God’s Promise: I Am With You
Lesson Two: God with Us in Our Uncertainty
Primary Scripture: Exodus 3:1–12; Judges 6:11–27
There’s a painting that hung above my father’s dresser my whole childhood. Some would say it’s a painting of me. I’m about five years old, perfect beribboned pigtails (the kind my mom always created), thick bangs, wide blue eyes. I’m wearing a white dress with a blue-flowered collar. And you can’t see it in the painting, but I remember that Cookie Monster was embroidered on the skirt. Sesame Street Muppets were all the rage in the 1980’s. I’m not smiling, which adds to the candid effect of the portrait. In fact, a shy child, I look a little uncertain.
Because I dominate the painting, probably most people would say it’s a painting of me. But I have always thought of it as a painting of my father.
You see, he’s standing behind me in the painting—you mostly only see his hands, resting on my shoulders. They’re big hands, dark—a strong contrast to my bright innocence. But they look gentle, and, if hands can, wise. And every time I’ve ever looked at that painting, I’ve felt the weight of those hands, as if I’m standing still, just as small, uncertain yet reassured, in front of my dad.
I’m lucky enough to have this painting in my home now, and plan to hang it in my office at the church I pastor. It seems fitting to have it in my church office for a couple of reasons. First, the image the painter captured was almost certainly of me on a Sunday morning. The artist was a member of our congregation and I have many early memories of standing near my dad, enveloped slightly by the folds of his black preaching robe, as he greeted parishioners after worship. And second, my father was a pastor for 40 years—the only pastor I had for the first two decades of my life, and still among the best I have ever known. He was a deep-thinking, people-loving, conviction-guided, trust-inspiring kind of a pastor. The kind I would like to be. So it seems right to hang his picture in my office.
Because he’s my dad, though, not just a great (now-retired) pastor, the main reason this painting is a gift to me is that it reminds me that he still stands behind me. And not just he, but so many other beloved family members and friends—encouraging me, inspiring me, accompanying me. Just a glance at this painting can make me feel more able, more certain—stronger.
And all of us can use something that helps us feel stronger from time to time, can’t we? Even the greats, like Michelangelo, and Moses, and Gideon felt uncertain at times. So we’re in pretty good company when we feel poorly equipped or inadequate or out of our league. We all need to know that someone’s standing at our back, and is in our corner.
Who in your life makes you feel more able, more certain—stronger?
Near the end of Lesson Two, I quote J. Gerald Janzen:
“Whoever and whatever Moses may have thought himself to be, he is now to see himself as someone God is with.”
—Gerald Janzen, Exodus (Westminster Bible Companion) (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), 31.
What a powerful, wonderful idea! (And an idea that doesn’t only apply to Moses, of course.) God’s promise, “I am with you,” spoken again and again, serves as a reminder for us when we feel uncertain. When we ask, as Moses and Gideon did, “Who am I?” and “How can I?” God says to us, I will be with you. And that promise rests on our shoulders like a gentle, loving weight, reminding us that we are someone God is with.
When we face whatever daunting task, or role, or calling looms before us, stealing our confidence, may we see not just ourselves, small and uncertain, but instead focus on our heavenly Father’s hands resting on our shoulders—God, a constant accompanying presence.
Karen Holt, the talented artist and friend who created the painting of my Dad’s hands, entered it in a contest and gave it a name—Cherished.
Perfect name, isn’t it? Because isn’t cherished exactly how we feel when we realize God is with us? Instead of uncertain, we’re encouraged. Strengthened. Cherished.
Amy Poling Sutherlun
Author of the 2018–2019 PW/Horizons Bible Study
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