How can the sentence “GOD is here” be the key to more happiness, less boredom, more rest, less rush, more love, less drama, more peace, less fear? How should you change your perspective from merely enjoying the good moments in your life to worshiping the God who is right here, right now?
Bible Gateway interviewed Mike Novotny (@timeofgracemin) about his book, 3 Words That Will Change Your Life: The Secret to Experiencing the Joy of God’s Presence (Bethany House, 2020).
A changed life in just “3 words”? No offense, but that sounds like a bit much to promise a potential reader.
Mike Novotny: No offense taken. Recently, a family member gave me that “raised eyebrows/titled head” look when she saw the title. She suspected that the marketing folks had gone a step too far. “Really…?” she questioned.
“Really!” I answered. If not being anxious about your finances (Php. 4:6) or not being afraid of what might happen with your health (Ps. 23:4) or being content even if other people are more successful than you (Ps. 73:28) would be a change in your life, then the promise is keep-able because it’s biblical.
Well, that would be a change for many of us. So, what exactly are the 3 words?
Mike Novotny: All 3 words matter, but the first word matters the most. The first word is GOD. (No, I didn’t accidentally leave the caps-lock on.) The all-caps GOD is my way of saying that the GOD of the Bible is not some dime-a-dozen-pagan “god,” nor the officially-orthodox-but-not-that-impressive “God,” but rather the GOD who’s better than the best things in our lives. GOD is better than a championship buzzer beater, a perfect prom date, an epic road trip with great friends, a toes-over-the-edge view of the Grand Canyon, the best sex you’ve ever had, or best sermon you’ve ever preached, holding your first child (or grandchild), or anything else that makes you happy. If your mental image of GOD is that good (which is what all that talk of “praising,” “magnifying,” “glorifying,” “exalting,” and “hallowing” his name is all about), then you’re close to the “life to the full” that Jesus wants you to have (Jn. 10:10). Thinking too little of GOD will kill your life, but thinking more (and more often) of him can change it.
How do we remember that GOD is that great when we can’t see him?
Mike Novotny: This is the part of the book that I think about the most and that people have thanked me for the most. I “see” GOD by (1) fully enjoying the good things in life and then (2) reminding myself, “GOD is better than this!” If the “whole earth is full of his glory” (Is. 6:4) and his “divine nature is clearly seen” in creation (Rom. 1:20), then glimpses of GOD are all around us.
For example, this morning, my youngest daughter gave me a huge hug before I left for work. She squeezed her skinny arms around my waist and looked up at her daddy with her bobbing pigtails. I could have melted with happiness. But instead of just letting a sweet daddy-daughter moment pass, I sought GOD. I said to myself, “GOD is better than this. GOD is more beautiful than this. GOD’s face is more wonderful than this. How good must GOD be if he’s even better than this!”
Most of our lives are filled with dozens of daily moments like that (love, laughter, relaxation, wonder, etc.), which means we all have the chance to exalt his name and turn “God” into “GOD.”
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So, “GOD” is the first word. What are the other two words?
Mike Novotny: The second word is “is.” “GOD is” refers to his present-tense presence. We most often think “GOD will be” one day when we get to heaven, but David penned, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Ps. 23:4, my emphasis). David admits that the believer’s life includes dark valleys and personal enemies), yet he has this stunning confidence, because he knows that “GOD is” with him, in this very moment. GOD isn’t waiting at the finish line of life, but rather walks by our side through all of it.
“Here,” the final word, connects “GOD is” to the gospel. Sin has the hellish power to separate us from GOD (Is. 59:2), so only the sinless can claim that a GOD that good is “here” by their side. This is why I spend a few chapters exploring the work of Jesus, the Savior who tore the curtain that separated us from GOD, leading Peter to write, “Christ suffered…to bring you to God,” (1 Pet. 3:18).
In summary, the three words—GOD is here—are about the presence of an unfathomably good GOD, the gift that Jesus lived, died, and rose to give us.
