Pondering the Presence of the Lord
As I plow my way through the Book of Leviticus this month, I must admit, most of it is having to will myself to keep going. I mean, lets be honest, the details of how a guilt offering or a sin offering or a grain offering or a fellowship offering should take place and what kind of animal to sacrifice and what part of the animal to sacrifice for each offering are not things that bear much resonance with those of us in today’s modern word. But there was a one-liner that jumped out at me today in this fascinating book of blood and guts and ancient practices. As Moses calls over his brother Aaron and his sons (the anointed priests of Israel), as well as the appointed elders and instructs them to prepare the proper sacrifices, he says this:
“For today The Lord will appear to you.” – Leviticus 9:4
Wouldn’t that be cool if someone came to you and said, “get ready, for today the Lord is going to appear to you.” What would you do? Put on your finest clothes? Confess all wrongdoing in your life? Prepare a party? Or a quiet holy space? It’s an interesting thought.
The good news is that as people of the New Covenant, we are not required to prepare for the presence of the Lord as the people of the Old Covenant were. For if they did not conduct the sacrifices just so, coming into the presence of the Lord would not be possible. God was just too holy, too powerful, too great. But when they did do things just as as God instructed Moses, the Lord would appear in spectacular ways:
“…and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. Fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the alter.” – Lev. 9:23b-24
I can’t help but feel envious sometimes at the ways in which the Israelites experienced the undeniable presence of God. If only he would appear to us today like he did then – in a flame of fire or a cloud of smoke perhaps – then it would be easier to know God really is with us. I yearn to be able to respond as the Israelites did when they saw God appear to them in such dramatic ways:
“And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell facedown.” – Lev. 9:24b
But no matter how cool it would have been to see the glory of the Lord appear by fire, there is an even more spectacular way God chose to reveal himself to his people and that is through the human life, death and resurrection of His Son Jesus. How easy it is to forget how awesome this revealing act really was and still is. In fact, it is the distinguishing factor between Christianity and many of the other world religions. God revealed himself through the human person of Jesus so that when people see and come to know Jesus and believe that he is the Son of God, that is the modern day version of God appearing by fire. Except we no longer live in a Leviticus world in which intricate sacrifices were needed for the people to come into God’s presence. Jesus became the ultimate and final sacrifice so that anyone who believes in him may be able to come into the presence of God day after day after day after day… and into eternity. This is a privilege the Israelites of the Old Testament did not know.
But this still does not answer how we can know and recognize God’s presence in today’s world and in our own lives. Here are five practical things to ponder as ways to bring about a greater awareness of God’s presence in our lives:
- Prayer. John 15 speaks of abiding in God and when we do that he will abide in us. So when we come to God and spend time talking to him in prayer, we can know he is there with us.
- Bible Reading. God’s Word is the main way we can get to know who God is. When God promised Joshua he would “be with him wherever he went,” it was coupled with the instruction to meditate on Scripture day and night (Joshua 1:8). God’s Word is God’s presence with us, and His words will be a part of us when we take the time to know what he is saying.
- Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was given to us as an “advocate” to help us and guide us into all Truth. It is the very same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead that comes to live in us when we put our faith and trust in Jesus. The Holy Spirit reminds us always that God is with us even when we don’t see him in physical form.
- Corporate Worship. When two or three gather in his name, he is there with us (Matthew 18:20). God’s presence is often felt when a group of believers are gathered to worship and pray. Church is not just a good thing to do, but it is one of the main vehicles through which God appears to us.
- Imitating Christ. When we study the life of Jesus and allow God to transform us to become more like Christ in our daily lives, we will experience the presence of God in powerful and tangible ways. It might be through praying for others, speaking a word of encouragement, serving the poor, loving the unlovable, standing up for Truth, and pursing holiness in a world that detests it. When we live and act and think and love like Jesus, God is making himself known through us.
What would you add to the list? How have you experienced God’s presence most powerfully in your life? Please share any insights that may inspire us to hunger for, seek after and know the presence of the Lord in such a way that we, like the Israelites, may shout for joy and fall facedown.