The Promise is His Presence (Book Review)

“I thought our relationship was about how He would answer my prayers. It never once crossed my mind that He was the answer to my prayers. Even while wanting, even while waiting, we can still find contentment in Christ.” — Glenna Marshall [1]

When waiting, in the valley of intense suffering, or just in a place of want, a slow turning can happen in our hearts. Though we are bowed before the throne of God praying for an answer, our hearts can turn to worship our hoped-for answer itself. We start to care more about getting the answer than we do about the God we are praying to.

My now one year old baby (or perhaps toddler now) was still not sleeping through the night at ten months old. On a good night, he was up once for about thirty minutes—on a bad night with teething pain or a nasty cold, we could be awake every hour or two. Each night as my husband and I said our prayers before we climbed into bed, we would end by asking, “Please, God, let him sleep through the night tonight.” Yet we still found ourselves waking up while it was still dark to a crying baby across the hall. 

This is when I picked up Glenna’s book, The Promise is His Presence. In her book, Glenna took me by the hand and led me through her story of suffering, waiting, and unanswered prayers alongside the redemption narrative of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. As she did, she showed me how God’s promise isn’t an easy life, immediate answers to our prayers, or a lack of suffering. God’s promise is to always be with his people, and he fulfills this promise throughout the entirety of the Bible.

There are some movements within the evangelical world that promise a life of prosperity and try to fabricate God’s presence through music, lights, emotional messages, and acts that are supposedly from the Spirit. But Glenna shows us that none of those things invoke God’s presence. There are times when we may not feel God’s presence near us, but that doesn’t change his promise and faithfulness to it. God is always with his people—believers today have the Holy Spirit dwelling inside them. Glenna writes,

But what if I told you that no stage-setting is necessary? That the presence of God is not something we can reproduce or manipulate with the right guitar chord or turn of phrase but rather something we can enjoy at all times? God has promised us the gift of His presence, all throughout Scripture. And it’s a promise that He continues to keep today. We don’t have to go looking for it, we don’t have to attempt to manufacture it and package it for redistribution, and we don’t have to wonder if we’ll ever find it. Those of us who have believed in Christ Jesus for the atonement of our sins already have everything we’re looking for.[2]

This presence, the constant nearness of God, is sufficient for us. But suffering can make that difficult to believe and cling to. That’s when we turn to other things to make us feel better and erect idols in our hearts. Glenna encourages us to take up our Bibles in our suffering to strengthen our weary hearts. It’s those times in God’s Word that prepare us for any intense suffering we may have up ahead.

If you are in a season of waiting, of suffering, or of unanswered prayers, I encourage you to pick up this book. Glenna will remind you of God’s presence and show you how near he truly is even when it doesn’t feel like it. This is the promise Glenna sets out for her reader: 

I want to show you that the promise of God’s presence is more than a sentiment we offer ourselves when our hearts yearn for what we cannot find. I want to help you see that God uses our longings, this side of heaven, to keep us close to Him until we see Him face-to-face. As we walk through the time line of Scripture, I hope you’ll see your place in God’s big story. He who has kept His promise of presence throughout all history will keep that promise to you.[3]

On those sleepless, restless nights God has used this book to remind me of his faithfulness and his nearness to me. As I lay my son down not knowing how much more sleep I may get, I am reminded that he is all I need, even in the sleeplessness. 

[1]Glenna Marshall, The Promise Is His Presence(Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2019), 37.

[2]Marshall, 12.

[3]Marshall, 17.

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