Properly Responding to the Presence of God

Rob Green June 23, 2007 Psalms 139:7-12

 

Introduction

I would like to begin this morning by having us think about two different aspects of being alone. 

  1. The first is called loneliness – It is the time when we want companionship and yet no companionship is available.

Examples of this aspect of being alone are practically boundless. 

  • I was reminded of the experience of our soldiers while reading a biography of the most decorated soldier in U.S. history.  He recounted occasions where men were asked to stand guard so the other men could sleep.  These men where shaking in their boots and jumping at every sound made in the night. 
  • I could not help but think of our soldiers in Iraq often experience the torment of loneliness as they are asked to stand guard while their friends sleep or they are sent out on one of those deadly patrols that are filled with danger.
  • Imagine the loneliness associated with those soldiers who were captured not long ago.  Separated from their units, their weapons, their families…. All that makes them feel secure. 

I was also reminded that there are a number of families from our church who had a loved one die this year.  The spouses and children often leave the funeral knowing that a sense of loneliness is just around the corner.

  • For the first time in many years they will wake up to an empty bed or not have someone to kiss them goodnight.
  • In these cases the power of loneliness can seem overwhelming.

Sometimes the desire for companionship comes into play when a person learns that they have a life-threatening illness: whether cancer or some other disease. 

I was even reminded of some of the testimonies we have heard on church family night when folks talk about a recent divorce, a troubled relationship, or even the loss of a job.  During these moments it is tempting to think that you need to slug it out all on your own. 

There are even occasions where loneliness comes in much less ominous forms. 

  • Living for the Lord can result in loneliness.
  • The worker at the plant who limits overtime, or doesn’t go to the bar, or refuses to drink during company parties is like some sort of Jesus freak.
  • A high schooler living for the Lord just doesn’t seem to get as many dates as those who don’t.  They seem out of place when fellow students discuss the recent blockbuster movie, because they wouldn’t go see it. 
  • The college student who doesn’t party, who actually goes to class, who maintains Christ honoring morals can often feel quite alone.

My point is this:  Loneliness is a powerful experience that leads to numerous struggles in life and there is not a person in this auditorium who has not felt the sting of its poison.  At the very point that you want someone to be there you are alone!

The other aspect of being alone we could label “Personal time”

  1. This is the when you don’t want companionship

Again, I think this is something that each of us have some experience.  The day has been long and hard. 

  • Your boss was on your case so much you were convinced that somehow he had been surgically attached to your hip without your permission! 
  • What you want is some space! 

Sometimes we want personal time because no matter how good we are at tuning out others for the baseball or football game (if you deny it you might be struck with lighting right now!) we just cannot read our bible and pray with distractions. 

  • So we do our best to find some time alone in order to care for our souls.

Yet other times, we want to be alone because we don’t want anyone else to know what we are doing.  In other words, we would be ashamed if someone else knew

  • what movie you were watching
  • what TV shows were your favorite
  • what you did on the internet when no one was watching
  • what you were doing with a member of the opposite sex
  • what magazines you were looking at

In other words, the desire for personal time can be not much more than a desire to sin without others knowing about it.

That brings us to this question:  Does the character of God have anything to do with the scenarios I just painted? 

  • Those experiencing loneliness
  • For the soldier shaking with fear on his first night standing guard?
  • For the person who has recently lost a person close to them
  • For the person that just went through a divorce, the loss of a job
  • For a person who just received news of a life threatening disease
  • For the worker, college student or teen who is trying to live for Christ and paying a social price for doing so
  • Those wanting to be alone for special fellowship with the Lord
  • For a time of concentrated prayer
  • For a time of concentrated Bible study
  • Those wanting to be alone for sinful reasons
  • So they don not have to deal with other people’s problems
  • So they can participate in activity that they knew was wrong.

Does the character of God have anything to do with these real life experiences?

I hope you would answer that question with a resounding “YES, the character of God has a lot to do with every one of those scenarios!”  I came to church this morning to find our what God has to say about it!

Today is an extension of the series that we have entitled, Reaching New Heights in our knowledge of God.

It is our goal and prayer that as a result of this series every person attending this church would have a more meaningful relationship with God then ever before.  You would understand him more, you would trust him more, and you would serve him more!

Today, we are going to Reach New Heights in Responding Properly to the Presence of God

With that in mind please turn in your Bibles to Psalm 139:7-12.  That is on page 453 of the Bible in the chair in front of you.

As you are turning there let me remind you that Psalm 139 is a praise Psalm – vv. 17-18 reminds us that God’s wonderful character should encourage our relationship with him to be more meaningful every year. [Read vv. 7-12]  Read responsively!!

