I was laughing in church this morning as the service closed – I kept it to myself since the reason behind it was completely irrelevant to the sermon (which was awesome, in case anyone wondered). So often we talk about God’s presence – being in the presence of the Lord, feeling His presence – in everyday life. At least, the “spiritual” people do. The rest of us are left to wonder what the “presence of the Lord” is and why we aren’t experiencing what other people seem to be experiencing.
Let’s be real: what does “being in God’s presence” mean? What even is God’s presence? Here’s the problem: when we talk about God’s “presence,” we think of something intangible and transcendent, like the Force – something that can’t be seen or touched – you either have it or you don’t. But that is not at all what God’s presence is. It is so, so much simpler than that.
Imagine that you are alone in a room, back to the door, working on something. Eventually you sense that someone is behind you. There was not a sound, but you can sense that someone else is present. That is, very simply, what presence is: the sense that someone or something is present and near.
Imagine with me again. When you turn around, you see that the person behind you is an acquaintance. You sensed that someone was there, but you didn’t necessarily know who it was. That is how it is with God sometimes – we sense something, something wonderful and comforting and powerful and full of peace, but we don’t always recognize it as His presence.
Let’s take this a different direction. Instead of an acquaintance, you turn around to find your best friend. You knew it was your best friend before a word was uttered, before you turned, because you have spent so much time with your friend that you just knew. You knew, very distinctly, that it was your best friend and no other behind you. There was no question in your mind. This is how it is when we build a personal relationship with God. We recognize His presence immediately. The most wonderful part about it, though, is that He is always present, which means that we can always enjoy His presence.
I grew up sensing God’s presence, but it isn’t because I am super spiritual or because my family is just so “in” with God that we have something special. Sensing the Lord’s presence is something that I had to learn. I may have learned it at a young age, but I had to learn it nonetheless. We have to practice the presence of God, or we will never get better at sensing it. We are all created in God’s image, so we all have a longing for His presence, but we will never sense His presence if we don’t practice it. A true understanding of presence is built on the foundation of relationship. Just as you knew it was your friend behind you and not another and just as you sensed but did not recognize the presence of your acquaintance, so it is with God. If we do not truly know who He is, we will always be uncertain as to whether we are experiencing His presence, and we will always uncertain of whether He is really here.
We can’t be attuned to the presence of someone we don’t know. To build our sensitivity to God’s presence we must get to know Him – digging into His Word and spending time in conversation with Him (i.e. prayer). Relationship doesn’t just happen; it has to grow over time and with diligent effort. If you want to get to know someone, you have to spend time with that person. It is the same in our relationship with God. As our relationship with Him deepens, we will become increasingly sensitive to His continual presence in our lives.