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Jun 26, 2011

The Presence: What's it Like?

Passage: Deuteronomy 33:1-17

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: God's Presence

Category: Christian Walk

Keywords: revival, awakening, presece of god


The presence of people in our lives is one of the most important influencers we have. How much more important is the presence of God. This message looks at three levels of God's presence and focuses particularly upon the manifest presence of God when God comes near in historic revival and awakening.


The Presence—What’s It Like?

June 26, 2011 

INTRO:  What’s the longest period of time you’ve spent ALL alone…with no other human being around? 

      The presence of other people is virtually a given for most of us, isn’t it.  Even if you’re living alone, it’s probably rare for a day to go by without you having one or a number of different interactions with other people either on the phone, or at the grocery store or at work. 

      Life would be very, very different if we did not share life at some level with other human beings, right?  In fact, when we want to punish people we sometimes remove them from the presence of people, don’t we? 

  • As a little boy, I can remember a number of occasions when I was sent to my room and told to stay there…alone…until mom or dad said I could come out.
  • In prison, the most extreme form of incarceration is when you are sent to solitary confinement—put in a cell all alone without any other human contact except for the food that may be shoved through a hole in the door a few times a day. 

But the presence of people changes everything in life, doesn’t it. 

  • My brother’s presence in our home always changed how I felt about going downstairs.  He was 6’5” and 18 years old when I was 3’8” and 5 years old.  When he was home he lived downstairs in the family home here in Spokane when I was a kid.  Just at the bottom of the stairs going down to the downstairs was a little entryway with a door that led to the storage room and workshop area.  I don’t know how many times he would hide there…especially at night…and then jump out and scare the living daylights out of me.  Even if I was pretty sure he was there, I would creep down the stairs, talking to him the whole time, telling him I knew he was there…and all he had to do was jump out and yell something and he’d scare the bejeebies out of me. It took about 15 years to get over my fear of the dark and the downstairs of our house!  Ever had someone living near you whose presence could scare you like that…or in a far worse way?
  • My dad’s presence was totally different.  The only time I was in any way “afraid” of Dad’s presence was when he would rebuke me with a very few stern words for having blatantly disobeyed him or done something I knew I shouldn’t have. 

      Without exception, the rest of the time, his presence always gave me a safe feeling

      We could be tent camping on Upper Priest Lake, knowing there were bears in the area, and it could be pitch black, windy and stormy…and I wasn’t afraid because…Dad was there. 

      When I was in junior high, experiencing depression for the first time in my life, hating school and dreading the thought of having to go back the next day, Dad could just walk in the room where I was studying with my back to the door, put his hand on my shoulder, and almost instantly the tears and the words would begin flowing as I poured out my troubles. 

      There is not a single memory I have of my father not protecting our family from outside danger or being calloused to our concerns in life. 

Do you know people like that whose presence gives you an automatic sense of safety, love and protection?

People’s presence can bring on the whole range of emotions and reactions, right?  They can scare us or comfort us, discourage us or encourage us, be a head ache or be a heart-throb. 

What is it that makes the difference?  What makes us want to be with some people and want to avoid others?  I think it boils down to a couple of pretty obvious things:

  • To the character/nature of a person.
  • To the actions, reactions and behaviors of a person.

The presence of people of evil, selfish or bad character can and should produce a whole host of unwanted emotions, reactions and feelings.  But people of good, selfless and righteous character can, and often do, bring a whole different set of very wonderful and welcome feelings, right?

We’re going to be looking at the presence of God over the next three weeks.  Scripture is full of people encountering the presence of God.  So is church history.  So over the next few weeks, I want us to look at some passages as well as hear from some people who have something to teach us about experiencing the presence of God. 

Like any relationship on the human plane, the presence of God changes life.  Whether or not I was aware of Dad being home in our house, his presence changed life for me.  If a stranger came to the door or someone was prowling around the house, Dad’s presence made home a safe place…just because he was there.  When he came into a room, conversation sometimes changed.  When he sat at the breakfast or dinner table, his presence influenced when we eat and what we talked about. 

God is like that too…only more.  We’re not always aware of his presence, but he’s always with us.  There are times when his presence makes us uncomfortable.  There are times when his presence brings peace or joy.  There are times when his presence gives us a glimpse of life like we’ve never understood it before.  There are times when His presence confuses us with his silence or with his truth. 

