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Monday, May 12, 2014

What does it mean to be in the Presence of God?

God is omnipresent, that is, He is everywhere at all times. However, how we experience the Presence of God is through the reality of the Holy Spirit dwelling in our lives as believers. So, what does it mean to be in the Presence of God?  It will be helpful to trace some of the references related to God’s Presence to help us in understanding.

So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.” [Gen. 4:16] If God is everywhere, then being driven out of the Lord’s presence must mean something else.  In the creation account, Adam and Eve had fellowship with God and walked with Him in the garden, but hid from Him after they had disobeyed God’s command.  This seems to be more than the omnipresence of God, but direct contact.

The tabernacle hosted the visible presence of God in the wilderness; God manifested Himself in a very specific way during those years, which included the cloud by day and column of fire by night. When God gave the “ten commandments” there was a cloud surrounding the top of the mountain. God even tells Moses that He will speak to him out the cloud so that the people will believe him. [Ex. 19:9]

Yet, after the incident with Aaron and the golden calf, Moses asks God who will go with them as they travel:
Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’  If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”  The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”  Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.  How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.” [Ex 33:12-17]

Notice that Moses is not about to make the journey if God will not go with them, not just him. God’s blessing without God’s leadership is not what Moses needed.  Moses wanted the Presence of God to go with them as a people. Moses was interceding for them, not just looking out for his own interests.

Being in the Presence of the Lord implied being where He was, more than in the general sense of His omnipresence.  Being in the Lord’s Presence required cleansing and forgiveness. [Lev. 22:3]
Offerings were to be presented “in the presence of the Lord” and those who offered them before the Lord had to be ceremonially clean.

Moses was not the only person who heard the voice of God.  After the Elijah killed the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, he runs from Jezebel and eventually is hiding in a cave:  “The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.” [1 Kings 19:11]

When the Northern tribes continued in their rebellion against the true worship of Jehovah, God allows the Assyrians to conquer them: “So the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them from his presence. Only the tribe of Judah was left,” [2 Kings 17:18] Even seeing this, Judah follows the northern tribes idolatries and separation from God’s Presence: “So the Lord said, “I will remove Judah also from my presence as I removed Israel, and I will reject Jerusalem, the city I chose, and this temple, about which I said, ‘My Name shall be there.’” [2 Kings 23:27] The punishment was banishment from God’s presence, the means was by the hand of the enemies of God.

The New Testament understanding of the Presence of God is expressed in the incarnation: “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways,  but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.  The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” [Hebrews 1:1-3]

God no longer is a mysterious cloud or fire; God has come in human flesh and dwells with His creation. Being in the Presence of God takes on new meaning; though it is not until the resurrection that the disciples begin to understand what they had been experiencing.  The Apostle John put it this way:  “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. ... The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” [John 1:1, 14]

Before Jesus returns to the Father He commands His disciples to make disciples and gives the promise of His presence forever: “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” [Matthew 28:18-20]

The Holy Spirit came in fulfillment of the promise that Jesus made: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—  the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” [John 14:16, 17]

The very Presence of God is with His believers, always; not only that, His Holy Spirit lives within us as well. We are in the very Presence of God, right now. Stop and think about it, for that is an awesome thought: God is here, right now; I didn’t have to scream to get Him to come; He is with me, He sees me, knows me, and lives in me through His Holy Spirit.

In the book of Revelation, the glory of heaven will be the reality of being in the Presence of God in the way for which we were created to experience.  The shadow land of our experience now cannot conceive of the glory of what God has planned and will reveal.

The Presence of God in the Old and New Testaments does have a common thread: relationship. The Omnipresence of God is a reality, it is a description of one of His attributes.  The Presence of God is a reality and is expressed in relationship with His creation. Whether through the act of forgiveness and the obedience in offering a sacrifice, to the hearing the voice of the Lord, God is revealing Himself so that we might develop a more intimate relationship with Himself.  Sin can break the fellowship, but nothing can change the relationship. Once we are a child of God, we may become disobedient children, but we are remain His children.  Being in the Presence of God is joy; banishment from the Presence of God is punishment.

If God is always with us, why can we always “feel” His presence?  The answer lies in our belief in the trustworthiness of the One who made the promise. It is not a matter of me trying to drum up enough faith to believe that God is with me whether I sense His presence or not, but knowing His character and nature, that He cannot lie and that He has promised it, I know that His presence is a reality. What does change is my awareness of His presence. My own distractions, frustrations, preoccupations, and of course sin, can dampen my sensitivity to the reality of the Presence of God.  He has not moved.

In one sense it is like the story of the hunters that trap a monkey by putting a banana in a cage with a hole just large enough for the monkey’s hand, but not with his hand holding the banana. The hunters catch the primate because he firmly held on to the banana resulting in capture, rather than let go and be free.  Our distractions, worries, and sin become the bananas that we refuse to release, all the while God is waiting for us to show us His love and help.

Feelings may or may not as a result of such times, but we need to be careful not to measure the depth of our relationship or maturity to the depth of feelings we have, but on the promise of God.  Sometimes I have a strong sense of His presence and sometimes I do not; that doesn't change the constancy of His Spirit in me or His presence with me. I can remember very well one experience of listening to some worship music, singing along and having a time that I was "very moved and very emotional", only to look down and notice that I was speeding. I really don't believe that what I was doing was "worship," since I was breaking the law by the carelessness. The point is that we cannot be dependent just on our feelings as a gauge as our spiritual temperature.

What does it mean to sense the Presence of God? It means we respond in faith and obedience to His promise, not depending on our feelings, which may or may not occur. Feelings are not the basis for our belief, but the surety of God’s Word. Like the old illustration of the train: Fact as the engine, Faith as the fuel, and Feelings as the caboose.

Why not thank God for the fact that He is with you right now?

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