yellow paper star luminary

Advent Week 3: JOY In His Presence

Dec 16, 2019

For many, Christmas is a season of incomparable joy. A tree filled with lights, a church filled with music, a home filled with family, children’s faces filled with joy. And yet, for many others, Christmas is a season of loneliness and losses, a reminder of longings yet unrealized. Advent, these weeks leading up to Christmas and marked by a liturgical calendar, is less about current joy and more about anticipating the joy of what is yet to come. In celebration of Advent this year, I’m sharing a weekly excerpt of Relentless: The Unshakeable Presence of a God Who Never Leaves (Zondervan, 2019). May your Advent experience this year be rich with His Presence and joy.

The late pastor Eugene Peterson said,

“When we submit our lives to what we read in scripture, we find that we are not being led to see God in our stories but our stories in God’s. God is the larger context and plot in which our stories find themselves.”

I now know my suffering wasn’t proof of God’s punishment or absence. Instead, each impossibility provided a backdrop against which I could experience a new depth of God’s reality. Although I still don’t understand all the whys, His love for me cannot be denied. Now, moved by such a love, I pull these stones from the murky bottom of my Jordan River and set them up on the other side. The scars. The flawed speech. The tender emotions. The family that fights to be together. The fear of death. The longing for death.

Altar stones. Every one. And each testifies to the one who continues to carry me from the pain to the promised land. The altar of my life, as fragile and flawed as it is, bears witness. Not to my strength and determination to save myself. The dark nights that threatened to swallow me prove I lack both. Instead, the stones shout of a presence that pushes toward me when I no longer have the strength to reach toward Him. Then rather than walk a girl around her Jordan, He sometimes walks her through the middle of it. Because only then does she know how to enter into suffering with someone else.

I’ll be stark-naked honest: I wish it weren’t so hard.

I wish I always felt God’s presence and affection. I wish the pain would end, the struggle would stop. And I wish the joy of living always outweighed the grief of it. This is now the miracle I pray for, that I will become a woman who laughs—big and loud—no matter what comes.

But I suspect this belly-jiggling joy will come only to the degree that I push in with Him. And to the degree that I remember His relentless love more than my dogged doubts.

The disciple Peter, the one so full of flaws and so full of Jesus- love, toward the end of his story said this:

“As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ . . . But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of dark- ness into his wonderful light.” —1 Peter 2:4–5, 9

Living stones that you may declare.

My friend, this is our mission. Not to work ourselves to death trying to be good enough to be loved. Not to get all of our religion right and hopefully win heaven. But to open our arms wide to the only love big enough to heal. Then when He pulls us from the darkness we thought we’d never escape, we stand as witnesses to Him.

God’s presence, not our performance, is our glory.

We are recipients of grace, not manipulators of it. And our choosing to trust Him, to believe in His nearness no matter what comes, shines a light far brighter than any bootstrapped righteousness. This is when our stories find redemption, when those of us who nearly drowned in our Jordans reach out a hand to those still caught in the grip of theirs. There, in the dark middle of another’s suffering, our stones cast light, pointing to the relentless nearness of the one who is able to carry us through. Just as Joshua’s stones became a memorial for generations to follow, our altar stones will help point the way for pilgrims who walk past us long after we’re gone.

This is the truth and the grace.

Nothing but God with us.

Relentless Gift Pack now available!


Looking for the perfect Christmas gift? The Relentless Gift Pack is an easy and meaningful option for friends, neighbors, teachers, and family members who are looking to deepen their understanding and experience of God’s presence in the middle of real life. It includes the Relentless book, the Altar Stone Companion Card Pack, an olive wood cross, and chocolate, wrapped in a lovely organza gift bag (while supplies last). Want to personalize your gift? Include a message in the “notes” section of your order. Merry Christmas, friends! He is with us!


  1. Debbie

    I’m waiting to be pulled from a very dark place. I’ve been on my knees begging. I don’t know what else to do. I’m just not sure I can continue in this darkness.

    • Lee Ann Bower

      Hi Debbie,

      I don’t profess to know anything about your particular situation that has now brought you to this dark, low place. Here is what I do know…whatever it is, God can handle it! There is purpose in your pain! Being in the place where you are at this moment feels like eternity, trust me, I know and have been there myself. You will make it through this! You are not alone! Do you know Jesus as your Personal Savior? He died on the cross to take all (not just a portion) but ALL of your Burden, mine, and the next persons. Why? Because He is our Heavenly Father and He loves you and me beyond anything we ourselves could imagine or dream of. So, lean in to Him, Trust Him with your life, with your situation. Saying a prayer for you Debbie!
      Lee Ann

    • Tracie

      Debbie, God hears your prayers. I too struggled in darkness, praying for God to take me home. Instead he gave me Michele and her honest truth. Dig into His word, deep into His word and He will get you through. You are loved, DON’T give up!

    • Denise

      Debbie, my heart aches with you… darkness can feel so consuming, But God promises we won’t be consumed and He is our hope! If you need to hear a voice and talk, I would love to be that voice.

  2. Penelope

    It is through our fractured hopes and egos that the Light of God shines through. Jesus came for *us* the imperfect ones, those in need of healing. Bless the gracious goodness of God — we are not alone, not ever. God is with us beside us within us, always.

  3. Sarah

    Amen Michele! Thank you for your honesty with us in and through the struggles of deep darkness.


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