check out the famous Psalm 23 for example. Have you noticed the jarring jump in the middle of the chapter?

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (Psalm 23:1-6)

Let’s say you’ve never discovered Psalm 23 before. You start reading it because the first half paints such an inviting picture. Who doesn’t want a lack-free life guarantee (Psalm 23:1)? Who can resist God’s personalized promise to refresh their soul in a serene setting (Psalm 23:2)? And who would dismiss God’s offer of direct guidance on the right path to take—especially during turbulent times (Psalm 23:3)? I don’t blame you if you expect the rest of the psalm to portray a similar tone, peaceful and picturesque.

Well, get your red Sharpie ready. Might as well draw a sharp stripe to separate verses 1-3 from 4-6, because you’re about to meander from all this relaxation straight into the enemy’s lair (Psalm 23:4-5).

3 Truths about the Lord’s Presence during Conflictual Times

Let’s zoom in on the flow from verse 3 to verse 4. David, the writer of this psalm, went from being privately tutored by the Lord—in a plush place to boot—to navigating “the darkest valley” and fierce enemy combatants. This isn’t a mistake. Sometimes God guides us into gulleys not because He reneges on His love for us, but to reaffirm the availability of His presence regardless of circumstance.

Indeed, the second half of Psalm 23 assures us that the Lord’s presence during conflictual times:

1. Combats any fear.

Dreading what else will go wrong can torture us more than facing grim reality. But whether the scare is COVID-related or anything else, fear can’t paralyze us as long as we focus on the Lord’s presence (Psalm 23:4). If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31).

2. Triumphs over mental illness.

With enough anxiety in the body, the digestive system will shut down, making eating impossible to do. The fact that David could enjoy his meals even though his enemies were around (Psalm 23:5) meant God’s peace overpowered whatever anxiety his enemies could have stirred up. And in case anyone assumed David was too much of a spiritual giant for anxiety to touch, his own words exposed how he had to battle fear and anxiety (Psalm 34:4Psalm 38:18Psalm 139:23).

Similarly, when we seek the Lord to help heal our soul—including those shameful parts we hide so church folks won’t tsk—He will share winning strategies with us. For some, this could mean switching to a church community that knows how to minister to trauma survivors better. The Lord might instruct others to pursue psychotherapy, inner healing, more time with the Word, or all of the above.

3. Identifies what’s good.

Even if wickedness sneaks into the new year, it doesn’t mean goodness will perish. Scripture says “the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord” (Psalm 33:5, NKJV). Just as twinkling diamonds are best appreciated against a black backdrop, spotting the goodness of the Lord is often easiest when wickedness abounds.

The new year is an apt time to accept that just because God is guiding us doesn’t mean He’ll detour us away from difficulties.

Is the world worsening? I hope not, but I really don’t know. However, since the Lord will still love us—because He never changes (Hebrews 13:8)—then so what if more challenges are coming? His love will get us through anything.

Therefore, from the one whom Jesus loves to another, I wish your 2023 to drip with God’s love and goodness, chasing you day by day (Psalm 23:6).

Audrey DavidheiserPhD is a California licensed psychologist, certified Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapist, and IFSI-approved clinical consultant. After founding and directing a counseling center for the Los Angeles Dream Center, she now devotes her practice to survivors of trauma—including spiritual abuse. If you need her advice, visit her on www.aimforbreakthrough.com and Instagram @DrAudreyD.