It is not unusual for Christians to enjoy a sense of being close to God, or maybe God being close to them. During times of prayer, worship or corporate gathering of believers, or even in times of tension, we may sense God’s presence, peace, comfort, joy and so on.
Recently I recognised that there are two ways I have experienced the presence of God and what I have heard from others confirms these two different experiences. Let me share them with you by reviewing an historical account given in the Bible at Genesis 28:10-17.
Jacob fled from his angry brother, Esau, after stealing the birthright blessing, by deceiving his father, Isaac. The escape plan was that he was being sent to visit his uncle Laban, his mother’s brother, and even to find a wife there.
He felt somewhat insecure and it was probably his first time so alone. At night he slept in the open, with a rock for his pillow. Overnight he dreamt of a ladder going to heaven right near him and watching angels go up and down the ladder. He also saw God speaking to him from heaven, promising him all the blessings on Abraham and Isaac, and to bring Jacob back safely.
When he woke Jacob named the place Bethel, meaning ‘House of God’.
We see in the vision of Jacob’s Ladder the idea of going up and coming down. The angels were ascending and descending in that spot. And there God spoke wonderful promises to Jacob.
At times I have felt as if lifted up to heaven and brought into God’s presence.
We can be in God’s presence, as if having left our current surroundings and finding ourselves in God’s heavenly throne.
The Apostle Paul had rather specific experiences of this and was given wonderful revelations while in God’s heavenly presence. He explains this in 2Corinthians 12:2-7.
“Fourteen years ago I was caught up to the third heaven, Paradise. Only God knows if I was in my body or out of it. I heard things too sacred to be spoken, which no man is permitted to speak of. God gave me a thorn in my flesh to keep me humble.” 2Corinthians 12:2-7 (paraphrased)
At times I have also felt God’s presence coming into my space, coming down to me or onto me.
We see Biblical expressions of this with the glory cloud of God’s presence coming down onto the Tent of Worship (Tabernacle) and the Temple. We see it also when the Holy Spirit came upon people, such as Samson or the prophets, and giving them supernatural impulse.
So the Ladder in Jacob’s dream is a good analogy to remind us that God’s presence can be felt by us ascending into God’s Throne, or by God’s glory descending onto us.
So, how do you find yourself experiencing the presence of God?
The ideal way to enjoy that blessing is to receive it from God, such as being among other Christians worshipping God and entering into that worship, in song or prayer, stillness or devotion, then finding you are enjoying God with you.
Many years ago, as a Bible College student, I was in a carload of students travelling to preach in a church. We arrived an hour early and had to wait for someone to unlock the church. We sat in the car and decided to sing a few songs of worship to God. We were all prayed up and expectant and keen to be in tune with God, so we prayed and sang with sincerity.
Unexpectedly we all sensed God’s presence in the car. The sense was of the atmosphere being very holy, such that it would be wrong to speak or make any noise at all. I expect the others had their eyes closed in prayer as I did and no-one moved for probably ten to fifteen minutes. When that sense lifted we discussed how awesome it was to feel God’s presence with us and it gave us great expectancy for the services to follow that day.
We didn’t manufacture that sense of God’s presence. It just came as a result of our hearts desiring to worship God.
That kind of experience can’t be manufactured, but it can be observed. What I observe is that such times come when I lose myself in devotion to God. If I am too conscious of myself or my surroundings, maybe thinking of being in control of myself or how I look, or asking questions in my mind about what is going on, then it seems I get in the way of God’s manifested presence.
I have probably had that experience mostly in times of personal devotion and prayer or times of corporate worship with others. Sometimes when my wife and I are sitting with people who have sought our help we will sense God’s presence and be encouraged that God is at work in the life of those needing help.
There is another approach which others recommend, of “Practicing the Presence of Jesus”. This is a more conscious mental recognition that God is present, even if we can’t feel His presence, and that God is watching us. By assenting to the true fact that God is with you there comes a change in perspective.
I have done this as a means of reassuring myself or bolstering my faith and boldness when feeling under pressure.
In that way it’s like what King David did when he felt ‘under it’.
“My soul, why are you discouraged and unsettled within me? Hope in God: I will praise Him for the help of his presence. O my God, my soul is cast down within me: therefore I remember You” Psalm 42:5,6
David encouraged himself by remembering God was on his side and putting his hope in God’s deliverance. David practiced the presence of the Lord.
I encourage you to reflect on the fact that God is actually with you, and that there are angels helping you, even though you cannot see or feel them. Get into the habit of respecting the presence of God in your world and of you lifted to sit with Christ in heavenly places.
God promised, “I will never leave you or forsake you” Hebrews 13:5.
So His presence is with us – invading our everyday world of home, work, rest or whatever.
And Bible tells us we are already in heavenly places.
“God raised us up together and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” Ephesians 2:6
Seek God’s presence and practice it when you wonder if it is really there. Remember Jacob’s Ladder, showing it is possible to go up into God’s presence, and God’s presence is brought down the ladder to you too.
May you always be in God’s Presence.