“Refuse to be content with just the knowledge of God, but insist on experiencing His presence”- Kerri Weems.
“Learning to host the Presence of God is the biggest challenge of the Christian life.”- Bill Johnson
“Lord, help me to seek Your presence above everything else.”- Joyce Meyer
Seek His Presence. Experience His presence. Practice His presence.
These words are so common today that when we hear them we probably don’t give them a second thought. But have you ever stopped to ask yourself what they actually mean? Is it even a biblical concept to seek to experience God’s presence? After all, didn’t Moses experience God’s presence on Mount Sinai? He was told by the burning bush to remove his sandals because he was standing on Holy Ground. Didn’t Isaiah experience God’s presence when the doorposts of the temple shook and the angel touched his lips with a burning coal and he cried, “Woe is me, for I am ruined!”? Didn’t Paul experience God’s presence on the Damascus road? Wouldn’t we want to experience what these people experienced?
There is no doubt that God’s manifest presence has been made known among His people. We see it throughout the Old Testament. God parted the Red Sea in a magnificent demonstration of His presence and power. He led His people with pillars of fire and cloud. He rained hailstones of fire on the evil cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. God even walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden in the cool of the day. In the New Testament we see God’s presence manifested on the Day of Pentecost, and certainly no more did people experience God’s presence than when He became flesh and dwelt among us in the Person of Jesus Christ. The power of His presence was made known in the miracles of Christ Himself as well as His apostles. God’s presence HAS been visibly seen, felt, and experienced among His people. But just because something happened in the past, does it mean that it is still happening? And are we told anywhere in scripture to seek to “experience God’s presence”? Are we to expect to “feel God’s presence” at certain times, such as during our worship? It’s as if His presence is some ultimate level of mystical embodiment to be repeatedly striven for and attained.
The expectation of supernaturally experiencing God’s presence is a modern practice of the charismatic, Word of Faith (WOF), and New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) movements, and was never something that was taught to believers in scripture or throughout Christian history. This is because these movements are largely experience-driven, emotion-led, and feelings-based. They are also theologically shallow and weak. What is sought of God can only be found in an emotional high, and all that emotion, and all those feelings are believed to be proof of “God’s presence”. However, nowhere in the New Testament Church can we find evidence of this. Nowhere in scripture are we told of this happening. When God decided to show up, HE SHOWED UP! Nowhere are we told to SEEK some experiential “encounter”. The Spirit of God isn’t some genie that we can conjure at will using a special formula of the music we play, the emotions we display, or words we say. He is God Almighty. He is at no one’s beck and call. And what so many churches and leaders seem to fail to understand is that God’s presence IS with us. At ALL times. The Holy Spirit lives WITHIN believers. Why do so many constantly desire a supernatural experience or long for some mystical “breath” or “fire” to “fall” in the room they are in? ( Falling gold dust and angel feathers “manifesting” at Bethel Church comes to mind ) Why do some pursue the emotional when the Holy Spirit is already promised to indwell believers at the moment of our regeneration? Why isn’t God Himself dwelling within us enough? What is faith if it is based on feelings? Why is there this need to seek the emotional? Is the rest of their faith so completely devoid of meaning that they must regularly rely on feeling something to have assurance that it is real? That is both terrifying and dangerous.
John MacArthur says in his sermon “The Promise of the Holy Spirit, Part 2”:
“Christian mysticism, through the Middle Ages, and even until now, has always sought to find God in some experience, some feeling, some emotion; some means by which the senses imminence is present. This has become a popular notion in evangelical churches that there are ways in which you can feel God, in which you can sense God’s presence.
Perhaps the most popular one is music. If you get the right music, if the music is sort of musically seductive enough and emotionally energized enough, people will say, “I just feel the presence of God. Don’t you feel the presence of God?”
Well, of course, that is absolute nonsense. You can’t feel the presence of God. You don’t have any mechanism to feel the presence of God. I’ve never “felt” the presence of God; I don’t even know what that means. But I do know this: He’s here. And more than that, He not only inhabits the praise of His people; is joined to His people in union all the time so that the church itself literally is in constant communion with God collectively; it’s not only true that where two or three are gathered together, He is in the midst. But, this is true.
And, listen; the Trinity lives in every Christian – the Trinity, three-in-one, in every Christian. There isn’t some experience that you can have that takes you into some communion with God that you otherwise don’t have. There isn’t some musical formula that can induce some kind of fellowship with God that, without the music, can’t happen. There certainly isn’t a drug that’s going to do anything other than alter your mind and make you think something’s happening that’s not.
Every believer is in constant, unending, eternal communion with the Trinity. And I’m not talking about when you come here, I’m talking about when you leave here. I’m talking about when you’re all by yourself and you’re driving along in your car alone, you are in the presence of the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – full and complete communion.