In a way, that sentence doesn’t feel all that new. Most Christians probably wouldn’t be surprised if you told them, “GOD is here.”
Mike Novotny: You’re right. In fact, I think that’s why the publisher changed my original title (GOD is Here) to the current version. However, if my experience and observation are correct, most Christians are missing that sentence, because they go to the cross instead of through the cross.
Consider an analogy: you see a homeless man shivering on the windy streets of Chicago in late January, so you splurge on a Michigan Avenue penthouse hotel room. You cover the entire cost and then hand the homeless man the key card to the room.
For the rest of the bitterly cold night, however, the man walks up and down the street, shouting, “Look what that Christian gave me! What a wonderful person!”
Would you be happy with the homeless man? No! Because the key card wasn’t the reason you paid the price for the room. It was the means to get to the end, namely, the warmth, comfort, and safety of the room itself.
Get the connection?
Christians love Jesus Christ. In fact, we tell our friends and family, “Look at what Christ gave me! He saved me! He forgave my sins!”
But Jesus saved you and forgave you for a purpose—to get you to GOD! He wants you to have eternal life, that is, to be with GOD right now and forever into the future. Jesus claimed that very thing when he taught that he was “the way” to get “to the Father” (Jn. 14:6).
That is a reality that I know I missed/minimized for too many years. Thankfully, GOD saved me from sitting around and waiting to die by teaching me to seek his face now, the very thing my soul has been wanting for my entire life (Ps. 27:8).
Learn more about connecting with God through our week-long devotional, 'Practical Tips for Godly Habits.'
Practically, how does seeking GOD in this way change a person’s life?
Mike Novotny: I think of what happened to Asaph in Psalm 73. He was, at first, bitter and angry about the hardships in his life. But then the light bulb went on, “Yet I am always with you” (Ps. 73:23). He ended up with gratitude, satisfaction, and contentment, because he believed it was good just to be near GOD (Ps. 73:28).
That can happen for us too. Instead of putting our happiness in some temporary situation (the scholarship, promotion, perfect family, cancer-free scan, etc.), we can hide our happiness in the refuge of GOD’s presence, that rock that the brokenness of life cannot break down.
For me, when something goes wrong (an argument in marriage, back pain, critical emails, worst-case-scenario thoughts), I tell myself, “But GOD is here.” I try to remember that GOD is better than a perfect body or the approval of people, and that GOD is guaranteed to be with me. No matter how this turns out, I’ll always have his presence. That’s how I hide my soul in the stronghold of his here-ness and get my joy back. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1).
We all need that truth. Everything we like about life, apart from GOD, is temporary. Bad things happen to believing people a billion times a year. But that reality doesn’t have to leave us curled up in a bed of fear if we know that the best thing about our life is GOD.
Any closing thoughts?
Mike Novotny: Two quick things. First, I’d love for people to dig deeper by checking out the book at timeofgrace.org/3words. I’m just learning how to write effectively, so 3 Words is probably not the best book you’ll read this year, but I do believe it focuses on the best thing you’ll experience this year: GOD.
Second—and I’m not being patronizing here—Bible Gateway has been a huge part of this book. The “keyword search” feature was how I first discovered major themes that run through the Scriptures (like the refuge idea I expressed earlier). As a pastor, an author, and especially a Christian, I’m really grateful for all that you do.
Thank you for the chance to talk about the GOD who has changed (and is still changing) lives.
Bio: Pastor Mike Novotny has served God’s people in full-time ministry since 2007 in Madison and, most recently, at The CORE in Appleton, Wisconsin. He also serves as the lead speaker for Time of Grace, where he shares the good news about Jesus through television, print, and online platforms. Mike loves seeing people grasp the depth of God’s amazing grace and unstoppable mercy. His wife continues to love him (despite plenty of reasons not to), and his two daughters open his eyes to the love of God for every Christian. When not talking about Jesus or dating his wife/girls, Mike loves playing soccer, running, and reading.
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