Moving Into The Presence of God
The “presence of God” is a phrase which is bandied around a lot these days in some circles. Like many Christian short-hand expressions it is subject to a variety of interpretations and ends up meaning relatively little.
To my way of thinking when people use this phrase they are referring to a tangible expression of God's grace moving over them as an individual or in a group. It's not so much that we move into the presence of God as we suddenly become aware of the God who is already there.
As christians we already know that God is everywhere or omnipresent. We also know that He is in us in the person of the Holy Spirit. If we have been baptised in the Holy Spirit we know that various manifestation gifts are available to us (1 Corinthians 12:7-11).
But many of us still hunger for a deeper sense of intimacy with our God, even when we wonder if it is possible.
We see in Exodus 24 an illustration of this and clues about how to get deeper into “the Presence”
The chapter starts with the Lord telling Moses to take some of the elders up to the mountain. So the group, including Aaron, go up the mountain and God reveals something of Himself there. They see His feet and the pavement under His feet and they share in a covenant meal there.
Then Moses takes Joshua a little higher up the mountain and the glory of God descends like a cloud on the mountain. Moses sits at the edge of the cloud for six days and then goes in, staying for 40 days.
These various groups correspond to different groups of people in the church today.
Firstly there is the vast majority who are content to stay at the base of the mountain and worship God at a distance. They are prepared to acknowledge God as a fire, but they don't want to get close lest they get burnt. Perhaps they treat faith as a thing of the mind. They love God but think that prayer, worship, Bible study and service are all that there is in the christian life.
Then there are those like the elders who like a formal visitation with the Lord. They know that the power of the Holy Spirit is in them, but they prefer to remain in control of what God will do. They speak in tongues and prophesy in church or their cell group, but are quite content to have God's power left in that safe place. They love God and love the relationship they have with Him.
Moses wasn't satisfied though, and many other today are not either. We have to have a relationship with a God who is real and present all the time. We know there is a level of intimacy yet to be achieved. So Moses continued up the mountain with his faithful servant and spiritual son Joshua. The glory of God comes down and Moses sits there pondering it for six days. Finally he goes in and stays there for forty days and nights out of sight of all men, but within the manifest presence of God.
The elders marvelled that they could see God's feet and live to tell the story. For Moses this was not enough. He wanted the deep intimacy of God's presence. He had experienced the power of God on many occasions, but now he wanted the God of power.
His passion for God drove him to risk everything. There was no guarantee that he would come out of that cloud alive. But Moses had to know God more deeply.
It takes courage to come into the presence of God. Henri Nouwen writes:
“Praying is no easy matter. It demands a relationship in which you allow someone other than yourself to enter into the very centre of your person, to see there what you would rather leave in darkness, and to touch there what you would rather leave untouched.”
Walking into the cloud of God's glory requires us to take the risk that our core, the centre of our being is acceptable to God. It requires us to take the risk that we might not come out, or that we will be so “ruined” by His love that nothing else matters any more.
Moses was desperate for the touch of God's presence. He was on that mountain for the best part of 7 weeks, the first week just contemplating God's glory. The reason many of us fail to touch God is that we are simply not desperate enough to set the rest of our lives aside. The woman in Luke's gospel was so desperate for Jesus that she put aside social mores, she pushed through the crowd knowing that one touch, even of the hem of his robe, would change her.
Perhaps the reason why so many of us stay at the foot of the mountain is that we don't really want God to change us. Fear of what we may have to give up, fear of changed priorities or fear of what others might think stops us from pressing onwards. We find an equilibrium where fear of the fire of God matches our desire for the light. And there we stay, in a kind of frustrated contentment.
God is looking for those who are desperate for Him and not just satisfied with salvation. He wants you to press in, to keep moving forward regardless of the cost or the fear. He wants us to move higher up the mountain to let the cloud engulf us.