The Presence of God #5 June 25, 2018

Wait on the Lord; be strong and may your heart be stout; wait on the Lord. Psalm 27:14

Here’s the same verse in the Passion Translation:

Here’s what I’ve learned through it all; Don’t give up, don’t be impatient. Be entwined as one with the Lord. Be brave and courageous and never lose hope. Yes, keep on waiting for He will never disappoint you!  Psalm 27:14 TPT

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When we find ourselves in times of waiting for God to answer our requests, to show up, to step in, to intervene, it can be one of the most difficult disciplines in our Christian walk.  Not just once or twice, but several times in the scriptures we are commanded to ‘wait upon the Lord’.  [Yes, I said ‘commanded’. Sorry, it’s not a suggestion!]  Yet everyone of those verses come with the promise of a blessing for those who will wait and not give up, nor take matters into their own hands.

Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary and they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31

Those who wait for Me shall not be ashamed.  Isaiah 49:23

Let’s be honest – it’s mega difficult to wait!  Who likes it? Nobody I know.  Personally I’m a great fan of verse 126 in Psalm 119: ‘It is time, O Lord for You to act!’  I like that one, don’t you?

Here’s the rub: it’s in what I call the ‘between times’ of His conscious Presence with us, that our true spiritual maturity is evident….or not.  Most of life, whether we like it or not, is lived ‘between times’ of His conscious manifest Presence and His ‘unconscious’ Presence with us.  It’s easy to have faith, to worship with soaring devotion and to love Him and one another when His Presence overwhelms us.  But it’s when that conscious, delightful Presence of the Lord is not so evident that our life of faith and trust has occasion to shine.

The book of Hebrews makes clear that without faith, we cannot please God. Our faith is precious in His sight – and perhaps, most precious when answers to our prayers seem to be delayed..and then delayed some more.

I often think of the hundred and twenty in the Upper Room after the Ascension of the Lord Jesus. He had commanded them to return to Jerusalem ‘and wait’.  Acts 1:4

Put yourself in their place for a moment. The Master they so loved, the One they’d lived with for three and a half years had disappeared into a cloud.  They return to Jerusalem.  One day passes, two days, three days…how long did it take for the first person to voice what perhaps many were thinking?

‘Peter, how long do we have to wait? Why hasn’t He come back yet?’

There can be no doubt that they were missing Him, missing His presence.

Now consider this: they had the SAME promise you and I have. ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’  But He wasn’t there, at least not physically.  They couldn’t look into His face.  They couldn’t hear His voice.  They were men just like us. ‘How long do we have to wait?’

There’s only one answer: until the Lord’s perfect moment.  He is never late and He is never early. He is ALWAYS right on time – His time, not ours.

Our willingness to wait in faith believing, is what in part demonstrates how much we love and trust Him.  Look at how Paul amplifies a precious verse from Isaiah:

For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by ear, neither has the eye seen a God besides You, who acts for the one who waits for Him.  Isaiah 64:4

Paul writes to the Corinthians: Eye has not seen nor ear heard nor has it entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.  I Cor. 2:9

Paul didn’t misquote Isaiah.  He made the connection for us between waiting and loving.  Those who will wait upon the Lord, even when His presence seems more like absence, demonstrate their love for the Lord in the waiting.

Application

We have something worth waiting for, brothers and sisters.  Eternal, glorious life in the Manifest Presence of our blessed Lord and the entire cloud of witnesses, those saints who have gone on before us, as well as myriads upon myriads of angels.

Are you waiting right now for the Lord to answer a prayer, fulfill a desire, meet a need?

Be encouraged that your faith in the “between times” is precious in His eyes.  Hang on, wait with joy. Don’t let the enemy tempt you to impatience or discouragement.  His promises NEVER fail and His Presence will NEVER leave you!

The Presence of God #4 June 19, 2018

Truly You are a God who hides Yourself, O God of Israel, the Savior.  Isaiah 45:15

Godhides

Have you ever felt as though God was hiding? You pray, you call out to Him and it seems as though no one is listening?  Oh, you can be sure He IS listening even though it doesn’t seem so to you.

There are a few reasons why God seems to ‘hide’ Himself from us at times.

