Recently, after an opportunity to meet one on one with Pastor Jim Cymbala of the Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York, I had the joy of being at their Tuesday night prayer meeting. When a couple thousand people show up on a Tuesday night to pray you know you are in a very special place in the USA. I have been to many of those Tuesday night prayer meetings, but this one was more special because now I live on the West Coast and realize that opportunity will be much more rare.
But what makes that prayer meeting and I believe that church so special is a powerful sense of God’s presence. The focus is not on any man, pastor, program, worship leader or anything but the person of Jesus Christ. There is a desire for and reverence for the presence of God. And God draws near in a special way just as he promises to those who will reverence him, call on His name and draw near to him (James 4:8).
To be honest, I find this reality much more common outside of the US, in fact it’s often in some of the poorest or remotest places that His presence seems the strongest. We so easily turn to (and have access to anything we want) whether it be drugs, alcohol, sex, work, entertainment, food, sports, relationships or whatever else. Yet what we truly need and what alone satisfies is the presence of God. Only his very presence can truly fill that insatiable desire or craving in our souls. God made us for himself; apart from him we fill it with other substitutes (idols). Our hearts long not merely for knowledge about him, but He himself. In fact, heaven itself is heaven because God dwells there (Psalm 16:11)!
To be sure, God is everywhere at all times (Psalm 139:7). He has also promised to never leave or forsake his people, whether we “feel” that reality or not (Hebrews 13:5). But I’m not really talking about feelings; rather God’s presence being manifest. I believe these are two different things. And sadly, I believe we know very little of this reality in our lives and even churches, at least as we could and even should enjoy.
As I was spending some time alone just meditating on Scripture and then worshiping I was thinking more of this reality of God’s presence. Let me point out some verses in scripture regarding this dynamic and the result of “being in God’s presence.”
1 Chronicles 16:27: “Honor and majesty are found in His presence; strength and joy are found in His sanctuary.” (Amplified). Our hearts long for something bigger and beyond ourselves. We are constantly searching for something to “thrill us” “entertain us” or traveling long distances to be “awed” by a performance or nature’s beauty. But it’s God’s presence that the ultimate sense of awe, beauty, majesty, grandeur and glory is found. Everything else that “amazes us” ought to lead our hearts and lift our eyes to Him!
Secondly, notice that in His presence is strength and joy. God is not a joy-killer; he is a joy-giver! And it’s His joy that is in fact our strength! (Nehemiah 8:10). This world saps us of strength, but “those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength!” (Isaiah 40:28-31).
Again if this is true, how is it or why is it that we spend so little time in his presence or seeking Him? I’ve been asking myself this question. What a shame it is and how much we most miss out on!
Thirdly, Exodus 33:14: “The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Another benefit of God’s presence is “rest” or peace. As Augustine famously put it: “my heart is restless until it rests in you.” It’s only in God’s presence that our hearts are at rest and find rest. Jesus is after all the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).
Another reality of God’s presence is not only joy, strength and peace but divine protection. Psalm 31:20 says: “In the shelter of your presence you hide them from all human intrigues; you keep them safe in your dwelling from accusing tongues.” In His presence we find “shelter” from the brutality of the cruel words spoken by others about us or against us. Satan himself in fact is the “accuser of the brethren” (Revelation 12:10). We also find “safety” and a sense of “security” from the schemes of man in God’s presence. In our heads we may know He is Sovereign; but it’s in the security of His presence that we truly “know” or rest in that reality.
There is also power, breakthrough and blessing in God’s presence! Psalm 68:8 says: “the earth shook, the heavens poured down rain, before God, the One of Sinai, before God, the God of Israel.” God is all-powerful! But it’s in His presence that we really experience and recognize that reality. He shatters strongholds, shakes everything that can be shaken and pours forth his blessings.
Honor, majesty, strength, joy, peace, protection, power and blessings! All that is good is after all from God and in God, for He is good! And Ephesians 2:12 encourages us: “In him (Jesus) and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” God wants us to draw near! He wants us to come into His very presence. He wants to speak to us, to know us and for us to know Him.
Do you long for His presence? Do you linger in his presence or rush just to get through some ritual or service to appease some sense of guilt or duty? Oh, how much more God intends and has for us! There is an amazing verse in Exodus 33:11 that says: “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent.” Notice, Joshua couldn’t get enough of the presence of God! Moses would talk with God as speaking to a friend (meaning Moses had a very close walk and intimate fellowship with God); but Joshua simply wanted to stay in God’s presence! Do we?
We need to come believing or knowing God wants us to come to Him. We should come reverently, repentantly but also with rejoicing! Psalm 100:2 says: “Serve the LORD with gladness; Come before His presence with singing” Psalm 95:2 says “Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalm.” But Psalm 114:7 also says: “Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob.”
I challenge you, take time to draw near to the Lord. Put on some worship music and just seek His face. Lift up your hands in worship (Psalm 134:2). Focus your heart on Him. Meditate on who He is and his wonders (Psalm 145:5). Desire his presence more than anything else. Draw near to Him and let him draw near to you!
“One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock.” (Psalm 27:4-5).