Experience God’s Presence

God is omnipresent. This means God is fully present in every place. There is no place where he is not.

“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.” (Psalm 139:7–10, ESV)

There are times when God’s presence becomes experiential. We describe these experiences as God’s “manifest” presence. “Manifest” means unveiled, or revealed. So, though God is always present in every place, his presence is not always manifest. God can be present without us experiencing his presence.

Even when God’s presence is manifest, his presence is not fully manifest. God is infinite and we are finite. We do not have the capacity to comprehend the infinite, much less to experience the infinite. God’s self-revelation to us always involves limiting himself in some way. Even in the incarnation, God limited himself to reveal himself.

“who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:6–7, ESV emphasis added)

When we experience God’s presence, it is always because he is revealing his presence in a limited way. Moses asked to see God’s glory and God revealed his glory to Moses, but in God’s self-revelation, there is always limitation.

“And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”” (Exodus 33:21–23, ESV)

So we see that the revelation of God’s manifest presence is not binary. It is not yes or no. It is not all or nothing. By necessity, the revelation of God’s presence is always by degree–not “yes or no,” but rather “more or less.” This means that there are various ways and degrees we might experience his presence, and therefore various ways and degrees we might respond to his presence.

Sometimes we experience God’s presence as a gentle peace that permeates our inward thoughts and emotions, sometimes as a peace that brings calm to our bodies. But sometimes we experience His peace in a way that makes it difficult to even move. And His peace is just one way we experience His presence but to varying degrees.

Sometimes we experience God’s presence as joy. As with peace, we can experience God’s joy as kind of an inward warm smile, sometimes as a somewhat suppressed giggle, and sometimes as seemingly uncontrollable belly laughter. Here is another way to experience God’s presence, but to varying degrees.

We can hear God’s voice to varying degrees. We can experience the weightiness of His glory to varying degrees. We can experience the passion of His love for us to varying degrees.

Scripture uses metaphors like wind, fire, oil and wine to help us understand the work of the Spirit and our experience of the Spirit. These are not all or nothing kinds of things. Wind can be a gentle breeze or a raging tornado. Fire can be a candle or an inferno. Oil can be touched on a forehead or poured out and running over the head. Wine can be tasted with very little effect, or consumed in volume with quite a different effect.

There are various ways we can experience the manifest presence of God and there are varying degrees to which we can experience the manifest presence of God.

When we cry out for the “fullness” of God’s presence, we are not expecting that God will reveal His infinite glory completely (that’s self-contradictory), but rather that He would so reveal His presence that we ourselves are filled with Him. We are asking not that He would manifest Himself in accordance with His capacity, but rather that He would manifest Himself in accordance with ours.

Why do we want this? We think for two primary reasons: 1) that we might know Him more and thereby enjoy Him more, and 2) that we might be changed into His image. For it is our unveiled experience of His presence that transforms us.

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:17–18, ESV)