He may be trying to get our attention away from those things that have been distracting us.  Let’s face it – our daily lives are full of events and people that can distract us from our purpose, our calling and our spiritual pursuit of the Lord.

It may be that He is disciplining us or as some would describe it, chastening us. What does that mean?  Chastening is essentially God hiding Himself from us.  It’s when we seem to hit a wall, when nothing makes sense and the heavens seems closed. It’s when you feel deserted, when the God who was so real to you three days ago has disappeared and you can’t seem to find Him again.

King David experienced those this.  He wrote: ‘Why do you stand far off, Lord? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?’  Psalm 10:1  And again: How long, O Lord? Will You forget me for good? How long will You hide Your face from me?’  Psalm 13:1

The irony of these times we experience is this: at the very time that the Lord seems the most absent to you, He is actually totally present.  The ‘hiding of His Face’, properly understood, is a blessing in disguise for which we must learn to be grateful.  It is absolute proof that He loves you!

My son, do not despise the discipline of the lord, nor grow weary when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and scourges every son whom He receives.  Hebrews 12:5-6

We love to feel His conscious and manifest presence and wish those times would last forever.  They will…in eternity.  But in this life one of the most important lessons to learn is to believe His Word just as much when we feel nothing as when His manifest presence is all around us.  It pleases Him immensely when we believe His Word during the hiding of His Face from us as much as we do when He allows us to sense His powerful presence.

Think of it this way, when the Lord reveals His presence in a manifest way, He is pleasing us.  When we believe His Word and stand on it unconditionally without the sense of His presence, we please Him. 

And we should get as much joy in pleasing Him as when He pleases us.

Here’s the question we must ask ourselves: Do we want more of God or more from God?

What makes you happier – knowing you are pleasing Him or having Him please you?

Paul told Timothy to be ‘ready in season and out of season’. 2 Tim. 4:2 Fundamentally that means be equally faithful and diligent whether you feel like it or not!

Do you find your joy in knowing that you please Him?  One of the most telling verses in the New Testament is about Enoch who received this commendation: that he ‘pleased God.’  Heb. 11:5

Perhaps you remember your parents saying to you when you needed to be disciplined, ‘This hurts me more than it hurts you.’ Father God feels the same way. He gets no pleasure in hiding from us for after all, He created us for fellowship with Him! He only hides His Face when He knows we need it.

Over the years a number of people have expressed to me or in my presence the fear that perhaps they’re not really saved.  When I hear that, I like to ask them one question: ‘Have you ever been disciplined by the Lord? Convicted or rebuked?’  If they say ‘Yes’ and they all have, my response is: ‘Praise the Lord! God only chastens those whom He loves, so rejoice.’

Here’s what we need to understand about the Lord’s chastening in our lives:

1) He has nothing to prove; He doesn’t turn around the ask the angels, ‘Was that too harsh?’ He is perfect in all of His ways towards us.

2) He never loses His temper when He disciplines us.

3) He doesn’t shout at you or use harsh language.

4) He asks you to follow His ways because they’re the best for you.

5) He doesn’t demand you be perfect, only faithful to His Word

6) He ALWAYS has time for you – always! He never leaves you nor forsakes you.

Our sin nature is allergic to holiness.  The Lord in His abundant love disciplines us that we might ‘share in His holiness.’ Heb. 12:10  He created us to be transformed into the image and likeness of His beloved Son, Jesus. Therefore, He will do whatever it takes in our lives to drive us to our knees, solidify our focus on Him and persuade our hearts to love Him and His will above all else.

Application:

There’s a wonderful song that includes in the lyrics this phrase: ‘He never gives up, He never gives up, He never gives up on me.’

Aren’t you thankful that He doesn’t!

