Imagine a weary Israelite on the 40-year journey through the wilderness. In the darkness of the night he lifts the flap of his tent, looks up at the pillar of fire in the sky, turns to his wife and says, “Everything’s okay, God’s still with us.”
Consider the disciples in the storm-tossed boat when they saw Jesus walking toward them on the water and heard Him say, “Don’t be afraid. Take courage, I am here!” (Matt. 14:27, NLT).
In the wilderness, in a storm, in a burning bush, in a fiery furnace, in the valley of the shadow of death, or at a place named Bethel—God’s presence changes everything.
1. The Problem
As students of the Bible we understand that God is present everywhere, at all times. Omnipresent is the big word we use to describe this attribute of God. The psalmist affirmed the omnipresence of God: “Where can I go to escape your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there” (Ps. 139:7-8).
The problem is this: if God is present everywhere, why do I sometimes feel He is so far away?
It can be helpful in those times to understand the difference between God’s omnipresence and the manifest presence of God. God’s omnipresence means He is always there—even when the awareness is not. His Holy Spirit indwells believers at all times. God’s manifest presence, however, is something that occurs in our lives as He chooses to reveal Himself. It is something that is sometimes experienced and other times not. Familiar examples of the manifest presence of God in Scripture include:
- Jacob at Bethel (Gen. 28:15)
- Moses at the burning bush (Ex. 3:2-6)
- Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace (Dan. 3:24-25)
- The disciples in the storm (Matt. 14:22-27)
2. The Promise
The promise of Scripture is that God is always present with us. Nothing changes that fact; it is only our awareness that changes. God’s promise to Jacob was, “Look, I am with you …” (Gen. 28:15). Jacob’s reply? “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it” (v. 16, emphasis added). John Piper surely was right when he said, “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.”
This promise has been given to us: “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). “He himself has said, I will never leave you or abandon you” (Heb. 13:5).
Believer, do not allow the darkness of the night or the presence of the storm cause you to doubt whether God is present and working in your life. Indeed, the storms of life do not deny His presence but provide opportunity to prove His presence.
3. The Practice
Knowing the fact of God’s presence is important; knowing why He is present is even more significant. God is present with us to work out His will and purpose in us and through us. He promised His presence to Jacob not merely to bless Jacob, but that “all the peoples on earth” would be blessed through him and his offspring (Gen. 28:14). Similarly, God is “working in you both to will and to work according to his good purpose” (Phil. 2:13). He is “working in us what is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever” (Heb. 13:21).
It’s one thing to take comfort in the promise of God’s presence, it’s a greater thing to live and walk in His presence by choosing to align ourselves with His purposes. It’s been said that the essence of the Christian life is to live all of life in the awareness of God’s presence, under His authority, and for His glory. That’s the life I want.
Mike Livingstone works at LifeWay Christian Resources as content editor for Explore the Bible materials.
Unless stated otherwise, all Scripture quotations are from the Christian Standard Bible.