To experience God’s presence is to experience the shining of God’s face ( Psalm 67:1 ). Believers always live in God’s presence, and he notes all their deeds ( Mal 3:16 ). God has promised to be with us until He comes again ( Matt 28:20 ).
Adam and Eve had intimate fellowship in the presence of God before the fall (Genesis 3:8). Since that time, sin has prevented our ability to be in the physical presence of God (Exodus 33:20). Now only the holy, sinless angels are in the physical presence of God (Luke 1:19). But Christians have the presence of God within us by virtue of His indwelling Holy Spirit (John 14:23; 15:4), and that indwelling presence comes only through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
We are aware of the reality of this presence from our obedience to His Word. “We are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praise of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9). Note that Peter says that “we are chosen people . . . belonging to God.” If we belong to Him, will He not be present among us? We never lose the reality of God’s presence, no matter how badly we fail; we never sin so much as to lose our salvation; we never sink so far as to banish the Holy Spirit. We can anger God because of our sin, but true believers never lose the presence of the Holy Spirit. While we will never lose the reality of God’s presence, we might lose the “sense” of His presence.
Every child of God invariably goes through this feeling of losing God’s presence from time to time, like a landlord who has left his house and gone away on business for a while. He has not left the house completely empty, for, if he had, he would have taken all his belongings with him. But because he has left all his furniture and belongings in that house, does it not mean that he will return once again? Any believer knows that there are times of spiritual leanness when perhaps the Lord determines to test our faith. Does He not push us through the winnowing flames of affliction that we might be all the more pure (Job 23:10; 1 Peter 1:7)?
But the practical result of being in God’s presence is joy! Many Christians seem gloomy and dejected because they lack this sense of God’s presence. The fellowship is sweet for those who walk with the Lord in obedience and faith. But the sweet fellowship that comes from obedience and trust in the Lord is not a passing feeling. It sustains us, especially during trials, for “the joy of the Lord shall be your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). James, the Lord’s brother, writes, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2) because trials produce faith and develop perseverance. When we persevere through trials, proving to ourselves and to others that our faith is real, our sense of God’s presence increases, as does our joy.
David speaks of a joy that only the righteous can know (Psalm 16:11)—a joy that is but a foretaste of a far greater and everlasting joy when we see the Lord’s face in the glory to come.
Presence of God
The Scriptures often speak of God’s presence in human history. The most common Hebrew term for “presence” is panim [yIn’P], which is also translated “face, ” implying a close and personal encounter with the Lord. The Greek word prosopon [provswpon] has the same semantic range. The Greek preposition enopion [ejnwvpion] also commonly appears; several other Hebrew and Greek words occur only a few times.
God’s presence carries a wide range of meaning. It may be something people fear. Adam and Eve’s sinfulness drove them to hide from the Lord in the garden of Eden ( Gen 3:8 ). God’s holiness cast light on Isaiah’s sinfulness ( Isa 6:5 ). Many people who encountered God or his angel feared for their lives ( Judges 13:22 ; Luke 1:11-12 ; 2:9 ). Others tried unsuccessfully to escape his presence ( Jon 1:3 ). As God displays his presence through his great power, the whole earth trembles ( Judges 5:5 ; Psalm 68:8 ). False gods also become powerless before him ( Isa 19:1 ). Fear and trembling are proper responses before the One who controls all creation ( Jer 5:22 ).
Knowing God is present should keep our behavior respectful and humble, for God hears our every word and holds us accountable ( Ecclesiastes 5:2 Ecclesiastes 5:6 ). He will not tolerate pride, and will bring our speech under his judgment ( Eze 28:9 ). However, he will exalt those who humble themselves before him ( James 4:10 ).
God also displayed his presence at a place of worship. The Israelites brought their sacrifices to the tabernacle — and later the temple because God chose to establish his name there ( Deuteronomy 14:23 Deuteronomy 14:26 ). Worshipers thus experienced a special closeness to the Lord in such a place. Inside the place of worship, the bread of the Presence reminded Israel of God’s nearness ( 2 Chron 4:19 ). When Solomon dedicated the temple, the manifestation of God’s glorious presence prevented priests from fulfilling their usual duties ( 1 Kings 8:10-11 ). Reverent and proper behavior was important, for disastrous consequences might result if people did not follow God’s pattern for worship ( Lev 10:1-2 ).
God’s presence also accompanied times of covenant renewal and other solemn occasions. Before Isaac died, he determined to bless his son “in the presence of the Lord” ( Gen 27:7 ). Aaron was confirmed as high priest in God’s presence ( Num 16:7 ; 17:9 ). As the Israelites prepared to enter Canaan, Moses told them they stood in God’s presence ( Deut 29:15 ). God would guide them as they undertook the enormous task of conquering the land ( Numbers 32:29 Numbers 32:32 ), and would provide Israel’s leaders the strength they needed ( Joshua 1:9 ). The apostle Paul charged Timothy to remain faithful to the Lord, reminding his son in the faith of God’s watchful presence as Timothy performed his ministry ( 1 Tim 5:21 ; 2 Tim 4:1 ).
The Bible describes heaven as a place filled with God’s presence. Angels stand in God’s presence and act on his authority as he directs them ( Luke 1:19 ). Satan came before the Lord when he sought permission to attack Job (1:6, 12). The heavenly host rejoice before God when one sinner repents ( Luke 15:10 ). Christ completed his earthly ministry by entering “heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence” ( Heb 9:24 ). Since heaven is the highest, most exalted place of all, it is fitting that God display his presence there.
God’s presence is a place where prayer is heard. David sought the Lord’s presence when Israel faced a three-year famine ( 2 Sam 21:1 ). God’s spokesman called the nation to cry out to the Lord in the face of Jerusalem’s destruction ( Lam 2:19 ). Paul constantly interceded for the Thessalonian church, bringing their name before the Father’s presence ( 1 Thess 1:3 ). Christians may approach the Lord with confidence because of Christ’s finished work on our behalf ( Heb 4:15-16 ). Furthermore, God promises to hear and forgive those who come into his presence with humble repentance ( 2 Chron 7:14 ).
God’s presence is also a place of judgment. The Lord cast his people from his presence ( Jer 15:1 ; 52:3 ). The Scriptures describe this action as God hiding his face ( Isa 59:2 ; Ezek 39:29 ). But God’s presence for judgment also carries an eschatological dimension. The Lord will one day summon all nations before him; heaven and earth will flee his holy presence ( Rev 20:11 ). Those who see this judgment coming will beg for deliverance, but to no avail ( Rev 6:16 ). The most awful aspect of God’s judgment is eternal separation from his presence ( 2 Thess 1:9 ).
But God’s presence is also a place of blessing. David counted it a joy to experience the Lord’s presence ( Acts 2:25 Acts 2:28 ), and Peter described it as the source of blessing for all who place their faith in Christ ( Acts 3:19 ). To experience God’s presence is to experience the shining of God’s face ( Psalm 67:1 ). Believers always live in God’s presence, and he notes all their deeds ( Mal 3:16 ). He has promised to be with us until he comes again ( Matt 28:20 ).
In the age to come, God’s presence will be the ultimate blessing, for believers will see him face to face ( 1 John 3:2 ). His immediate presence will render a temple unnecessary ( Rev 21:22 ). It is the anticipation of this presence that should motivate Christians to faithful service in this present age ( 1 Thess 2:19 ; 2 Peter 3:10-11 ).