The Presence of God - Jon Fryer
Most powerful Holy Spirit
And subdue us. From heaven,
Where the ordinary
Is made glorious,
And glory seems
But ordinary, Bathe us
With the brilliance
Of Your light
(Invocation of the Holy Spirit, from the Northumbria Community)
You have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the Living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come into the presence of God. (Hebrews 12;22-23).
We often talk about the presence of God, feeling His presence, knowing His presence, being in His presence, coming into His presence, but quite often we simply take for granted what it means to be in the presence of God. Sometimes it is right that we take the time to explore some aspects of being in God’s presence that we might otherwise miss or take for granted.
One day in around 760BC, Isaiah the Prophet went to the Temple that King Uzziah had defiled to pray, but instead of finding the faded glory of an earthly building he instead found himself standing in the presence of God in the heavenly throne room. Isaiah was overwhelmed, but have you ever considered why? Isaiah was overcome not by the splendour of an earthly king and all of the pomp that goes with that office, but rather he was overcome by the very presence of the King of Kings, high and exalted. The Hebrew word that describes the glorious presence of God in Isaiah’s vision (Isiah 6) is Shekinah, which is simply translated as ‘glory’ in most English translations of the Bible. The word ‘Glory’ doesn’t quite capture what Isaiah is experiencing however – it causes us to think of shining gold and glittering jewels and rich fabrics and all of the accoutrements of an earthly king, but it actually causes us to miss the point. The word Shekinah speaks not about stuff but about the presence of a person more real than everything else around Him, about a weight of personality so utterly profound that it blots out every detail of the surroundings. Shekinah talks of the transcendent presence of immanent deity, about the supernatural presence of the unspeakable God who is above all, and over all, and yet allows His presence to be made known and to be experienced even by our pathetically limited minds and senses. I don’t know if anyone else has experienced this, but at the times when I have felt the presence of God most strongly I’ve wanted to nothing more than to curl up in a ball and make myself as small as possible and just hide, because like Isiaiah, the presence of God is just too much to take in. This is our God, and we come into His presence to worship Him, because He is God and there is no other.
The presence of our glorious God when He makes Himself known in power is beyond our comprehension, but as we ponder passages like Isaiah 6 or the images of the throne room in revelation sometimes we can use our imaginations to go where our logical minds can not, to worship God with our imaginations.
Isaiah is not the only prophet to experience the presence of God in a profound way. In 597BC Ezekiel was walking along the edge of the Kebar River in Babylon when the Holy Spirit came upon him, and he found himself in the presence of God (Ezekiel 1). The God that Ezekiel met showed Himself in wind and fire, in movement and sound, in wheels within wheels. The Hebrew word here is Hashmal, which speaks of the creative, restless energy of God’s presence – in Greek the word is translated as electron, the eternal dance of creation at the heart of the atom.
We are reminded by Ezekiel’s vision that as created beings we are never apart from the presence of God – in fact it says in the New Testament that in God we live and move and have our being, and that if He even stopped thinking about us for single instant then we would cease to exist. If we feel far from God, then we have only to look around to see that He is still near. The stars in the sky declare the majesty of God for all of time. The gentle rain caresses us with His blessing. The quiet snowfall making everything clean and white whispers ‘Remember the mercy of God. Remember the mercy’. Tall trees, blossoming flowers, majestic mountains, pounding seas, dazzling sunsets, aardvarks and antelopes, platypus and parakeets, whatever does it for you, all of these things tell us that our creative God is present and that He loves us.
