“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.
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!