One of the most meaningful, yet mystical, things we know about God is — His presence. A conscious sense of the presence of God keeps us from sin. It keeps us in His will. It tears down the lie that we are alone, lonely, and justified in pursuing whatever means to make ourselves feel better. When the awareness of His presence is added to the fact of His presence, all kinds of benefits come to us. How can we develop an awareness of the presence of God?
Ron Hughes, the president of FBH International is joined by Viji Roberts, a member of our board of directors, to lead us to some key Bible passages that are related to the presence of God.
RON: I’m glad that I have some help on this program, Viji. Thank you for your willingness to walk through this study with me.
VIJI: This is a great topic. That is because having an understanding of God and of His presence can enrich our spiritual lives immensely. Some people just muddle along through life without ever really understanding that God will be with them in a very real and practical way.
RON: As I’ve been thinking about our approach, I’ve decided to simplify it by looking at five key areas. The first one is to accept that you are accepted. God made the way we may approach Him abundantly clear — only by the blood of Jesus. When we receive God’s forgiveness based on the death of Jesus, and He puts His own Spirit in us, we can be sure that we are accepted.
Though little may change externally when we believe the truth of the Gospel, a profound change takes place inside us. Suddenly, the great canyon between God and ourselves is bridged and we are reconciled to God. Fellowship is restored. And we experience God as a friend rather than as a judge. However, let me emphasize something that goes against the cultural grain here, the only way to find acceptance with God is through the death of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Hebrews 10:19-22 “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”
RON: Since it was God who established the terms by which we may approach Him, if we do that, we can be sure that He will accept us. Then all that’s left is for us is to accept that He has done that. This isn’t a half and half proposition. God has done it all. Some of us struggle to accept that, but it’s true. That’s why we call the message of God’s love for us as expressed in the death of the Lord Jesus Christ “the gospel.” It is “good news” indeed. So, we begin to understand the presence of God by accepting that we are accepted.
VIJI: The second practical tip regarding the presence of God is this: Be Conscious of the Facts. The Bible is very clear about the presence of God, both in a general way throughout creation and in a specific way in the lives of His people. To establish the truth of this, let’s consider what the Bible says about this.
Psalm 139:7-12 “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.”
VIJI: When we talk about the presence of God, we’re not talking about something that can be perceived by any of our five senses. God is spirit, so we won’t experience His presence in exactly the same we experience the presence of our family and friends.
Unfortunately, some people think of God’s presence in a negative way. They think He is hovering about, just waiting to strike people dead. It is true that God’s universal or general presence ensures that nothing escapes His attention. However, we must also remember what we’ve already learned. God is happy as well as holy, gracious as well as grave, compassionate as well as uncompromising.
Let’s at least begin to think of God’s presence as one of blessing and comfort. Just like we might think of loving parents watching their little ones at play: offering some correction and discipline as needed, yes, but more concerned with their children enjoying themselves, acquiring new abilities, increasing their strength, and developing their social skills.
So we have this amazing relationship with the unseen God who is always present. This is impossible to describe in an entirely intellectually and emotionally satisfying way, but that’s not all.
We must remember that we do not merely live in the presence of God, but that God lives within us. God resides in us by His Spirit, in the lives of those who have been made right with God through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
1 Corinthians 3:16 “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”
VIJI: What an astounding thing — the God of Heaven also dwells in the hearts of His redeemed people. Regardless of our circumstances, our consciousness, or our condition, He is in us. So, we add to our understanding,
1. That we are accepted by God,
2. That we are conscious of the facts of His presence, everywhere in a general way, and
3. That He is involved in the lives of His children in a particular way.
RON: Normally, when we are with a friend, that fact has some influence on our behaviour. We acknowledge their presence, give them some attention, listen as well as talk, and some of us might even try to avoid distractions. Obviously, though God is a person, He is not a human, so our perception of and response to His presence will be different. Yet I have to think that being aware of God’s presence should make some impact on the way we act.