I think this is somehow lost on many evangelicals. There are so many foolish ideas to correct in the church, but this is a big one. The idea that somehow this notion of feeling God, or sensing God, or communing with God has to be induced by some mechanical mean – foolish.”
J.I. Packer says in his book “Knowing God”:
“Adam and Eve had intimate fellowship in the presence of God before the fall (Genesis 3:8). Since that time, sin has prevented our ability to be in the physical presence of God (Exodus 33:20). Now only the holy, sinless angels are in the physical presence of God (Luke 1:19). But Christians have the presence of God within us by virtue of His indwelling Holy Spirit (John 14:23; 15:4), and that indwelling presence comes only through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.“
Does this mean that hearing a song or reading a certain passage can’t make us emotional? Certainly not. I can be moved to tears when I sing of the Lord’s grace and salvation, or when I read Paul’s impassioned declaration, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel!” I cried just today when I heard a song about longing for Heaven. God created our emotions, and something would be wrong with us if we weren’t moved by Who He is and what He has done for us. But to allow our minds, bodies, and spirits to be completely taken over by a sensation, seeking an excitement and fervor in order to “feel God” is not something were are ever told to do. In fact, having this desire is not of God at all. Do they believe that unless they can feel God He isn’t there?
Caleb Suko says in his blog Article “Can You Feel God’s Presence?”
“…We must not measure the closeness of God based upon a particularly strong emotion or feeling. God is here, and as a believer I know that because he has promised to be in me until the end of the age (John 14:16-17) At times my feelings may agree with this, at times they may not, but it never changes the truth and it is to that truth that I must return again and again.”
But if we are not to seek the experience of God’s presence, what are we to seek?
*Seek His Face
What does this mean? Seeking God’s face means to desire to know His character and nature, to grow in relationship with Him more intimately through reading His word and growing more like Him.
From Danielle Bernock: “The Hebrew word used for face means “face, the part that turns.” It comes from the root that means “to turn, to face, appear, and look.” This implies being face-to-face ( not literally, since no one can see God’s face ) with God, which is a place of deep intimacy.“
*Seek His Kingdom
To seek God’s Kingdom is to put at the forefront the things that matter the most to God. To prioritize the things He prioritizes. To put the things of His Kingdom in their rightful place in our hearts and minds, and to live accordingly.
*Seek the Lord
This can seem to be a contradiction to Paul’s words in Romans that “No one seeks God”, yet we know the bible is without contradiction. The great reformer Jonathan Edwards said, “Seeking after God and seeking the kingdom of God is the main business of the Christian life.” That’s why worship on Sunday morning is to be designed chiefly and principally for the believer, not for the unbeliever. If an unbeliever happens to come, he’ll have the benefit of hearing the Word of God, but worship should be structured for the true seeker—the believer.“ Edwards also said, “You have no desire for God. You have no inclination to come to Him. You are morally in and of yourselves incapable of coming to Him. You will never seek Him until the Holy Spirit first changes the disposition of your heart and puts a desire in your heart for Him. ( John 6:44 ) Then, and only then, will you seek Him.“
Unbelievers don’t seek God until they become believers. Seeking God means seeking to know Him and His ways, and being obedient to Him, much the same as seeking His face. Seeking an experience is not seeking God Himself.
We can most certainly KNOW God’s presence in our lives without depending on a feeling. We know He is present when an unbeliever comes to saving faith. We know He is present when our eyes are opened to something in scripture we never understood before. We know He is present when we hear His word preached, can understand it, and are able to obey His commands. We know He is present when we see persecuted Christians endure suffering, even to the point of death. We know He is present when we have peace that surpasses understanding in the midst of trial. We know He is present when we are able to overcome temptation. We know He is present when His people praise Him. THESE are the proofs of His presence. These are the abilities Christians are capable of only if the presence of the Holy Spirit is living within us. He gives us what we need when we need it. He’s not a feeling or experience we have to go searching for. You already have all you could ever want or need if you will just be satisfied living in what He has already given. He is enough. If you believe you need to have a feeling in order to have Him, you need to search the scriptures and earnestly SEEK the truth. Feelings come and go. Experiences fade. And neither are in any way evidence of God’s being present in your life. His TRUE presence brings peace, joy, and contentment. Not a constant search for something more. Look at the lives and ultimate martyrdom of the apostles and other early Christians. They weren’t continually seeking an emotional experience or the next spiritual high. They sought to be faithful and obedient to the true and living God who gave them the ability to pay the ultimate price for their faith. What we are seeing in so many churches today is a deception. It is not what those men lived. Let us SEEK what they sought. To be more like Christ and to be willing to serve Him, spreading the gospel until we are FINALLY and FOREVER in His presence!
The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it?-Jeremiah 17:9
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.- Romans 12:2
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.-Colossians 2:8
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise.-Ephesians 5:15