Seek His Presence

” Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually.” (Psalm 105:4)

You and I were created to live in real union with the very presence of God. The primary result of Adam and Eve’s rebellion was that they lost the gift of God’s constant presence. What a tragedy! Yet we avoid his presence, the very thing we were created for. “No one seeks after God.” (Romans 3:10) is the primary charge against a sinful humanity. This has always been true, but now we live in a day, in America, and much of the world, where efforts are being made to eradicate any sense of the presence of God in our culture. With evangelistic zeal today’s Atheist burns with a desire to convert everyone to the religion of despair and nothingness. Even churches are running away from the presence of God. They set up doctrines designed to prevent anything that seems supernatural or beyond us from taking place in worship. It’s as if we’ve said to God, “Thanks for getting us into heaven, but we’ll take it from here.”

Prayer meetings, once considered the lifeline of the church are now considered a waste of time. Do our children even know how to seek the Lord? Yes, we’ve taught them how to say prayers, but have we taught them how to take hold of God in prayer? Do they know what repentance is? Do they know anything of life in the Spirit? Or have we turned them into religious zombies stumbling along in the dark tripping over dead doctrines and flaky Sunday morning entertainment? Do they know what it means to feel the actual presence of God without music playing in the background? When was the last time you experienced God’s presence?

Did you know that God desires for you to know his presence on a daily basis? “Seek his presence continually.” Paul put it this way, “Pray without ceasing.” and “Walk in step with the Spirit.” Jesus said , “Abide in me…for without me you can do nothing.” We are called to seek to literally live in the presence of God. Many of us are so anemic about the God who we claim to believe in that we can’t stand a sermon that lasts 21 minutes, much less a day lived in His very presence. How will you survive in heaven where his presence is a constant reality? At the same time, we long for God’s presence.

There is a place deep in every human being that longs for God. It’s part of the design. God desires more for you than a religion or good behavior. God desires to dwell with you and impart his divine presence into every corner of your being. You were created to be a habitation of pure love and holiness. Your life was meant to radiate with the glory of God himself so that every thought, every word and every action flows out of the heart of God imparting life to everyone around you.

Imagine a home flooded with the presence of God. Imagine places of business where the atmosphere of heaven reigns and people are changed just by being there. Imagine a church so caught up in divine glory that life flows out into communities and transforms them into real life illustrations of the kingdom of God. This is not fantasy. this is potentially what can happen when God’s people push beyond religious duty and seek whole heartedly the constant presence of God. Many today are praying for revival, and it sill shortly come. But do we not realize what revival is? It is a rediscovery of the presence of God on earth. Would you be revived? Then commit yourself to seeking out the presence of God in your daily life.

You will never be fully alive without the divine presence. He is the sunlight of your soul, presently eclipsed by sin. When we turn to him and seek his presence the garden comes to life again beneath the warming rays of his healing love. Let us take the word’s of the Psalmist to heart and “Seek his presence continually.” Pray with me:

“Lord I’m tired of religion. I want you. I thank you that you desire to impart your very life to me so that I live in your presence. No more weekend visits for me. Sunday morning isn’t good enough. I want to live in your constant presence and power. Take hold of me and fill me with your life. Take anything from me that blocks the flow of your spirit into my life. I would rather have one drop of your presence than a ocean of temporary pleasure. Lord I want all of you to have all of me. Dwell in me. Change me. Replace me. In Jesus name, Amen.”

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What happened to Chislev?

What were you praying about in December 2014? How about November? October? This was my reflection this morning. I was reading in Nehemiah chapter 2 and was mildly stunned. I realized that He had prayed for an opportunity to approach the King of Persia and ask for permission to go back to Jerusalem and begin a massive restoration project. That was in Chapter 1. That prayer took place in the Hebrew month of Chislev (November/ December). Then on reading Chapter 2, I see that the conversation he had prayed about having with the king din’t even occur until about four or five months later, in the month of Nisan (March/April).

So Nehemiah began praying for an open door to the king in about November, and although he was in the kings presence every day, the actual conversation never took place until about four months later. Even then, the conversation was initiated, not by Nehemiah, but by the King himself. I could spend a great deal of time writing about such things as providence, God’s timing, etc. but I’m thinking in a slightly different direction today.

As I reflected on the four month span between the two events I was prompted to look back into my poorly organized prayer journal to try to see what I was praying about four months ago and what’s going on right now. In some cases I was encouraged to see what God had done over the last quarter in my life, but I was also a bit embarrassed by the prayers I had prayed, ideas I had written down, and plans I had made, many of which I have forgotten about. So much was lost between Chislev and Nisan. Whew! I’ll take another slice of that humble pie, with a scoop of ice cream please. To keep this brief let me just throw out some conclusions.

1. Journaling is a great idea if for no other reason than it helps me remember things.

2. Nehemiah didn’t have a list of ideas. He had one burning desire. Hard to forget something that grips your heart. Pray, not for ideas, but for passions, burdens, deep desires.

3. I need to clean out the closet of my million ideas and see which ones are truly from God, and toss out the ones that aren’t.

