6 Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord:
7 (For we walk by faith, not by sight:)
8 We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. 2 Cor. 5:6-8
I attended primary school in the 1970s and in those days we had what was called a “roll call”. Every morning the class teacher would call out each pupil’s name (she had a book in which all our names were written) and you would answer “Present!” If a pupil was not present the teacher would mark him or her as absent.
Today’s weak minds would stagger at the hell that was let loose upon the absent pupil the minute they reported to school the next day, if they did not have an excuse that made sense to the teacher. Being absent from school was not a situation that anyone would willingly walk into, so we always made sure to be present whenever the roll was called. That meant being present in class every day, year round, unless one were on an IV drip in some hospital.
In other words, whilst we tried our best to evade class, the teacher on the other hand used every means to make sure we did not miss school. She knew that if we missed a class, we would be missing out on an important topic; and this loss would reflect out in our final exams.
When we apply this analogy to our walk with the Lord, the first thing that comes to mind is that it is unimaginable that a born-again believer can be “absent from the Lord” but, unwittingly, much of the time we are exactly in that position. Our Lord may not be that hard school mistress, but in the long term, the consequences of being “absent from the Lord” are the same as those a pupil experiences when they deliberately miss school: pain and loss.
For a long time I thought that being “present with the Lord” meant being close to Him in prayer, praise and worship, fellowship, etc. But one day I came to understand exactly what it means to be “present with the Lord”. It is to lose our lives. It is to walk in a certain revelation of what the cross means in our lives. Being close to the Lord in prayer is all right; but there are real cases of men who have come down from a mountain after days of fasting only to begin fighting their wives.
What it means to be present with the Lord, which is just what the Apostle Paul is saying in this scripture, is to take up our cross and follow Christ. In other words, deny self, die to self. In every aspect of our lives we are called upon to deny ourselves and follow Christ. This was the central message that Christ brought to those who would believe on Him.
The difference between being close to the Lord in purely religious liturgy and following Him by taking up our cross can sometimes be as far apart as day and night. There are believers who are ‘rich’ in every known aspect of religiosity, but they carry the flesh about with them. No wonder then, that the Apostle Paul could write 1 Corinthians 13 where he tells us that it is possible for a believer to be capable of doing everything except dying to their own selves.
The church’s spiritual reality at present is that it is far from the Lord. For so long we heard a gospel which taught us that this worldly life is a part of our spiritual heritage. And, unfortunately, this message has been incorporated into our spiritual psyche as the gospel truth.
We have been hearing, for example, that we need to be prosperous in worldly material things including money since, supposedly, this is part of the reason that Christ died for us.
We have also been hearing for years and years about how much God loves us and how He will never allow the devil to touch us. (We conveniently forget that God allowed him to touch Job. And there is never any mention of the chastening that we are to receive from the Lord which, the Bible says, is painful – Heb. 12:11.)
The church rarely hears the message that, contrary to what it has been taught, it needs to deny this “rights” state of affairs in order to live in the Spirit.
[Below: When we are not built upon the right foundation we do not understand why things go wrong in our lives]