Understanding God’s Presence
For as long as I’ve been a pastor, I’ve noticed God’s presence is one of the most talked-about ideas but, I think, misunderstood as well. In my observation, it’s because we define God’s presence by the goosebumps we can, at times, feel. While we all love that sensory confirmation of God’s presence, that is only the tip of the iceberg.
This misunderstanding is…well, understandable because when we are young in our faith God uses this felt sense of His presence as a guide as well as an assurance that He is near. But as we begin to mature in our faith our connection to God needs to mature as well.
Often we equate the felt presence of God as good and the seeming absence of His presence as bad. But I’m suggesting that’s not always the case. Instead, it may be that God is trusting you with a deeper, more intimate relationship.
We can also misinterpret this felt absence of God’s presence for something we’ve done wrong rather than a season of maturing God is inviting us into. We think we’ve sinned, He doesn’t love us, or if we can only try a little harder we will feel Him in the same way we use to. This way of thinking is to misunderstand God’s deep and passionate love for us; God’s love isn’t performance-based. It’s grace-based. (Read that last line again)
When a child begins to trust in a parent’s presence, even in absence, we know that is good and healthy. For example, when my kids were infants every time they would cry we would pick them up, soothe them, and remind them we are here. As they grew, their need to be reminded of our presence became less. Eventually, even in absence, they knew we were near. There was no need to cry out in the dark; even without sensory confirmation they knew we hadn’t abandoned them.
In fact, the deeper we know a person, the more we can trust them in absence. I don’t drive home from work wondering if my wife has packed up and left me. I know her. I know her character. I know she would do nothing to bring harm to me (intentionally). Similarly, the more we tolerate God’s felt absence, without falling apart, the more we trust His presence.
So that’s easy to say, but how do you do it? The short and difficult (for some like me) answer is we don’t do it. Fortunately, these are all things we can entrust to God. As you create space for Him — slowing down a busy lifestyle, and therefore a busy mind — you begin to be present in the moment.
Before Moses could notice the burning bush, he had to be present in the moment. If he is not present, he just passes by a bush that’s burning without noticing its significance. Being present in the moment led him to being present with God. (And, by the way, being present with God led him to being used by God to save His people.)
Being present is how you begin to hear Him again — even feel Him again. But now, not in a teenage clinging-to-my-first-love type of relationship. No, that is for the immature. Rather, a relationship that is forged from highs and lows — deep sorrow and great joy, want and contentment — but knowing that God is near through it all.
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