The theologians have a fancy word (omnipresence) that tells us God is everywhere. What good is it to have a theology that asserts God’s presence is everywhere if there is no evidence of it? Do we experience his presence? Are we aware when God is in the room? Jesus never intended for us to be disciples or to make disciples apart from the personal experience of his presence.
The Bible, our guidebook for walking with God, is filled with the fact of God’s tangible presence. God’s presence is overwhelming in the first two chapters of Genesis: God personally forms humanity from the dust of the ground, kisses the breath of life into the first man, instructs and guides his children as he walks in the garden with them. This same Bible--thousands of pages later--closes with the same overwhelming presence: “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.” (Revelation 21: 3)
Between the stretch from Genesis and Revelation God visits Abraham; Jacob finds himself in hand-to-hand combat with the Almighty; God talks with Moses face to face the way friends speak to one another; he reveals his presence in the cloud and the fire around the people of Israel; when Solomon dedicates the temple God manifests in a cloud so thick with his presence that no one can remain standing or perform the duties of worship. Ezekiel saw God’s traveling throne. Isaiah saw the temple filled with God’s presence and glory. And that’s just the Old Testament.
The Bible teaches that God is omnipresent, but forget that: do you experience his presence? If there is any hope for transformation as a follower of Jesus, we must be able to recognize and experience his presence. We must not settle for anything less than the experience of his presence.
The Great Commission, our call to make disciples, contains the promise of his presence, “And surely I am with you always.” (Matthew 28: 20) To make disciples apart from the active presence of Jesus is to make disciples who look like us, not Jesus.
Amazingly, opening ourselves up to the presence of Jesus is not any different from developing a friendship with anyone else. He goes where is welcomed. He stays and develops friendships with those who order their lives around him. What, then, can we do to teach ourselves to recognize and enjoy the presence of God?
I’d like to suggest at least five approaches to experiencing God’s presence:
The first step in experiencing the presence of God is to take the Biblical witness seriously. The plain message of scripture is that God is highly relational and desires us to experience an awareness of him daily. Those of us with a high view of scripture should allow the Bible to whet our appetite to interact with our Maker on a personal level daily. We have a choice: if our experience does not match the revealed word of God, we must choose to change our way of life and pursue the experience he has promised.
Second, we should order our lives in ways that allow us to experience his presence. The spiritual disciplines of silence and solitude stand in the forefront here. Many of us are unable to start a car without turning on the radio. We must tune our senses to perceive the presence of God. Why not seriously try silence or solitude for an hour—or a day? This is not mysticism, it is discipleship.
Third, we should consider the joyful example of others. Throughout history the witness is consistent: those who have been most aware of God’s presence have experienced the joy and peace that flow from that relationship. Brother Lawrence, a 17th century Carmelite, discovered that daily activities did not have to block an awareness of God’s presence. He experienced “little reminders” from God that “set him on fire to the point that he felt a great impulse to shout praises, to sing, and to dance before the Lord with joy . . . the worst trial he could imagine was losing his sense of God’s presence, which had been with him for so long a time.”
Fourth, the presence of God has implications for our life together as the church. Together we are the bride of Christ, and he longs to bestow his presence on the assembled church as well. It is popular in our day to embrace Jesus and shun the church. Popular, but incorrect. The church is one expression of the presence of God in the earth. If we value the presence of God in our lives we should look for his presence in the church.
Finally, one aspect of God’s presence is the power of God. John Wimber, founder or the Vineyard Movement, said that power of God is in the presence of God. For those Christians who embrace the possibilities of miraculous signs and wonders in ministry, the secret is not to seek some special spiritual power, but rather the tangible presence of God.
These five considerations are not an exhaustive list. They are merely the starting point. Can we have the same experiences of God’s presence recorded in the Scripture? Are we willing to order our lives around the expectation of his presence? Will we discover the joy of his presence? Can the church really become an expression God’s presence on earth? And finally, are we willing to recognize that his tangible presence could provide power for “supernatural” ministry? These questions can only be answered if we are willing to move from “lecture” to “lab.”