The desire to have the presence of God among us in more real and tangible ways is a noble hunger of our souls.
Though we know that God’s people can always be assured of his presence, too often we have long periods of time where it seems his presence is missing. Christian history records many examples of personal, church and community transformation when God reveals himself in new and powerful ways. His presence can do more in seconds than we can accomplish through years of hard work. If you have this desire for the manifest presence of God for yourself or your church, here are a few insights to give wisdom to your quest.
My thoughts come out of the story in 1 Chronicles 13 and 15 where King David is attempting to bring the Ark of the Covenant (the symbol of the presence and glory of God) to Jerusalem. His experience can add insight to our efforts to make a way for the presence of God to be among us in a greater way.
First, it may help us to realize that not all people are looking for the presence of God to be among us.
“And let us bring back the ark of our God to us, for we did not seek it in the days of Saul.” 1 Chronicles 13:3 (ESV)
These words of King David point out a stark reality. God’s people are not always interested in having him near. We are often okay with his presence being at a distance. I have found that those who want a greater reality of God in their church are sometimes frustrated by the lack of interest on the part of other believers. This story reminds us that this has long been the case.
A second insight is that we must take care not to rely on our own skill and wisdom to bring the glory of God into our lives and assemblies. David gathered a large crowd to celebrate the return of the Ark to Jerusalem and prepared a new cart to carry it to its destination.
“They carried the ark of God on a new cart from the house of Abinadab…” 1 Chronicles 13:7 (ESV)
David’s quest to bring the presence of God was noble. He made sure a new cart was prepared to carry the ark, no doubt the cart was made with the finest craftsmanship available. However, it was a lethal decision. As the cart progressed to Jerusalem the oxen became agitated and put the ark at risk.
“When they came to the threshing floor of Kidon, Uzzah reached out his hand to steady the ark, because the oxen stumbled. The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah, and he struck him down because he had put his hand on the ark. So he died there before God.” 1 Ch. 13:9,10 (NIV)
David had a great idea and he prepared carefully for bringing the ark to Jerusalem, however he mistakenly tried to bring the presence of God to Jerusalem with his own creation and plan. A plan that turned out to be a killer. Uzza, acting to protect the ark, violated the commands of God and was struck down.
There is a human tendency to try to bring the presence of God into our lives and congregations by using our own plans and creations. This does not mean that we have bad motives or that we want something unholy, but the reality is God has planned for the entrance and greater reality of his presence in our lives. He has set forth principles to follow and going with his ways can keep us from unnecessary casualties. We likely won’t see people struck down like Uzza but the death of hope, faith and love can easily happen. Many people have become discouraged in their faith by unsuccessful attempts to bring in a greater reality of God’s presence. Sometimes those who use unsanctioned means may give up the quest all together. It is possible to have a well intended but ill-fated plan.
David soon learned that God had prescribed a way to bring the ark to Jerusalem.
“Then David said that no one but the Levites may carry the ark of God, for the LORD had chosen them to carry the ark of the LORD...” 1 Chronicles 15:2 (ESV)
Later, David speaking to the Levites said, “Because you did not carry it the first time, the LORD our God broke out against us, because we did not seek him according to the rule.” 15:13. (ESV) God was happy to presence himself among the people but he reserved the right to say how his presence and glory should be handled. The same principle applies today.
The question then arises, how does God say his presence is to be invited? In the Old and New Testaments we find a similar theme that answers this question – repentance and prayer. Take for example the words of the Old Testament found in 2 Chronicles 7:14:
“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (NIV)
Compare that with the New Testament scripture of Acts 3:19,20:
“Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” (ESV)
We also note that the disciples prepared themselves for Pentecost by giving themselves to prayer (Acts 1:14). Prayer was a major factor in the expansion of the church (Acts 2:42). The believers were filled with boldness after a time of prayer (Acts 4:31). Peter’s vision regarding the gospel going to the Gentiles took place while he was in prayer (Acts 10). And the fasting, praying and worshipping leaders of the church of Antioch heard the Lord calling them to send out Barnabas and Saul. (Acts 13:1-4). These few examples point us to the simple pattern that the presence of God was experienced anew when his people humbled themselves and prayed.
There is no doubt that the Lord calls us to utilize new strategies and make good plans. However, never let us be fooled into thinking that a new plan can replace the timeless principles which open the way to the renewed presence of God. In my 25 years of ministry I have noticed an endless stream of new ideas, strategies and plans being offered as the way to bring life to the church. New worship styles and new organizational strategies have brought more enjoyment and comfort to our congregations, and that has its place. However, one thing I have noticed is that seldom have the new plans brought a greater level of transformation in people’s lives or a greater experience of the presence and authority of God. Yes, people may enjoy church more but the presence of God is as distant as before. Like David, we may desire the presence of God among us, and like David we think we can get it there by building a new cart. Like David we can get a lot of people excited about bringing in the presence. But again and again, God providentially agitates the oxen to derail our well intended plans. Things may go well for a time but in the end God insists on us following his ways.
So I encourage each Christian who reads this article and who desires a greater presence of God in their life or ministry. You have a great desire, it is a godly desire. Just remember, a renewed sense of God’s presence is invited by repentance and prayer not a new creation of our own hands.
- The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, (2001), Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Publishing,
- The Holy Bible, New International Version, (1984). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
© Lyndon Wall 2017