So what should be our response to our creative God? The answer is twofold. Firstly, whatever you do, do it for the glory of God. We are all creative people, made in the image of our endlessly creative creator God. You may say ‘I’m not creative’, but that’s not true. To be creative is simply to do the work of God, to make something new, to bring order, to heal, to organise, to do anything positive that does not kill, or tear down, or mar, or destroy. When you are at work filing papers then you are bringing order and being just as creative as someone painting a picture. All of our work is glorifying to our creator God, and should be done as worship for Him. Bill Hybels says ‘It should never be said of Christians that as workers they are half-hearted, careless, tardy, irresponsible, whiny or negligent. Behaviour like that embarrasses God. It brings reproach to Him. At work Christians should epitomize character qualities like self-discipline, perseverance, and initiative. They should be self-motivated, prompt, organized and industrious. Their efforts should result in work of the very highest quality. Why? Because they’re not just laying bricks; they’re building a wall for God’s glory… they’re not just driving a tractor; they’re ploughing a straight furrow for God’s glory’. (Bill Hybels - Honest to God). Whatever you do, do it as if you are serving Him… for the master is present and approving your work.
Secondly, and even more importantly, when creation itself calls to us and reminds us of the presence of His Majesty then we are to enjoy it with thanksgiving. Brother Ramon said ‘ When you hear men speak of great things, or listen to the singing of the minstrels, or the sound of the wind in the trees, or of the waves breaking on the shore – then love God all the more because of it’.
We have come into God’s presence with awe and with thanksgiving, but sometimes to be in the presence of God is not a comfortable experience. When God led the Israelites out of captivity in Egypt His presence went with them all of the way for forty years, as a pillar of cloud by day, and as a buring fire by night. In this way God was their guide and protector every day, and when today the Jewish people look back on the experience at Passover, all they see now is His goodness to them.
At the time of Moses however the experience of being that close to God was not all pleasant however. The Hebrew word here is Kabod, the consuming fire of the presence of God. When the people sinned, the fire burnt against them. This is why the Bible says that it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the Living God, because when we come into His presence then we come into the presence of the judge of all mankind, into the presence of a light that shows up every shadow, every blemish, every imperfection. When Uzzah reached out to stabilise the Ark of the Covenenant in 2 Samuel 6 it is this presence that consumed him – our God is a consuming fire.
Fortunately we know that we have a great high priest who intercedes for us, who stands before the judge making restitution for us, and so the fire of His presence does not burn, but rather it purifies, it refines, it tempers and makes strong, if only we ask in Jesus’ name. ‘Woe unto me!’ said Isaiah, ‘Woe unto me for I am a man of unclean lips, and of a people of unclean lips, and yet my eyes have seen the King!’... and God sent an angel with fire from the altar to make him clean again. Since we have come into the presence of God it is only appropriate that we spend some time looking inwards at our own lives, to confess where we have fallen short of His glory.
God our Father,
You have set forth the way of life
For us in your beloved Son:
We confess with shame
Our slowness to learn from Him,
Our reluctance to follow Him. You have spoken and called,
And we have not given heed.
Your beauty has shone forth,
And we have been blind. Be tender in your mercy, Lord.
That we have not loved You
With all our heart,
With all our soul,
With all our mind,
With all our strength. We have taken much, and returned little thanks;
We have been unworthy of your unchanging love. Forgive us
Our coldness and indifference,
Our lack of constant love,
Our false pretences,
Our refusal to understand your ways.
Be tender in your mercy, Lord.
Teach us Your ways, O Lord
And let us walk in your truth.
We put behind us
Our stubborn independence,
and turn again to You,
so that we may be Christ’s
and Christ may be ours.
(Covenant service, from the Northumbria Community)
Jesus said: If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Comforter to be with you forever – the Spirit of Truth. You know Him for He lives with you and is in you. I will not leave you alone as orphans; I will come to you. If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love Him, and we will come to Him and make our home with him. The Father wil give you whatever you ask in My name. This is my command: love one another and be joyful… and surely I am with you every day, to the very ending of the world.
When Jesus returned to His Father, He did leave us behind abandoned and alone. Instead He promised the presence of another Comforter with us always, to guide and to teach us, to heal and to comfort, to clothe us with power from on high and to point us always towards the Son and His Father. He promised that when two or three of us gather together in His name then he will be there right in the midst of us. He promised that whatever we agree on in prayer in His Name will be done for us by the Father. He promised that broken bread and wine outpoured will for us be his very body and blood, and that He will meet us there at the cross in power to forgive and to cleanse and to heal and to make whole again.
