When We Talk About God's Presence
If you have been a follower of Jesus for any amount of time, it’s likely that you have heard someone mention God’s presence. This is especially true if you are swimming in Charismatic Christian streams. Perhaps you have heard someone mention how “thick” God’s presence was during a particular event or gathering. Or maybe it’s the opposite; someone described a lack of God’s presence during worship or prayer time. It’s a term that gets thrown around quite often but with little definition or explanation attached to it.
When I was an elementary school student, growing up in church, I heard adults reference God’s presence many times. With little to no elaboration on what it was or what it meant, I dreamed up my own explanation. I can still remember picturing beautifully wrapped presents floating down from heaven for people to open. While it may be accurate that God’s presence is a gift, the picture I had as a child is a poor explanation of what we are talking about when we talk about God’s presence.
What is God’s presence?
The simple answer is that God’s presence is literally Him present. Unfortunately, our semantics often make it much more complicated than that. The way in which many people discuss God’s presence you would think they were speaking of an independent, mystical force. Some even run the risk of inadvertently making God’s presence out to be a fourth member of the trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit and God’s presence). This happens when we depersonalize God’s presence by taking God out of the equation. Have you ever heard someone talk about the presence? The presence of who? It may seem like simple semantics but our words have the power to shape and form belief and culture. The reality is that you can’t have God’s presence unless God is present. You can’t have the experience without the person.
What are we experiencing in God’s presence?
Have you ever noticed that different people have a different effect on you? One person may enter a room and make you feel immediately energized. Another may cause you to feel nervous or uneasy. Somehow they accomplish this simply by being present. Often times we don’t even notice how the people around us are effecting us and we blindly react or adjust.
I have a close friend named Osil Pistole who is incredibly joyful 99% of the time. When her and I spend time together I almost always find myself experiencing joy in some form. It’s not that she is intentionally trying to cheer me up, joy just happens to be what she carries. When she is present, her joy affects people.
I believe it’s the same with God. When He is present, we begin to feel, experience and react to what He carries, and it is all good stuff. I believe that the best picture we have of what God carries is laid out for us in Galatians 5:22-23:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…”
The root of all of this is love, because according to 1 John 4:8, God is love. Love is what He exudes wherever He is and it is what we experience in His presence.
When is God present?
Something wonderful happened after Jesus sacrificed Himself on the cross and redeemed mankind. Through His love, He created a way in which He could make those who believe and confess that He is Lord a living temple of His Spirit (1 John 6:19). What He accomplished is great news for us because it means that He is present all the time. How could He possibly be any more present than living inside of us?
Often times we rely solely on events in order to experience God’s presence. I have heard many people express that they can’t wait for the next conference, prayer meeting or night of worship in order to get their “fix”. I am all for these kinds of gatherings and for the Body of Christ coming together in general. However, we should cautious not to settle for simply attending a meeting place when God’s clear desire for us is that we become a dwelling place. If God is, as scripture tells us, truly living within us then the question isn’t if God is present; the question is are we?
What if experiencing God’s presence begins with simply acknowledging that He is present?
Take a few minutes and mediate on what it means to be a temple of God’s spirit.
•What does it feel like to all five of your senses to be a temple of His Spirit?
•What does it look/feel like to live life and engage with people around you as a temple of His Spirit?
•What does it look/feel like to daily live out the truth that God loves you and has chosen to dwell in you?