There have been thousands, probably millions of times, in human history when the presence of God has so radically changed people, families, churches, even whole nations, that they have never been the same after those encounters.  The Bible begins in Genesis with God interacting and being present with mankind in the Garden of Eden and it ends in the book of Revelation with God being present with us and all his people in the new heaven and new earth.  In between Genesis and Revelation are 64 books that all deal with how people have experienced and can experience the presence of God in every kind of human experience imaginable.  The Bible is all about God’s presence.

Friday of this week I had breakfast with 3 other pastors in this city and one missionary.  Three of the four of us are second-generation believers in Jesus.  All of us have children and, in one case grandchildren who are also followers of Jesus.  In the case of each of us, we have been marked by parents or parents-in-law who were passionate first-generation followers of Jesus Christ. 

      One of the men’s dad started a ministry in India after being the first in his family to put his faith in Christ.  This man’s father and mother were both disowned by their Hindu families when they chose Jesus. Neither of their extended families has yet come to Christ.  But over the course of 45 years of ministry in New Deli that began with and from nothing,  this man’s parents have rescued and raise over 25,200 orphans.  40% of those orphans have gone into full-time Christian ministry in India.  They have trained and sent out all over India over 10,000 pastors and evangelists, some of whom have been killed for preaching the Gospel. 

      This man’s son said to us over breakfast, “There is a generational drift that happens all too frequently with God’s people.  For the first generation to believe in Christ, Jesus is a passionate necessity.  For their children, the second generation of Christians, Christ is a privileged inheritance.  For the 3rd generation, Jesus becomes a pleasant option.  And by the fourth generation Jesus is a pesky interruption. 

Which one of those four is Jesus Christ to you:

  • Passionate necessity?
  • Privileged inheritance?
  • Pleasant option?
  • Pesky interruption? 

That’s why I’m so passionate about this matter of the presence of God.  If my children and their children and their children after them experience the presence of God in power, then I will have no regrets…even if they choose not to walk with God.  I will have tears and I will have sorrow if they reject the presence of God, but I will have no regrets.  But if my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren live a lifetime without ever encountering the powerful, convicting, overwhelming presence of God that has happened in every generation of God’s people and to millions of God’s people, then I will have great regret.  Because I know that when God’s presence is manifested in that way, He becomes the passionate necessity of most people.  When it is not, he becomes simply an inheritance, an option, even an interruption. 

When I talk about the presence of God over the next few weeks, it is important to keep in mind that there are at least 3 fundamental TYPES of God’s self-revelation that we experience as the “presence of God.”

1.)     The ESSENTIAL presence of God:  This is the presence of God who, being spirit in nature, fills the universe and beyond with His presence.  Psalm 139 talks about this when it says there is no place in all creation where you could go and escape God’s presence.  God’s presence is essential to creation in that he sustains all creation (Heb. 1:3).  Without his presence there would be no universe as we know it.

            At some time or various times, everyone experiences the essential presence of God. The Apostle Paul tells us that God reveals Himself to all humanity through creation, so that no one will ever have an excuse for not responding to His overtures of love.

            Romans 1:20 speaks of that when Paul writes, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

2.)    Then there is the CULTIVATED presence of God.  Scholar and theologian Richard Owens Roberts says that this is where an individual or group of people determine to walk in repentance and purposefully draw near to God through the disciplines of the faith.  Through these disciplines (like worship, prayer, fasting, meditating on the Word, service, giving, silence and a bunch of other things) we can cultivate our hearts towards God’s presence.  Thus I’d call this the “cultivated presence of God.” 

            This is what James talked about in James 4:8 when he encouraged people to “come near to God and he will come near to you.”  We cultivate this experience of the presence of God when we seek him in life through the various spiritual practices of the Christian life.

3.)    Then there is what I would call an exceptional, overwhelming and special experience of God’s presence that happens when God pours out his presence on a person, a group of people, a church, city or even sometimes a region for the purpose of arresting our attention, softening our hearts, and advancing His Kingdom purposes.  This I would call the MANIFEST presence of God.  It is what has been universally witnessed in seasons of spiritual awakening that church historians have often called “revival” (not to be confused with the practice that some groups or churches may have of advertising on their reader board, “Revival this week, Sunday thru Thursday, 7-9PM.  Come and hear famous revivalist Rev. so-and-so.” The difference between the “cultivated” presence of God and the “manifest” presence of God is the scope of God’s self-disclosure, not the scope of our activity. 

I’d like to give you an example of the kind of manifest presence of God I’m talking about.  I would hasten to say that while such manifestations of God among people have some common elements, probably no two such manifestations are identical or repeatable.  God chooses to do extraordinary things in his way, his time and at his choosing.  It’s not the “manifestations” that we are seeking; it is the God who manifests himself that we must want. 