For it is God who is at work in you to will and to do of His good pleasure.  Phil. 2:13

 

The Presence of God #3 June 12, 2018

Where could I go from Your Spirit?  Where could I hide from Your Face?  If I go up to heaven, You’re there; if I go down to the realm of the dead, You’re there, too! If I fly with wings into the shining dawn, You’re there.  If I fly into the radiant sunset, You’re there waiting!  Wherever I go, Your hand will guide me; Your strength will empower me.  It’s impossible to disappear from You or to ask the darkness to hide me, for Your Presence is everywhere, bringing light into my night.  There is no such thing as darkness with You.  The night to You is as bright as the day; there’s no difference between the two.  Psalm 139:7-12  (The Passion Translation)

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We have already learned that there are two ways to understand God’s presence. His conscious, manifest presence is when everything in you is aware that He is in you, before you, behind you and surrounds you.  His unconscious presence is when He is just as much with you but you are not aware or ‘conscious’ of His pervading presence.  However, the fact that you don’t ‘feel’ Him doesn’t mean He isn’t there.  Moreover, the fact that you may not believe He is with you doesn’t mean He’s gone away for Paul clearly declared to Timothy (and to us) that God ‘remains faithful for He cannot deny Himself.’ 2 Timothy 2:13

The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.  Prov. 15:3

Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I do not see him? says the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the LORD.  Jeremiah 23:24

Never underestimate the reality of His presence in your life at ALL times.

Think of Jacob who as a young man could not have imagined that generations would repeat the phrase, ‘the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’; Jacob would could not have imagined that his name would be changed to Israel and would become the name of a nation.

And it all began at a place called Bethel where Jacob felt nothing!  Remember what he said after he awoke from his dream.  Surely the LORD is in this place and I did not know it!  Genesis 28:16

Bethel was also the place that Jacob was commanded to return to when he’d drifted away from his earlier awareness of the LORD’s presence.

Put away the foreign gods that are among you.  Purify yourselves and change your clothes. Let us arise and go up to Bethel and there I will make an altar to God who answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone Genesis 35: 1-3

Years after his first awareness of the LORD’s presence, notice what Jacob says.  God ‘answered me in the day of my distress’ and ‘has been with me wherever I have gone.’

This was after his mistreatment at the hands of Laban and after his daughter, Dinah, had been violated.  His family was in trouble and Jacob was fearful after his two sons had murdered all the men of Shechem in retribution for the defilement of their sister.  It was then that God spoke to him and said, ‘Go back to Bethel’.  In other words, go back to where you first experienced My Presence, Jacob.  Let Me refresh and renew you. Seek My Presence again for it is only there that you will find peace and direction for the future.

God demonstrated to an unworthy Jacob the greatness of His grace and mercy.  There is no sin too great, no failure too final, no discouragement too hopeless.  When God’s people ‘arise and go back to Bethel‘, they find a loving LORD waiting with open arms to restore, renew, heal and empower those whose hearts are after Him.

What am I saying?  Bethel is symbolic of that place where you and I commune with the LORD privately, personally and passionately.  It is a metaphor for our personal, set-aside time to be with Him.  Like Jacob, we may not ‘feel’ anything but be assured by the Word of God, that the LORD is ALWAYS with you, listening.  He delights in hearing from His children.  He delights in your yearning to be with Him.  He delights in answering you in the day of your distress, confusion or questioning.  He has promised that if we seek Him, we WILL find Him.

Are you thinking: this is too good to be true? Is it really possible that the presence of God has been with me, even on my worst days? Even before I surrendered my life to the Lord?

Yes, it IS true! For His presence does not depend on your works, but on HIS faithfulness.

Bethel is a lasting symbol of hope.  When you and I feel absolutely bereft of spirituality or any kind of goodness, when our confidence is lower than low, Bethel reminds us that our God is a God of surprises, that He never leaves us or forsakes us.  Bethel is the reminder that when you think there is no hope, there IS hope for the Lord is with you like He was with Jacob even when you ‘don’t know it’.

When Jacob first prayed at Bethel, he felt nothing.  He simply prayed and went to sleep! But a few hours later he was able to declare, Surely the LORD is in this place and I did not know it.  Then he added, ‘How awesome is this place!’  Gen. 28: 16-17

May the conscious presence of the LORD increase in each of our lives as we choose to spend increasing time seeking Him.

The Presence of God #2 June 5, 2018

“When God shows up, there is no limit to what can happen,” said the preacher one summer evening many years ago.  His statement floated back into my mind as I was pondering this week’s lesson.