A meaningful mutual relationship with another person requires intentionality. When we acknowledge that God desires to have fellowship with us, we have to be purposeful about engaging in that. In Romans 8, Paul discussed the fact that believers are not controlled by the flesh, but by the Spirit and concluded that “we have an obligation” to live in a way that lines up with the Spirit.
Many believers will have one of two challenges related to this. Some will struggle to open themselves to experience intimacy with the Lord. Perhaps for reasons they can’t easily identify, they guard themselves from vulnerability. Old habits die hard and though it is ridiculous to try to hide anything from God, they can’t stop trying. I suspect that what they are really doing is hiding things from themselves. They don’t want to have to deal with deep issues which might challenge them.
So some don’t want to be open to an intimate relationship with the Lord, while others are just so distracted by the comings and goings of daily life that they can’t perceive His presence. The hustle and bustle of family, work, entertainment, obligations, even ministry, drown out the quiet presence of God. In both cases, we need to be intentional about,
1. Being open to God so that He can do His convicting work in our lives unimpeded, and
2. Being quiet enough that we are able to focus on His presence and really listen to Him as He speaks to us through the Scriptures. We’re not merely reading words to inform our intellect, we’re searching out truth to change our lives.
Our attitude in His presence is one of humble boldness—recognizing that on one level, we approach as unworthy supplicants, yet on another, as cherished sons and daughters. Yet from God’s perspective, He’s inviting us to the intimacy of friends. Jesus told his disciples that those who keep His commandments are His friends John 15:14. Usually we’d associate commands with a master/servant relationship, not a friend/friend one. But notice the next verse as well.
John 15:14-15 “You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”
RON: Of course we are going to do what He commands because we’re on the same team—fighting the same enemy, striving for the same goals, overcoming the same obstacles, driven by the same purpose, empowered by the same God. Think of a sports team—everyone wants a good relationship with the coach and to understand his or her strategies so they can win, win, win. Or consider a music ensemble—all the players want to understand the conductor’s interpretation so they can make the best music possible.
So we begin by accepting that God accepts us, then we understand the facts about His presence, both in general throughout the universe and related to the individual believer. Next we consciously and intentionally acknowledge the reality of His presence. VIJI: And there is more. The next thing to do as we become aware of the presence of God is to be alert to the signs of His moving around us. In 1Kings 19, we read about Elijah’s encounter with the presence of God.
1 Kings 19:11-12 “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. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.”
VIJI: Signs and wonders have their place and they may indicate the presence of God in power, but the presence of God is not confined to miraculous occurrences. In normal circumstances, the presence of God does not draw a lot of attention. It seems that God prefers to work in the background.
Proverbs 21:1 lets us know that God is intimately involved in world affairs when it tells us that the hearts of national leaders are in the Lord’s hand and He can turn it where He wants it to go.
In Isaiah 43:18-19 God challenged His distracted, unfaithful people, telling them to “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”
God was at work all around them and they had not noticed what He was doing. Sadly, it would require the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy of judgment before much in the way of spiritual restoration would take place.
Let’s recap what we have covered till now,
1. God accepts us through the blood of Jesus.
2. We understood the facts about His presence.
3. We acknowledge the reality of His presence.
4. We watch for signs of God’s work around us Remember this won’t always look big and dramatic. In fact, most of the time it will require our careful attention, but if we watch closely we will see that God is at work both at the global scale, and personally, in and around us.
The wonderful thing about promises of God, like this one regarding His presence, is that it requires no big effort on our part. The more we consciously live in it, the easier and more natural it becomes.
RON: We have looked at four of the five key ideas I mentioned at the beginning of the program. Here’s the last one: rest in the fact of his presence. Don’t worry if you’re not always having an intense emotional experience. Remember emotional arousal may accompany spiritual activity, but is not necessary. We have God’s own promise of His presence. Run with that.
Accepting that He is present, whether or not we “sense” it somehow, is a sign of spiritual maturity. The presence of God does not guarantee problem-free living. What it does is comfort, encourage, and sustain us as we go through our trials. This is what allows us to rest, to have inner peace, and the kind of joy Jesus had as He faced the cross.