This video segment is narrated and produced by a fellow pastor I referred to last week.  Alec Rowlands has been a huge encouragement to me and hundreds of other pastors in Washington State who have a passion for the manifest presence of God to flood our churches, our cities and our state.  Listen to a bit of Alec’s story that will give you a glimpse of the kind of experience of God that I’m talking about.

[VIDEO from Session 1 of “The Presence” video series by Alec Rowlands; begin at 2:56 and go to the end at 18:38 (16+ min.).  Go to http://churchawakening.com/ for more information on how to get this video.]

That is one of the many contemporary examples of the kind of manifest presence of God that we’re going to be talking about for the next several weeks.  But allow me to show you just one snapshot from Scripture of the same kind of experience other God-loving believers had in the Bible. 

While we can have these experiences with the presence of God on an individual level, I think that God wants his children to experience him together, at a corporate, united and spiritual-family level. 

Exodus 33

 1 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ 2 I will send an angel before you and drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 3 Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.”

 4 When the people heard these distressing words, they began to mourn and no one put on any ornaments. 5 For the LORD had said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites, ‘You are a stiff-necked people. If I were to go with you even for a moment, I might destroy you. Now take off your ornaments and I will decide what to do with you.’” 6 So the Israelites stripped off their ornaments at Mount Horeb.

The Tent of Meeting

 7 Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it the “tent of meeting.” Anyone inquiring of the LORD would go to the tent of meeting outside the camp. 8 And whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people rose and stood at the entrances to their tents, watching Moses until he entered the tent. 9 As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance, while the LORD spoke with Moses. 10 Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance to the tent, they all stood and worshiped, each at the entrance to his tent. 11 The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent.

Moses and the Glory of the LORD

 12 Moses said to the LORD, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’ 13 If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”

 14 The LORD replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

 15 Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. 16 How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”

 17 And the LORD said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”

Moses was certainly one of the more outstanding personages of the Old Testament who experienced the presence of God.  I think it started in earnest at the burning bush and ended when he died on Mt. Nebo (Ex. 34). 

Notice a couple of important things from this passage.

  1. You can experience the blessings of God, even the Promised Land, and still be missing the PRESENCE of God.  This has been the what far too many of God’s children, even in the New Testament age, have been content with:  God’s blessings of salvation, the promise of heaven, a measure of the Holy Spirit’s work that gives them some peace, some conviction, some hope, love and whatnot.  But the promises of God without the dominating presence of God will leave us looking an awful lot like “the peoples around us.” 

      Is this not much of the problem in the American church today?  We want just enough of God’s presence to make life pleasant…but not so much that it radically changes us or, heaven forbid, makes us uncomfortable about sin, bold about the Gospel, passionate about holiness and radically different from the unsaved. 

  1. 2.      Which is the second thing that stands out in this passage.  It is this manifest presence of God that will set us apart from the culture we live in and show that God’s favor and pleasure rests on us.  Being “spiritual” or “religious” doesn’t set us apart.  Demons are far more “spiritual” than most Christians today…but they don’t bring glory to God.  Going to church doesn’t set us apart today.  There are lots of very godless, sincere, dedicated and self-righteous people who go to church.  But they know nothing about the manifest presence of God in their experience because their lives show no real change from that of their neighbors who never go to church. 

      But when God’s manifest presence really comes upon a people of His, people will notice a difference.  Some will hate us more; some will be moved to join us in pursuit of God for the first time; some will scoff and ridicule us afresh; others will seek God afresh. 

3.      The presence of God in this manifest way comes when the people of God ask for it.  It comes when people who are true friends of God value God’s presence more than they value the best things of life.  Moses had tasted the presence of the Lord like few had among the people of God.  And he preferred to stay in the desert WITH God than move into a land of wealth and prosperity WITHOUT God.  He’d experienced all the riches of Egypt at one time. He’d enjoyed all the popularity (and pressure) of being a big leader of a whole nation.  He’d known the exhilaration of winning big over the most powerful nation-leaders of the day.  And he was willing to bury it all in the desert if it meant he had to leave the presence of God behind. 

      The manifest presence of God will spoil you for life.  It will bring a level of radical living for God that will make you look radical. People will say you’re extreme. (I’m sure they said that about Moses a few times!) It will move you out of the comfortable class and into the conquered and called class of Christian.  Many Christians may find you too consumed with God to hang around you any more.  But it won’t matter once you’ve tasted and seen this goodness of the Lord.   .