4. Just because you forget, doesn’t mean God does. Some of those forgotten prayers were answered anyway. Others are still before the throne. Keep praying.

So I’ve gone over the last few months and begun to ask the Lord to help me do some spring cleaning in my heart, mind and calendar. Time to seek the Lord for a fresh vision for these warmer days, and to dust off forgotten plans and just see what doors will open in Nisan.

Walking in God’s Favor.

“And the King granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.” (Nehemiah 2:8)

Nehemiah was a bit too old to attempt a back flip, but today he almost tried one! He could not believe what just happened. He had spent the whole night before pleading with God for favor from the Persian King. Through trembling lips he nervously requested leave to go to Jerusalem and attempt a rebuilding project for his people. Not only did the King grant his request, he also granted supplies and protection for the whole project! How long the old man stood there with his mouth hanging open is unknown to us, but I would have loved to have seen it. Retiring to his room, Nehemiah sat on the edge of his bed in sheer awe. Then He looked up to heaven, with tears of golden joy dancing across his face and tried to find words to give to his God. But how do you adequately say thanks when your future, once thought lost forever, has just been handed to you on a silver tray of divine favor? In such rare moments all you can do is rest in the unexplainable goodness of God. Nehemiah experienced the favor of God. Can you and I walk in such favor? Or is this just the stuff of ancient stories? To me the Bible is more than a collection of ancient accounts. It is the playbook for those who would know God and experience him today and into eternity. When we read Nehemiah’s explanation of things in chapter 2, verse 8 we see how his assessment of things shaped his destiny. You see many of us miss the favor of God in our lives simply because of the way we choose to look at life. When he wrote of his experience with the King, he gave the reason for how things worked out. Let’s be honest, many of us, if we had been through such an experience, we would have said something like this: “And the King granted me what I asked because…

1. I caught him when he was in a good mood.

2. I know how to work people and get what I want.

3. He probably has ulterior motives, but at least we have a win – win situation.

4. I was the just lucky I guess.

Strangely enough, if it hadn’t worked out we would be tempted to bring God into it at that point…

1. God must be mad at me.

2. God doesn’t care.

3. God doesn’t exist.

Funny how we work that isn’t it? God only gets the credit for our disappointments. Or worse, his existence is determined by whether or not we get what we want. Then we wonder why this whole faith thing, “didn’t work for me”. It didn’t work, because you really haven’t tried it yet. What you tried was superstition, not faith. God doesn’t bless superstition. He blesses faith. Nehemiah shows us what walking in faith, and consequently divine favor, looks like. Nehemiah 2:8 shows us the mindset that we need.

“And the King granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.” (2:8 E.S.V.)

 1. “The good hand…” – Nehemiah assumed the goodness of God. Even though his home town was in ruins, and the future looked uncertain, he understood that God’s nature is not determined by our present circumstances. For many, God is only good if I am happy at the moment. But all the saints of Biblical history affirmed, even in their worst moments that God himself is good. I have to accept, that as James put it, “God cannot be tempted with evil, and He himself tempts no one.” and that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:13,17) I must come to God with the assumption that God is good even when my situation isn’t.

2. “of my God…” – Nehemiah had a personal relationship with God based on faith. I cannot walk in God’s favor from a distance. From Genesis to revelation people who would experience God are called to a personal faith relationship with God. This came in Nehemiah’s time through obedience to the law, but now it comes through the one who fulfilled the law in himself, Jesus Christ. Friend you will never walk in God’s favor by simply believing there’s a God out there somewhere, and by trying to live by your own understanding of goodness. Jesus said, repeatedly, that we must come to God by personal faith and obedience to Jesus Christ as Lord and savior. Then I must daily walk in faith and growing obedience to him. Many claim to believe in Jesus, but have not yet begun a personal relationship with him. Read John 15 for description of how we are to live in a daily relationship with him.

3. “was upon me.” – Nehemiah trusted in the presence and power of God that was upon him. Whenever the Bible talks about the hand of God being upon someone, it refers to his power and presence. Nehemiah understood that the Persian King didn’t respond to Nehemiah’s clever words, but to the unseen power of God that was upon the servant of God. It reminds me of Jesus words at the beginning of his ministry, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me…” (Luke 4:18) Jesus walked in divine power. This same power he promised to all who follow him, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses….” (Acts 1:8…) Paul demonstrated this same confidence in the power of God in his letter to the Corinthians,

“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom.  For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5 E.S.V.)