It seems appropriate to start with a very basic definition of the Presence of God: 

  • There is not a place you can go where God is not there [a picture of Timbuktu], there is not a trial you can endure where God is not there [a picture of person in tears], and there is not a blessing you enjoy [a person raising his hands praising God] outside the presence of God.  In other words, it is theologically impossible to escape the presence of God.

Technically, this is true for believers and unbelievers alike.  God’s omnipresence encompasses all of his creation – even those who reject God.

However, from the very beginning the presence of God was so much more than simply a doctrinal belief about the omnipresence of God.  It was personal, deeply personal.  There was something very special about the localized presence of God – a presence that symbolized that God would dwell with his people!

I would like to justify the significance of the presence of God through a quick tour through some mountain top points in biblical history.

I.  God’s People Deeply Desired the Localized Presence of God

The concept of presence begins in the beginning. 

A.  Garden of Eden

Genesis 3:8 - “They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.”

This passage seems to indicate that Adam and Eve had walked in the presence of God before.  They knew the difference between a lion walking around, a dinosaur walking around, and the Lord God.  Yet, on this day they were hiding.

  • The text explains why they were hiding  (v. 10 – because I was naked)
  • They understood that their sin had a significant impact on their relationship with God.  Something was broken, something was different.
  • In fact,
  • They were removed from the garden and the special presence of the Lord.  A guard was even posted to ensure that they could not return.

Adam was grieved by his loss of the localized presence of God.  Even thought this situation changes slightly with Abraham, Issac, and Jacob where God says that he will be with them, no radical change occurs until God established a relationship with the children of Israel after the exodus from Egypt. 

When God established the covenant he said that he would be their God and they would be his people.  He would lead them and go before them.  However…

            B.  Golden Calf Incident

I would like you to keep one finger in Psalm 139 and turn back to page 67 to Exodus 33:1.

Moses was in the mountain and the people believed he died, left, or got lost.  So they gathered the gold they got from the Egyptians and cast a golden calf [hold up our little idol] and proclaim, “This is your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt.”  [[Somewhere there is a top 10 list of the dumbest thing a human being has ever said – this has to be on the list]].    

  • They had just watched God bring plague after plague on the Egyptians while they sat in the lawn chairs getting a tan.
  • The Egyptians, who had made them slaves, were giving them their valuable possessions in order to get out because of what God had done!

Two months later they make a calf out of the gold the Egyptians gave them and say “This is your God.”  For crying out loud…

Needless to say God was not happy and threatened to destroy them.  Moses pleads with God and in Exodus 33 God says [read vv. 1-3 – keep the phrase If I go I will kill you in your mind, we will come back to it].

  • To go from being dead to getting the land with an angel leading the way sounds like significant progress right?  Now seems like a time to cut bait and not ask for too much.
  • It is kind of like asking your dad to go somewhere and after some haggling he finally says “yes” and then you ask him for $20.  Don’t push it.
  • Yet, notice the reaction from God people (vv. 4-6, 13-16)
  • They weap!
  • Even Moses explains what is at stake!

The children of Israel understood that God’s presence would distinguish them from all the other nations.  It would be a source of privilege and blessing.  To fill in the story, the people obey the Lord and in Exodus 40 God fills the tabernacle (demonstrating his presence) and he agrees to lead them by fire at night and with a cloud by day.

Point:  The localized presence of God was incredibly significant – worth the risk!!! 

I could give many more OT illustrations, but let me move to the NT.

C.  The Arrival of Jesus Christ

According to Matthew Jesus is called Immanuel which means “God with us.”  When Jesus came on this earth there was a special sense of God’s presence among his people which is one of the reasons that their rejection of Jesus was so terrible. 

On the other hand, those who recognized him for who he was expressed great joy.  Simeon reports, “my eyes have seen the Lord’s anointed.” 

The Son of God had come to dwell among his people, to be rejected by his people, and to redeem his people.  When he left he promised to send the Spirit.

            D.  The Indwelling Presence of God in every believer

Passage after passage in the NT reminds believers that God has not simply located himself in the temple or the tabernacle in Israel, but in the heart of each one of his children. 

In exodus, the people clamored for God’s presence, in Jesus’ day people lived in God’s presence, and today he promises his presence to every believer.

1 Cor 6:19-20 – Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?  20 For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.

During this time period God says that he will dwell in us through the Spirit.  No longer do we need to travel to the tabernacle or temple to offer a sacrifice, we are the temple, we are the living sacrifice.  God is giving his children a taste of the future when believers will dwell with the Lord uninhibited by the challenges and difficulties of this world. 

            E.  The Eternal Presence of God

The Bible also speaks about God presense in the future.  At his return – The return of Christ - we will experience the uninhabited presence of God because we will be changed.  The thought of being in the eternal presence of Jesus causes John to write in Rev. 22:20 – even so come Lord Jesus.

