Christians talk a lot about wanting to experience the presence of God in their lives. We crave to experience the joy of feeling God very close to us, to have our hearts stirred with emotion, peace and even exhilaration at times whenever we encounter what we believe to be a manifestation of the presence of God. It is something that we long to feel more often and we sometimes even make mistakes in this area by trying to fabricate those feelings by depending on inspiring music or stirring sermons or other religious methods to awaken our emotions and make us feel more spiritual as a substitute for engaging honestly with the true God.
I look back with nostalgia at times to days in the past when I encountered what I believe to be glimpses of God's presence in my life. Some of those times were during music sessions with a praise team when we suddenly felt the reality deep inside of what we were singing about. Other times have been when I was suddenly overwhelmed with some scene of beauty out in nature, the fabulous colors of a sunset or sunrise, a quiet scene of mountains, forests and creeks while sitting on a high cliff. I can even remember times laying on the grass staring into a tiny flower and realizing that God had designed that very flower knowing that I would be there looking at it and seeing a tiny part of His glory.
There have been many times when I have been in the Word meditating and listening and open to receive whatever God might have for me and suddenly coming under strong conviction from His Spirit. There have even been times when I just suddenly was surprised with something akin to a hug from God that surrounded me with comfort and assurance when I wasn't even expecting it. This happened to a dear friend of mine just a few days ago.
The Old Testament has a number of references to events when the glory of God was revealed at times to the astonishment and even fear of His people who were overwhelmed with the intensity of that glory. God's glory and presence can even become an addiction for us, which in my opinion is the true purpose for this particular circuitry in our brain. I believe that we are all designed to crave the presence of God, to thrive in the exhilaration of feeling the joy inside that comes from encountering His glory and grace. All other stimulants are cheap counterfeits that can only produce distractions and serve as false gods, false sources of life for our souls in comparison to this.
But something different popped into my mind as I lay in bed this morning. As important as it is to regularly encounter the presence of God, as much as I need to experience an infusion of power and peace and joy from knowing that my heart is being recharged and filled with new life by such a close encounter with its Creator, is it possible that God wants to regularly experience my presence with Him as well? Now there's a real challenging thought that doesn't come by very often.
I realized some years ago that God's presence is much more than just a feeling of stimulation deep inside of me. It has a great deal to do with the timing and the focus of attention going on in the mind. I can often miss experiencing the presence of God if I am too focused on either the past or the future. God's presence, to be really experienced effectively, must be in the present tense. God's presence brings with it an intensity of awareness that penetrates far deeper into the soul than just a rush of good feelings. God's presence raises an awareness, like the sudden appearance of a very brilliant floodlight, of everything that has been hidden from sight for possibly a very long time. God's presence does not always produce good feelings; many times it also arouses a sudden awareness of my true condition and a conviction that I am very much out of harmony with the realities of how heaven operates and how I am supposed to live.
But such close encounters with real conviction from the presence of God's Spirit need not push me away from God. Unlike conviction from other people that usually results in feelings of condemnation, conviction from God's Spirit brings with it the hope and power to be able to change, to embrace the solutions for my sinful conditions as well as the ability to perceive them much more clearly. When God shows up close and personal I may be very frightened at the sudden exposure of what is really inside my heart at first, but as I realize the truth of His infinite, unbridled passionate love for me and His ever-present forgiveness and His desire to re-form me back into the full likeness of His own Son, I can respond with humility and joy and give Him full access to my heart and mind to be transformed and renewed and healed.
But is it also true that God wants me to bring my presence into relationship with Him? How many times to I find myself praying only to discover that I am pretending to pray while my mind is continually distracted by other things that feel more interesting to me? I think most of us know the feeling that we have when someone is talking to us but we sense that they are really thinking about something else and are not really very present with their spirit. This kind of conversation can become a real source of discouragement for us and certainly does not produce a sense of joy in our hearts, for real joy is when someone is genuinely glad to be with us. When they are with us but not really with us – engaging their heart, their ears, their face, their body language – then we sense inside that we must not be very important to them no matter what words they may be saying to the contrary.
I sense God saying to me that He desires to experience my presence with Him. He too feels slighted, short-changed, insulted and ignored when I slip into the mode of going through religious routines more from a sense of duty or habit but fail to engage my heart and intentionally focus my mind on living in the present while I am doing all of this. Likewise, when I get more excited about the good feelings I enjoy from worship music or religious activities but am not really focusing on being open and accountable to God personally, I wonder how frustrated He must feel.
Just as we have good reason to doubt the sincerity of someone's love for us when they are not really listening to us while trying to make us believe they are, so God must have similar feelings of sadness and frustration when we try to fool ourselves into thinking we are religious and loyal servants of God but fail to bring our own presence into focus and engage our present with His presence.
There are many things that can prevent me from living in the present and thus be empowered to appreciate better His presence. But often these things involve fear – fear of what may happen to me if God doesn't come through for me like I want Him to do. Or I may fear what God feels about me because of confused ideas about Him, that He must be upset with me because of my sins and mistakes from the past. But when my heart is stuck in thinking about either the past or the future, then I cannot really focus my attention in the present. And if my mind and heart is not in the present then I cannot really benefit or connect with anyone else very effectively even if they are focused in the present.
God has the amazing capacity to live in the present all the time and yet disconnected from the restrictions of time. We cannot do that but God can. When God thinks about Abraham or about someone who from our perspective is not even born yet, they are existing in the present for Him as far as He is concerned. He is not restricted by linear time like we are but can instantly relate to any point in what we call time in the present tense. This is mind-boggling for us but is part of why God is God and we are not.
But He has given us the ability to choose with our mind where we are going to focus our attention, what frame of time we are going to dwell on. In that sense we too can live in the past or future as if it is the present. But for the purposes of real bonding I believe we need to have moments when we deliberately choose to bring our hearts and minds to focus intentionally on another heart and mind very much in the present tense. When we do that we are giving them what someone has identified as the only real gift that we have to offer anyone that is of real value – our undivided attention.
I spent years of my life baffled about many of the metaphors and symbols that we commonly use in religion. How can a person give someone their heart? How do I fall on the Rock? How do I have Jesus live inside of me? The list goes on and on and the metaphors have confused millions and still create real problems many times because of misapplication of these terms by many. But what I am starting to see is that giving Jesus my heart at least partially involves giving Him my undivided attention and affection as much as I am able. Jesus is eager and able and ready to do that for me but He wants me to respond by focusing the same kind attention on Him so that the two will blend together and form a tight bond of love that cannot be broken.
Father, teach me, train me, mentor me to give You my undivided attention when we commune together. You have promised to always be with me and there are many times when we are working together focusing on other things, sort of like a team. But there also needs to be times of very intentional presence when You want me to really focus directly on You as You want to do with me – like lovers staring into each other's eyes. I'm not very used to that sort of thing, but I want to learn and to experience it with You much more. Dwell in me and increase the presence of Your Spirit in me as I let go of more and more of my resistance and fear and allow You deeper access into my soul.