So we see that we walk in divine favor, when we start with a shift in our perspective. We begin to experience God at work in us and through us when we assume:

1. That God is good, despite how things look at the moment.

2. That God desires a personal relationship with me.

3. That God wants me to walk in his power, not my own.

Finally, I have to say that Nehemiah wasn’t asking for favor so he could simply live a good life and do as he pleased. Nehemiah walked in God’s favor because he was committed to God’s kingdom and cause. The underlying theme to all this is that we must live for God’s glory and kingdom if we are to truly find the fulfillment and purpose and favor we were created to experience. Jesus said it this way, “Seek first (in priority) the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.” (Matt. 6:33)

Getting Physical

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“I appeal to you therefore brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1)
How do you offer your body as a living sacrifice to God? I find it interesting that Paul didn’t say, “offer your spirit”. Offering your spirit would be too abstract, too theoretical. Anyone can give themselves to God in an abstract way. But he said, offer your bodies to God. That’s tangible, active, sensory. This is much more demanding than simply closing your eyes and giving God sentimental feelings. Giving your body as a living sacrifice is physical. Too much so called religious devotion never makes it outside the mind and heart. Our spiritual decisions and intentions bounce around in the subconscious until the feeling goes away, but nothing actually happens out in the world where it’s needed the most. Faith isn’t faith until you get your body involved. Abraham didn’t just ponder a vision for the land of Canaan. He started packing and got walking. The Spirit is not calling you to a feeling, but to a step of faith. Don’t just sit there pining away about your love for God. Do something! –that is your spiritual act of worship.

Burned Gates and broken hearts: Listening to Hanani.

“The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah. Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the citadel, that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.” (Nehemiah 1:1-3)

A broken man fell back against a marble column and felt himself slide to the floor. His heavy heart dragged him down beneath a tide of grief, drowning him in despair. He was the cup bearer for the Persian king, under whose rule the exiles of Israel languished. They head been in exile for so long that Jerusalem was in danger of fading from their collective memory. Nehemiah’s job was to taste the wine before the king, to ensure it wasn’t poisoned. But today the old man was wishing it was. He felt like dying today. That’s what you get for asking hard questions of honest friends.

 He had asked his friends how things were going in old Jerusalem. “How are things in the old city?” he queried, hoping for a report of good things. But what he heard broke his heart. The people, a once proud race with a destiny as old as time itself, now are scraping and scratching just to survive. His friends describe the refugees as full of trouble and shame. This was a people once ruled by mighty kings, like David and Solomon, known all over the world for their law and their God. Now they are hiding in the rubble of a shattered kingdom like dogs in a junk yard. “The walls are destroyed and the gates are burned with fire.” Psalms have been written about the majestic walls and busy gates of Jerusalem. There was a time when other nations were waiting in line to trade with Israel. They were in awe of the kingdom of Israels God. But now the smoke of their destruction bears witness to the unheeded warnings of the prophets who died calling the rebellious nation back to God. A people shamed and broken, defenses crumbling, and gates destroyed. This was a hard reality to face, but if there was to be any hope of restoration the need for it had to be looked square in the eye. The exiled people were blessed to have a servant of God like Nehemiah and his friends, who were willing to take a hard look at what had become of God’s people and allow themselves to be broken over it. Nehemiah was moved to weep, to pray and to act on behalf of his beloved Israel. Because of his courage and faith History was changed.

We need a visit from Hanani and Nehemiah today. If they were to walk the streets and attend the churches in our country today would they not find reason to weep? Would they not be moved to Pray? Would they not call God’s present day people to act? The story of Nehemiah should not be relegated to ancient history, for it is our story as well. Hanani, the messenger, had the courage to describe the condition of Jerusalem honestly. How Nehemiah would have preferred a 21st century spin on things. He would have been spared much grief if Hanani had been a little less brutal in his assessment. If only Hanani had learned from our generation he could have made things sound so much better. Perhaps he would have said something a little more palatable;

 “Well Brother, Ole’ J-town is plugging along just fine. They have a few challenges with construction issues and such, but overall projections are looking pretty standard for the demographic we’re working with. We’re keeping things very positive and trusting God to give us the victory. Amen. God is good, all the time, Brother.” 

But he grew up in a time where problems were called problems. Good was called good. Evil was called evil. The best way to deal with life was head on, not head in sand. We need a visit from Hanani and Nehemiah today. If they visited today would they not see a once faith-filled people now scraping around like refugees? Would they not see a people who have virtually forgotten their destiny amid the rush to just get by? Churches once known for a vibrant life of mission and worship, are now ghostly museums of a forgotten faith. A church that was born in a prayer meeting on Pentecost and who turned the world upside down with an apostolic boldness that proved stronger than the Roman Empire, now prayerless and consequently powerless. We’ve traded prayer for politics, evangelism for entertainment and discipleship for donuts and coffee. We’re oblivious or powerless to address the broken walls of holiness and burned up gates of compassion.

No our condition is not unique to this generation. If you read the works of Tozer, Ravenhill, E.M. Bounds and others you see that every generation comes to a place in which revival is needed. Every generation finds its walls crumbling and gates burning. Every generation reaches a point in which God’s people have forgotten who they are. The question is what will this generation do about it. The good news is there are those who, like Hanani and Nehemiah don’t buy the “keep everything positive” hype and are willing to take an honest look at our people, our walls and our gates.  God always gives us those people if we are willing to listen to them. Some generations fail to listen, which is why Israel went into exile. They ignored, even killed their prophets. Others listened, which is why history is blessed with accounts of revival and renewal. I think we’re in a time in which the voice of Hanani is calling out to us, “Look at your walls! Look at your gates!” Will we listen then, like Nehemiah, weep, pray and act? Or will we keep telling ourselves we’re okay until there are no more walls to inspect?