It seems as of late a lot of folks have been talking about “The Presence of God” and that we need to be “chasing” God or to be “Presence – centered” or “abiding” in God’s Presence. What do we mean by this? Is this a feeling, an experience, sort of a spiritual mist in the air? What is going on when we experience God in a worship meeting for instance, and the person next to us experiences nothing or vice-versa?
God promises that in His Presence is “fullness of joy” (Ps. 16:11), so maybe we should study the subject!
I have found four different ways that the Presence of God is expressed to us in the Bible. The Hebrew word for “Presence” simply means “face” as in when God spoke with Moses as a man talks face-to-face with his friend.( Ex. 33:11)
1) God’s “Omni” Presence. ( Psalm 139:7-10) This is simply a revelation of God’s Nature. He is everywhere at once and is aware of everything that is going on. My non-charismatic friends tell me that you can’t get closer to the Presence of God than realizing that he is Omnipresent, and that we are “in Christ!”. However, There is also:
2)Gods “Manifest” Presence. This is a subjective experiencing the Presence of God that is expressed through spiritual gifts, God “dwelling” or “enthroned” in the praises of his people ( Ps. 22:3), or, for instance in the Presence ( or “glory”) of God being so strong that the priests could not stand to minister in the house of God (2 Chronicles 5:13-14). It is this type of Presence that is referred to when we say we “felt” God’s presence.
3) God’s “Conditional” Presence. This is simply God responding to a hungry heart with his Presence ( “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8). Paul said when we put into practice his teachings “the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:9).
4) God’s “Absent” Presence. This is the one that is unpleasant but is at the same time just us biblical and just as much God’s “Presence” as in the previous three. Isaiah 50:10 indicates that a God-fearing obedient servant of God goes through times of “darkness” in which you cannot sense or feel the Presence of God. Scripture tells us that God “left” Hezekiah to test him and see what was in his heart ( 2 Chr. 32:31). Often we mistake these “dark” times as attacks from the devil when in reality they are visitations from God to help us to walk by faith, which by definition means “the evidence of things we cannot see” (Hebrews 11:6). King David, Jesus and the Apostle Paul all experienced these “Dark Nights of the Soul” ( Ps.22:1,Matt. 27:46, 2 Cor.1:8).
We need to understand that God at his choosing will take us into times of darkness so that we may be able to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor.5:7). Earlier Paul told the Corinthians that they needed to “fix their eyes on the unseen… because that which is seen is temporary but that which is unseen is eternal” ( 2 Cor. 4:16-18).
We must be careful that we do not demand “sensual” manifestations of God’s presence, when he may in fact be choosing to manifest himself in some other way. On the day of Pentecost He showed up in both a fire and a mighty wind ( Acts 2:2-3) and later in an earthquake ( Acts 16:26) but when Elijah was looking for God’s Presence He was not in the fire,wind or earthquake, but in a “…still small voice…”( 1 Ki. 19:11-12). God is not obligated to put on a dog and pony show for us every time we come into his Presence. Sometimes by his gracious initiatives he will manifest himself in many spectacular ways. Other times he just simply wants us to move by faith and in the words of Brother Lawrence “Practice the Presence of God”. God is good and wants us to experience his Presence but not to demand that it comes in any particular package.