And Paul to write “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.”

This brief travel through biblical history highlights something more than the omnipresence of God – they speak of the significance of God’s localized presence!

  • If you are believer here today you have the indwelling presence of God now and the promise of the eternal presence of God.  Is that not something to be excited about?  To be comforted by?  To be encouraged by?

It may be that you are here today and you don’t recognize the significance of God’s presence because you don’t have a relationship with God. 

  • First, let me say that we are glad you are here.  We are glad you are asking questions and seeing if the people here at Faith have any answers. 
  • Second, we believe that there is only one way to have that relationship with God and to understand the significance of his presence. 
  • That is by being willing to admit that you do not meet God’s standard of perfection.  You have sinned against him and stand in judgment.  The Bible says in Romans 10:9-10 – 9that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;  10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.
  • It is only through God’s grace and your willingness to exercise faith that you can be saved.  Ephesians 2:8-9 –  8For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;  9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

If it is true that the presence of God is so significant, then how should it be significant in our lives?  In other words, what does a person “look like” who takes seriously the presence of God?  First….

II.  Recognize and Be Thankful for the blessings associated with The Presence of God

Please look again at Psalm 139.  The Psalmist praises God.  The language he uses is very interesting.

  • ascend to heaven (that sounds pretty good)
  • make my bed in Sheol (that doesn’t sound so good)
  • wings of the dawn (that sounds pretty good)
  • remotest part of the sea (that doesn’t sound so good)
  • darkness around me (that doesn’t sound so good)

In other words, the text tells us that God is there in the blessing and in the midst of difficulty.  The Bible associates the presence of God with many things, lets see some of them.     

A.  Comfort in the midst of difficulty

Isn’t it great to know that if difficulty is part of God’s plan for my life then he will there right with me to help.

This psalm does not praise God for the challenge, but the help in the midst of it.  So if you are feeling the pain of loneliness right now, if you are struggling with the question where is God in all this, if you are experiencing a particularly difficult season of struggle, the Scripture is here to tell you that God is right there.  He is actively involved!    

In fact in 2 Cor 1:3-5 the Word of God says that God is the God of all comfort who comforts us so we might be able to comfort others! 

God’s presence also means that he gives us…

B.  Strength to accomplish God’s Plan for your life

Heb 13:5-6 says, “Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, "I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU,"  6 so that we confidently say, "THE LORD IS MY HELPER, I WILL NOT BE AFRAID. WHAT WILL MAN DO TO ME?"

This text is quoted specifically to help God’s people live a life free from the love of money.  The context of Hebrews is a church going through difficult suffering.  The writer actually quotes from Deut 31 helping the church understand that God will help them because he will never leave them nor will he forsake them.

Aren’t you glad you serve a God who never leaves you nor forsakes you?  Aren’t you glad for a God who shows himself strong not from far but from right beside you?  Notice in v. 6 what our response should be “The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid.”  If God wants it done, it will get done.

Noone, especially from this church should doubt that.  All we have to say is “Bethany Farms,” VOH,” “Faith Bible Seminary,” “Community Center Grand Opening” ]--- “The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid”

C.  Freedom from the power of Sin

Romans 8:9-11 - 9However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.  10 If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness.  11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

One of the arguments that Paul makes in Romans 8:9-11 is that genuine believers have the spirit indwelling which offers them freedom from the power of sin. 

The presence of God is an indication that you can say “no.” You do have the ability to live a holy life because God has released you from the grip that sin once held over you.

            D.  Intercession in the Midst of our Prayers Rom 8:26

According to v. 26 of the same chapter we see that the spirit prays for you.  Have you ever been in a place where you just didn’t know what to pray?  You didn’t know what to say?  God promises that in the midst of those times the indwelling spirit is making prayers on your behalf.

Thus, the presence of God should spark within our hearts a sense of gratitude that God would live with me.  That he would, as a result of his presence, make it so I could be different. 

  • I am free from the power of sin, I have an intercessor, I will be given strength to accomplish what God wants me to accomplish, and I am comforted in the midst of difficulty. 
  • Even though my heart is deceitful, I know enough to know that I am not as good as I want others to believe. 
  • The fact that God would dwell in me is an astonishing truth. 

In the midst of our community ministry (whether on the basketball courts, the baseball or soccer fields, the fitness gym, or the community room for game night), will people from our town recognize a level of gratefulness that extends far beyond the normal? 

  • Will they wonder what our hope is because we live like we have a hope worth having?
  • Will they see in us a courage to our lives not based on the strength we bring to the table, but based on the strength that is drawn from a God who never leaves and never forsakes. 
  • Will they see in us a willingness to handle trials because the Spirit prays for us even when we don’t know what to say.
  • Or will they see in us a level of complaining, arguing, murmuring, bickering, whining, wimpiness…, that will demonstrate to them that believers in Christ are no different from the rest of us and that our community center is no different than any other community facility in this town or state.

