In Christian theology, we hold to a doctrine of omnipresence, which in simple terms means that God is immediately present at all places at the same time. The Bible confirms this doctrine with passages like Psalm 139:7-8,
“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!”
Proverbs 15:3 states,
“The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.”
But doctrine alone does not have the power to change hearts and transform lives. Doctrine, like any good information, has a tendency to remain in our brains, leading to little or no transformation in our daily lives. Simply acknowledging the truth of God’s presence doesn’t always lead to a different kind of life. But imagine a life lived with the holy awareness of God’s real presence in every moment. What would change if you lived in the awesome reality that God is present with you and in you every moment of every day?
AW Tozer picks up on this idea and writes in his book, The Pursuit of God, “The Presence [doctrine] and the manifestation of the Presence [experience] are not the same. There can be one without the other. God is here when we are wholly unaware of it. He is manifest only when and as we are aware of His presence. On our part, there must be surrender to the Spirit of God, for His work is to show us the Father and the Son. If we cooperate with Him in loving obedience, God will manifest Himself to us, and that manifestation will be the difference between a nominal Christian life and a life radiant with the light of His face.”
What does presence really mean? Allow me to illustrate: As the youngest of three boys, I was usually tossed into situations with older brothers that I wasn’t fully prepared for. One of the common occurrences from my childhood would be watching shows and movies that were not appropriate for my age. In particular, I had a penchant for horror movies that were not advisable for younger audiences. These movies would seem fun and entertaining while watching it with others, but the trouble set in at night.
When I was alone in my bed, the sounds and images from those movies would replay over and over again. And some nights, I would find it impossible to sleep alone. Tucked tightly in my blanket, I would wait for some sign that I wasn’t alone to fend off the darkness. Sometimes all it took was the reassuring rhythmic snoring of an older brother from another room to calm my nerves. But sometimes, I would abandon ship, silently run through the house and jump into bed with my parents. And snuggled up next to someone safe, what I recall was the immediate relief of knowing I was not alone. Being present with another person made the fear dissipate and gave me comfort knowing it was going to be ok. I could finally rest and close my eyes because I knew I was safe in the tangible presence of another.
In our spiritual lives, we tend to gravitate toward the false reality that we are living alone. For all intents and purposes, many of us live in spiritual isolation, unaware of the divine presence that imbues every part of the created world. A world devoid of God’s real presence is a harsh world that forces us to carry the burden of life with our limited resources. This is the nominal Christian life that Tozer describes.
The divine invitation is to move into a new way of life where you can experience the manifest presence of God in every moment. And think for a moment how different life would be if you were aware that the Father and Jesus Christ was there with you by the power of the Holy Spirit. As you take in the news of wars and natural disasters, how would your experience of sadness and fear be transformed by the manifest presence of God? As you parent your kids, how would your words and actions be transformed by the manifest presence of God? As you deal with your career and finances, how would God’s manifest presence buoy you up and set clear priorities and move forward with confidence? How would your free time be used differently if you knew God was with you and wanted to live your life alongside you?
To live in the manifest presence of God means cultivating sacred rhythms that bring your attention to God. Here are a few places that might be helpful to start:
Put down the phone - In a society where your attention is monetized and highly coveted, it’s much harder than you think. Removing screens, devices, and technology has been a big part of becoming more aware of God in the present moment. Purposefully set aside the podcasts, social media, news and entertainment, and make room for the manifest presence of God.
Pay attention to your holy dissatisfaction - If you’re noticing a lack of joy and purpose, your body and soul are telling you there’s something missing. Allow your discontent to drive you toward a hunger for God, which nothing in this world can satisfy.
Enter into silence - Silence, solitude and stillness are some of the most powerful tools for contemplative living. These streams of grace have been used by Christians through the millennia to provide a place to connect to the presence of the living God. As you breathe in the presence of God, you will find the chokehold of fear and anxiety lessens when you know you are not alone.
Work with a spiritual director - Spiritual directors are trained to help you find the manifest presence of God in your everyday life. Many I know bridge the gap between knowledge about God and experience of God.
As you face life, may you find the courage to run through the darkness and jump into God’s embrace, where you will find comfort, purpose, meaning, strength and joy.