There is no doubt that when the manifest presence of God invades a community that has gathered for worship, that gathering becomes not only memorable but life-impacting for each person present.  I had the privilege of being in just such a gathering last night.  I will never forget it.  Miracles of soul and body occurred, including the healing of a woman who had been afflicted with MS for thirty-one years!  The joy of the Lord invaded the place as the worship ascended powerfully and passionately from the people to the very throne of Almighty God.  It was a night to remember and the tangible sense of His presence still lingers nearly 24 hours later.

manifestpresence

We love the manifestation of God’s presence in our midst and pray to be ever open to however He chooses to grace us with such a tangible Presence.  What we must know just as convincingly, however, is that His ‘unconscious’ Presence is every bit as real as when we feel His closeness.

God has unique ways of letting us know He is with us.  He shows up in unpredictable and unprecedented ways during times of awakening and/or revival.  But the fact remains that He is just as much at work in us and for us when we are UNCONSCIOUS of His presence as when His Spirit blows through our congregational meetings in such power that we literally feel His presence.

We are very much like Peter, James and John on the mount of Transfiguration. Having seen the glory of God as Jesus was transfigured before their eyes, Peter said, “Lord, it’s good for us to be here.”  We would like gatherings like the one I was in last night to be the norm of our experience. But like Peter, James and John, after a powerful worship experience, we have to ‘come down the mountain’ and back into daily life.  Does that mean we relegate what we experienced to a place in our memory and turn away to ‘mundane’ living?  No – what it means is that we take His presence with us into what we otherwise view as ‘mundane’ living.

The unconscious presence of God only means that we don’t feel Him close to us yet He is ALWAYS with us and His presence is more real than what we can see with our eyes or touch with our hands.  It is only the ‘sense’ of His presence that we sometimes lack, NOT His Presence itself!

I am reminded of Jacob.  He left home to run away from his brother, Esau, who wanted to kill him.  Having reached “a certain place” (Gen. 28:11) Jacob took a stone to use as a pillow and went to sleep, tired from his journey.  There was nothing spectacular about the place, no sign that said, ‘This is a sacred spot’.

But as Jacob slept, God visited him in a dream which made Jacob know that the God of his grandfather, Abraham, was his God as well.  The promise God made to Jacob in that dream was too good to be true! (Gen. 28:11-15)  Jacob’s life was radically changed from that moment on.

But notice – Jacob was at a place where he felt nothing at first – no sense of God’s presence, no heavenly music, no fellowship with others of like mind. Just Jacob with his head on a stone, falling asleep.  Yet that very place was pivotal not only for Jacob but for countless millions throughout history.  The name of the place was Bethel, which means ‘the house of God’.

After he woke up from the dream, Jacob said, Surely the LORD is in this place and I did not know it.’ (Gen. 28:16)

Jacob’s declaration is one that we could make many, many times throughout our lives: God IS in this place but I was not aware of it!

The FACT of God’s presence with you twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year is an absolute reality whether you ‘feel’ Him or not.  It’s NOT that He is with us when we feel Him and has left us when we don’t.  NOT AT ALL!

He is with you when you’re struggling and when you’re having fun.

He is with you in your most embarrassing moment and when you have it all together.

He is with you when you’re tired and afraid and when you feel like you could kill a lion with your bare hands.

He is with you when you’ve messed up and when you’ve won a great victory.

He’s with you!  He’s promised it and God cannot lie.

I will never leave you nor forsake you.  Hebrews 13:5

I am with you always, even to the end of the age.  Matt. 28:20

He’s just like that – always with you. Why? Because He passionately loves you and provides you with everything you will ever need to become like His beloved Son.

To enjoy His presence, we all must learn to appreciate His unconscious Presence and honor it by faith even when we don’t feel it.  For without faith it is impossible to please God. Hebrews 11:6

I wish that all of us would frequently experience the kind of gathering we enjoyed last night where the manifest, tangible Presence of God swept over an entire congregation, where everybody was engaged with it and lifted higher in worship and praise.

But I pray as well that our worship and praise, our confidence and trust would be just as  passionate when FAITH is the vehicle rather than feeling.

Keep seeking His Face!