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CHRISTIAN WALK

Experience the Presence of God: Be Alert

By Frank A. DeCenso Jr.
Guest Writer

CBN.com

1 Kings 19:11-12
11Then He said, "Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord." And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.

Before the events described in this passage, Elijah had witnessed God send fire from heaven to burn up two bulls in a ‘duel’ with the Baalic prophets14. Now, possibly hiding in a cave from an adversary, God told Elijah to stand “before the Lord.” As Elijah did, it appears nature itself reeled from God’s passing presence: a strong wind tore the mountains apart, an earthquake occurred, and a fire broke out.

What is relevant for us in this theophanic15 encounter is that although Elijah, in his prior confrontation with the prophets of Baal, saw God send fire down from heaven, now in this passage, God was not “in” any of the terrestrial phenomena Elijah had just witnessed. The Lord came with a “still small voice.” There is an immense difference between strong terrestrial disruptions and a small voice.

Perhaps Elijah needed to learn that theophanic signs and wonders do not always indicate the intimate presence of God. On an intimate level, God is more likely to come to us in stillness and quiet. And since He neither shouts nor always make a grand entrance, our alertness becomes crucial.

We need to learn how to recognize God’s still, small whispers to our hearts because those manifestations of His presence are just as breathtaking as the earthly eruptions caused by God’s glory. God wants to speak to us intimately—what a remarkable thing! God can move mountains before us and the spectacle may only provide an impersonal encounter. But when God speaks to us in a “still small voice," this reveals how intimately He wants to commune with us. In fact, it is not fallacious to say that God wants to speak to us much more often in the context of intimacy than through the extravaganzas that can cause goose pimples to erupt on our skin.

What about those in the Old Testament that witnessed God’s presence daily, in fire by day and a cloud by night?

Exodus 40:34-38
34Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 35And Moses was not able to enter the tabernacle of meeting, because the cloud rested above it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 36Whenever the cloud was taken up from above the tabernacle, the children of Israel would go onward in all their journeys. 37But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not journey till the day that it was taken up. 38For the cloud of the Lord was above the tabernacle by day, and fire was over it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys.

Imagine someone seeing the presence of God in such awesome splendor. Imagine their seeing it each day and every night. Is it possible that such a sight would become common or ordinary to the degree that it no longer filled the viewers with awe as when they first saw it? Is it possible that some days they would not even look to see God’s manifest presence because they’ve seen it several days in a row? And is it possible that one day, when they finally looked to see it again, it would be gone? Now what? God moved on, and because of their complacency of experience, or their lack of lasting awe, they missed it when He did. Now what do they do? How will they know where to go?

In the above story, I mixed elements from the factual account of the Israelites in their desert wanderings, given to us in Exodus 40, with a hypothetical “what-if” scenario. I have done so hoping to illustrate the following point: if we look for God’s manifest presence to come to us only in certain extraordinary ways, we could miss Him when He comes to us in various, perhaps gentle ways. Although it’s unlikely that the Israelites would have not noticed when the cloud or fire of God’s presence moved on, it’s possible that we can miss Him when He comes to fellowship or talk or lead us in quiet, tender moments.

We need to develop a “vigilant adaptiveness” to His presence—a holy and humble acknowledgment that God can sovereignly choose how He speaks to us and leads us. We also need to avoid becoming routinized in how we expect to experience God’s presence. When these two criteria are met, we will be less likely to miss the sweet presence of God when He manifests Himself to us, in one way or another.

Understanding our acceptance by God because of the blood of Jesus, being aware of God’s universal and indwelling presence, actively seeking His manifest presence, and being alert to the varying unveilings of Himself to us will help us to experience more of God, more frequently.


14 See 1 Kings 18:20-40

15 Pertaining to a "theophany," a visible manifestation of God.

Copyright © 2005 by Frank A. DeCenso Jr. All Scripture references are NKJV unless otherwise noted.

Frank has been teaching the Bible in churches and other venues for more than 20 years. He is currently the Ministry Resources Director at Vineyard Christian Fellowship of Virginia Beach, Va. He is an employee at Regent University in the Information Technology Department. Frank is married and lives in Virginia Beach.

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