Experiencing God’s Presence in Unexpected Places

by Meredith Houston Carr May 2, 2022
“And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the LORD by saying, ‘Is the LORD among us or not?’” Exodus 17:7 (ESV)
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I’d read accounts of Yosemite National Park’s beauty, but seeing it for myself felt electrifying. With eyes wide, I tried to absorb the grandeur set before me. The massive rock formation El Capitan rose high into a cerulean sky, its monstrous granite face basking in the sun. The waters of Bridalveil Fall roared with authority, and the peak known as Half Dome stretched upward, shrouding itself in clouds.

All this splendor made it clear: God’s presence lives among this land, His fingerprint evident on every breathtaking peak. And yet my heart struggled to reconcile how a God who created such majesty could let crushing heartache into my family.

Just before this trip, my son received a diagnosis identifying special needs that would change his life and my family’s life forever. We found ourselves thrust onto a hard road we neither anticipated nor desired. It felt like God was asking me to scale one of these peaks with no equipment, and I couldn’t help but wonder, God, are You here with me? Have You forgotten about us?

Maybe you’re asking the same questions. In your marriage, family, work or health, you struggle to see evidence of God’s activity. As you wipe away endless tears, you may wonder if He’s with you — and if He truly has your best interests in mind.

In Exodus, we read about the Israelites, who also struggled to believe God was with them. They’d seen God perform miracles on their behalf, from parting the Red Sea (Exodus 14) to sending daily bread from heaven. (Exodus 16) But at every bump in the road, they wrestled with believing God was on their side.

Exodus 17 details how the Israelites became overwhelmed with a need for water as they wandered in the desert. Instead of trusting God to provide, they broke out in a full-on, panicked meltdown:

“And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the LORD by saying, ‘Is the LORD among us or not?’” (Exodus 17:7).

In response, God told Moses to strike a rock — and in another supernatural display, fresh water gushed out! Like in every crisis before, God came through.

Yet instead of memorializing God’s provision, this place would symbolize the people’s Massah (testing) and Meribah (quarreling). In hindsight, we see how the Israelites succumbed to panic: God’s provision didn’t arrive in the way they expected. So instead of firmly fixing their eyes on God, they focused on the lack of an oasis or watering hole or well. And in this posture, their minds couldn’t fathom that a lifeless rock could provide what they needed.

But God’s presence never left their midst, even when they couldn’t see it.

If we’re honest, we know we often take a similar approach. We quickly conclude that we must be on our own when we see only desert rocks and unscalable mountains in our path. When human solutions are absent, we often assume God’s presence must be absent, too.

But the next time we face a crisis, we can make a different choice! In Matthew 28:20, Jesus promises to be with us — always. So when trouble comes, we can pause, take a deep breath and choose to acknowledge the unshakeable reality of God’s presence.

We can also cultivate the habit of shifting our eyes from the obstacle to the God who will sustain us through it. Fixing our gaze on Jesus frees us to experience God’s provision in surprising ways. We can refuse to let our human expectations form a barrier to God’s divine workings.

It’s been years since my son’s difficult diagnosis — and while special-needs parenting hasn’t been an easy road, I can confidently say God has never left our side. Time and again, He’s shown up for us in ways my mind couldn’t comprehend. And He wants to do the same for you, dear one.

Today, will you choose to look for God’s presence along your desert road? The rock you keep tripping over may just be the tool God uses to demonstrate His sustaining presence in your life.

Dear heavenly Father, thank You that Your presence goes with us always, even along the desert roads. Forgive us for the times we’ve doubted Your ability to provide for us, and grant us strength to look expectantly for Your provision. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.


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Psalm 139:7-8, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.” (NIV)

In what situation or relationship are you struggling to see God’s presence? What small step of faith can you take today to experience His nearness? We would love to encourage you! Share your thoughts in the comments.

© 2022 by Meredith Houston Carr. All rights reserved.

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