In a world of pain, the presence of God is our truest comfort. This is the overarching theme of Psalm 23 – life in the presence of the Shepherd. But what exactly is “God’s presence”? How do we understand it, and more importantly, experience it? There are three categories for understanding God’s presence.
Recently, I dropped my kids off for their first day of school. I have four daughters, and as they left the car, they walked off in four different directions. I knew they would face different challenges throughout the day, because they have unique personalities, insecurities, strengths, and weaknesses. But I also knew God would be with each of them – from first grade show-and-tell, to eighth grade algebra – because God is everywhere.
In Psalm 139:7-10, David writes, “Where can I go to escape your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I fly on the wings of the dawn and settle down on the western horizon, even there your hand will lead me; your right hand will hold on to me.”
Understanding the omnipresence of God is a game-changer when it comes to our perspective. If we truly believe God is present everywhere, we don’t have to control everything and be everywhere ourselves. It changes the way we pray. Why rely on my own, limited self, when I can call upon a God who sees and knows all things? It changes our view of trauma. The whole idea that “I was alone when that horrible thing happened” isn’t true. God was there. I am seen, known, and loved by Him, even in my darkest moments.
Where do you need to be comforted and reassured by the omnipresence of God?
The indwelling presence of God is the Spirit of God at work in me. In Acts 2, on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit comes like a violent wind to fill the house where the disciples are sitting, and then, to fill their very beings. From this point forward, every believer in Jesus is filled with His Spirit. In I Corinthians 3:16, Paul writes, “Don’t you yourselves know that you are God’s temple and that the Spirit of God lives in you?” So it is for all Christians. We have supernatural wisdom and power dwelling within us, and this is our ultimate hope both in life and death – Christ in me, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).
Where do you need the indwelling presence of Jesus to strengthen you? To grant you wisdom, direction, and freedom from sin?
This is the felt presence of God. It’s God showing up in a specific situation for a specific purpose. When I was sixteen, I left a lifestyle of partying and drug abuse after having a bad reaction to a random drug I smoked with a friend. One night, as a brand new Christian, I was invited to a youth gathering. I remember the speaker saying, “If you feel broken, come forward, and let’s pray.” I went forward and knelt beside a few other students. As the speaker prayed, I was overcome by all the brokenness in my life. I started to cry – harder and harder. Suddenly, I realized I was crying so loudly that an entire group of students had surrounded me and put their hands on me. It was a moment when I experienced the presence of God deeply and personally.
When we pray for the manifest presence of God, we’re asking God to show up in a specific situation and move. This category is a little more nuanced than the first two. God doesn’t manifest Himself all the time, everywhere, in all the same ways. In the Bible we see the manifest presence of God when He leads the Israelites in a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night (Exodus 13:21). God is intentionally showing up and acting for a specific purpose.
Where do you need God to show up and act? Where do you long to experience His felt presence?
Understanding these three categories enriches our understanding of God. He is the transcendent God – present in every circumstance. He is the intimate God – dwelling in the hearts of His children. He is God made manifest – an ever-present help in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1).
He is present.
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