Since we have come into the presence of Jesus, let us pray for one another, even if it is only to ask a blessing, and let us break bread together and celebrate the fact that Jesus is still here with us.
‘Now to Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy – to the only wise God our Saviour be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and for evermore! Amen.'
What was Jesus like?
The Character of God
How do we know what God is like?
The Authority of Scripture
How should we obey what the Bible teaches us?
The Wise Mans Tragedy
What can we learn from Solomon?
What can we learn from the mother of Jesus?
Cain and Abel
What can we learn from the first murderer?
Who is Aslan? Who is Jesus?
When the Fire Burns Low
How do we cope when we have grown tired of God's way?
Fix Your Eyes
How do we look for God?
Why should we look after the world God has given us?
How do we know who we are in God?
Lent - Pride, Doubt and Jealousy
What is the period of Lent all about?
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the House of God than dwell in the tents of the wicked...
How do get to have intimacy with God?
Can we feel the breath of God?
Hearing From God
How can I hear what God wants to say to me?
The Story We Find Ourselves In
The Bible tells the story of all creation - what is my part in that story?
What does Passover mean to us as Christians?
What does it mean to say that Jesus is alive?
What is the Fruit of the Holy Spirit?
Teaching for Christmas Eve...
What does it mean to have authority?
What can we do when it all seems like too much?
I Will Be With You
What does it mean to say "God is with us"?
What are angels, and what can we learn from what the Bible says about them?
A contemplative service for Pentecost
A creative/contemplative baptism service
How do we know what we should do?
A creative prayer/worship service
The Holy Spirit
Who is the Holy Spirit, and what does (s)he do?
A Relationship With Jesus
What does it mean to have a 'relationship' with the Son of God?
The Pilgrim's Progress
If we keep our eyes on the prize, what a journey it could be!
Heroes, Promises and Trust
How does our relationship with Jesus realy work?
A liturgy for masculine prayer
Living Life to the Full
How do we get the most out of life?
What is so speacial about the faith of Abraham?
The Presence of God
What does it mean to say God is present?
How Do I Know My Faith is Real?
We all wrestle with doubt, so how can we cope?
Who is Jesus?
...and what does he want from you?
To Act Justly Every Day...
What does the Lord your God require of you?
Sex and Self Image
Don't you know how beautiful you are?
Will you let Jesus be in charge?
Would you know him if he met you on the road?
The Person of the Holy Spirit
Who is the Holy Spirit, and what does (s)he do?
The Passion of the King
What does Jesus really want?
How can we really 'count it all joy'?
More Than Words
"... but words can never hurt me"?
The Armour of God
What tools does God give us to protect us from the Enemy?
The Heart of the Gospel
The Kingdom of Heaven has drawn near to you, therefore...
Do you really want to follow him?
How should I prepare to give a sermon?
The gift of healing comes from the Holy Spirit, but how does it work?
The People of God
What does it mean when we say that the Bible is the Word of God?
Jesus Part 2: The Deity of Christ
How can Jesus be God and Man at the same time?
Jesus Part 1: Who Do You Say I Am?
Who is Jesus, and why does He matter?
How do we resist?
What is holiness and how do we try to achieve it?
The Art of Spiritual Warfare
We're in a constant battle, so how do we try and prepare to fight?
Forgiveness Part Two: Forgiving Others
What is forgiveness and why do we need to forgive others?
Forgiveness Part One: Forgiven by God
Why does it seem so often that God is a million miles away?
Prayer Part Two: Receiving From God
Why does it seem so often that God is a million miles away?
Prayer Part One: The Lords Prayer
We look in detail at the Lords Prayer
It's one of the spiritual gifts, but what exactly is it, how does it happen?
Becoming a Christian
What is a Christian, how do you become one?
Basics of Christianity
Here we delve into the Nicene Creed