When folks come to VBS closing program tonight will they be greeted by a group of people who have been deeply impacted by the presence of God?

  • Will they see the value of a personal relationship with God by the way we sing? 
  • Will they see a difference when we watch the kids that don’t belong to us? 

The would hold true for our community picnic next week.  Will folks see a group of people who handle life differently because they serve a God who is actually present? Or will they see a group who behaves just like they do?

Not only should the presence of God impact our thankfulness, based on the doctrine of the presence of God we must…

III. Develop a proper Fear of God because He is present even when you are not pleasing him

The significance of the presence of God also has a more challenging side.  You will remember that in Exod 33 God said that he could not go with the people because he would kill them on the way.

  • In the end, he did go and he killed all the adults twenty years and older because they continued to be rebellious people. 
  • In fact, the book of Numbers explains that living in the presence of a holy God is both wonderful and dangerous. 
  • It is wonderful because there is safety and protection. 
  • It was dangerous because God does not take sin as lightly as we do. 

There are two facts about God’s presence that should encourage a biblical fear of God.

A.  God is there when you choose to sin

In our minds we know that God is there and that he knows what we are doing.  Yet, masked by darkness or the presence of others, we delude ourselves into thinking that we are really alone. 

Psalm 90:8 “You have placed our iniquities before You, Our secret sins in the light of Your presence”.

As we learned a few minutes ago, God’s presence should have freed us from the power of sin, but from time to time we think that the pleasures of sin pull the curtain over God’s presence.

  • That is why the person can continue to visit pornographic websites on the internet. 
  • That is why the person can be harsh to his wife and children on a regular basis. 
  • That is why the teen or college student can skip classes and minimize those that are supporting him or her through school. 
  • That is why a person can hate another person.  That is why one person can refuse to talk with another person. 
  • That is why one person can be a racist and the other can make friends according to economic standards.

Friends, this doctrine reminds that God is there.  It reminds us that instead of being behind the curtain or outside the stadium, God has a front-row seat to it all.

Not only does God see the actions, but also…

B.  God holds you accountable for what is done in secret

In each case, it was not enough that God knew about the sin.  Instead, he ensures that what was done in secret will be brought to the light and the appropriate justice will be served.

Proverbs 9:17-18 - "Stolen water is sweet; And bread eaten in secret is pleasant."  18 But he does not know that the dead are there, That her guests are in the depths of Sheol. 

The picture is that foolishness is calling out to all who will listen and encouraging them to take part.  Yet, God reveals that he knows all about it and meters out the appropriate justice.

So the presence of God, when rightly understood, also has an accountability side.  As much as we might want to pull the curtain over God’s eyes, he sees, understands, and judges our actions appropriately. 

This means that the presence of God should encourage us to take sin seriously.  We should be quick to repent and quick to change.  After all, “he who hides his sin, but he who confesses will find mercy and grace.”  It means that instead of wanting to cover God’s eyes we want him right with us to help us say “no” to sin and “yes” to righteousness.

In the words of Psalm 139:23-24 - Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts;  24 And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way.

Will the people at the community center, the community picnic, and the VBS closing program see in us a people who take sin seriously? 

  • People who repent and confess for things that others would think is no big deal? 
  • Would they see in us a willingness to take the “righteous path” rather than following the crowd?
  • Or will they find a population of people just like them?  One’s without regard for sin as God sees it?

So I come back to the place where I began. 

Does the presence of God have any significance for your life?  Absolutely. 

  • It means that you can rely on him in the midst of heartache,
  • it means now matter how lonely you might feel, God is there strengthening you,
  • it means the Spirit can intercede for you in ways you could never do for yourself,
  • it means we can handle the success and the challenges in life pleasing him! 
  • It means you can live life with a courage found in God’s strength, who never leaves us or forsakes us, and not your own. 
  • It means that God had a front row seat to the sin that we wanted to kept hidden.
  • May we, as God’s people, choose to live constantly aware of his presence!

May we be the salt and light of the earth because we have understood what it means for the presence of God to bless us in extraordinary ways and encourage us to be free from sin.

Rob Green

B.S. - Engineering Physics, Ohio State University
M.Div. - Baptist Bible Seminary
Ph.D. - New Testament, Baptist Bible Seminary

Pastor Rob Green and his wife, Stephanie, joined the Faith staff in August, 2005.  Rob’s responsibilities include oversight of the Faith Biblical Counseling Ministry and teaching New Testament at the Faith Bible Seminary. He serves on the council board of the Biblical Counseling Coalition and as a fellow at the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors.

Read Rob Green's Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Green to Faith Church.