The Power to Make God’s Presence Real to Us

 

In a dark hour, nothing is more precious than God making His presence real to us — verifying that He is with us.

Psalm 91 describes the secret place of The Most High — where no plague, where no arrow can reach. The Psalmist describes how in a time of trouble, a thousand may fall at our side, succumbing to despair — but if we know our God — we will stand. [1]

That “secret place” is — where God has made Himself so real to you — that fear has no power over you.

These are difficult times and people are suffering greatly . . .  in the wake of super-storm Sandy. . .in Gaza . . . in Syria . . . in our challenging economy . . . everywhere . . . If ever there was a time that we need to function from a place where fear has no power over us, it is now.

  • God is with us in our extremity
  • But we can only draw strength from this fact if we know this for ourselves.

I can think positively, and well-meaning friends can encourage me, but these do not give me the same strength, that knowing God is with me does.

*

Hearing of a young family’s struggle, my prayers did not seem enough — so I wrote them a brief note of encouragement, enclosing a small check.  When my gift arrived, it exactly matched what they had written down as their immediate need  — unbeknownst to me. In that “coincidence” that young couple received something far more precious than money; they were shown God’s hand moving on their circumstances. He was giving them His assurance that He was there.  This strengthened their life-line to Him, comforting their hearts with the encouragement only He could give.

Yes, they were grateful for my help; but more importantly, they drew strength knowing that He was with them in their trial.  And I drew strength, knowing that He was with me, guiding my actions.

God is with us, but we can only draw strength from this fact if we know this for ourselves. 

* * *

I am at war, in my heart, for the sake of those who seem to be locked up in religion, but locked out from knowing God. They can’t draw strength, courage or insight from Whom / what they do not know for themselves. Cut off from personal acquaintance with God, they are functionally vulnerable, cut off from the power He could give them.

Many of us have tended the wound of separation from God superficially — telling untold thousands that if they just say the “sinner’s prayer” asking Jesus into their hearts . . .  if they will just read their Bibles and “believe”, everything will be okay. [2]

We’ve neglected the imperative of forging a life-line with God, as if it was too radical to expect, causing us to shy away.  But that life-line is everything.

And so thousands have done what they’ve been told, but they remain rootless when the wind comes, adrift when the waves surge — experiencing little connection, limited or no personal communication with God.  When trouble comes, God is not real to them.

We have failed to insist on the obvious. The same way that our economy would grind to a halt if our fuel lines were compromised, our strength to stand without fear will disappear if our life-line is compromised. Our assurance of God’s presence with us depends on His being able to communicate it to us. And this is nothing less than supernatural…

But the church is leery of supernatural “spiritual experiences,” afraid that the experiential is not trustworthy, that it is dangerous. It might take precedent over doctrine and The Word. It can’t be real, so it must be imagined by those who are slightly unhinged.  I know this, because I’ve seen it written on a hundred faces, in those settings where I’ve dared to share my stories . . . I’ve felt the awkwardness of spines stiffening around me. But I’ve also always found a precious few, whose faces fill with longing, because they so want to personally experience God in their own lives. The divine dialogue is that life-line of communication by which God can give them Himself.

I’ve tasted New Age spirituality, and I know the danger of letting “spiritual experience” dictate “your truth.”  We need to test every “experience,” to discern whether it is from God or not, by how it compares to Scripture — does it fight or validate what is written?  This being said, we are in grave error to so fear supernatural spiritual experience that we shun it.

As we become increasingly sensitive to God’s motion in our life, it will only make our relationship with Him more authentic. Intimate experience with God always brings new depth of meaning to our grasp of His Word, as He makes its narrative and His presence more and more real to us.

On the internet, the morning after super-storm Sandy, I was arrested by a picture of a church that had been taken down to its foundation — only the shrine of a statue was left standing by what had been a door.  I don’t know anything about that particular church, but there was a general message in that picture. When storms come, they will take that church down to its foundation — where people know their doctrine, but do not know their God — because those same people will find it unbearable to go on without God’s presence being made real to them. I take this with great hope, that whatever storms we face, He is going to level what has not served us — so that He can finally become as real to us as we need Him to be.

In a letter to the Corinthian church, Paul describes the storms he has faced, but he also shares how real God’s comfort has been made to him.

. . .  God, Who comforts and encourages and refreshes and cheers the depressed and the sinking, comforted and encouraged and refreshed and cheered us. . .

2 Cor 7:6, Amplified Bible

God does not intend for us to suffer the storms of life without His comforting presence — quite the opposite — He uses those storms to make His comfort our reality .  More than ever we need to be able to recognize and respond to the way that makes His presence real to us.

With this in mind, I return to my work with fresh eagerness — to tell all I can about the divine dialogue — and its power to make God’s presence real to us

*

Baltimore

Flinching against the unwelcomed intrusion, I tried to resist the lyrics swirling down the watery steeps of my sleep. I didn’t want to be drawn out of my deep refuge. But the far-away song kept singing itself, forcing me up through layers of consciousness until I emerged eyes shut but fully awake — feeling the dark December cold pressing against the window, with the strange sound of street traffic coming from somewhere below.

Opening my eyes, I found myself in a strange room.

And then, all too suddenly, the dread I had been trying to hide from found me — crushing the breath out of me, as it settled on my chest. We were in Baltimore. This was our hotel room. And this was the day we would learn if the new drug was slowing the disease relentlessly seeking our daughter’s life.

Groaning, I curled closer to Bill. A fragile thread of the Celtic hymn lingered, still singing itself softly in me.

The alarm rang. Unable to put it off any longer, I left the comfort of our warm bed for the shower, caught between the dread that demanded my full attention and the song that wanted to be sung. One was darkness; one was light. Heavy foreboding drew my mind like a magnet, but the music would not let me go. I felt as if I owed my thoughts to the seriousness of what lay before us, but the hauntingly beautiful strain of luminous words seemed to be pitting themselves against my dark dread. As the warm water streamed over me, I made a subtle choice: giving into the music, giving myself to the song.

Our God is an awesome God

He reigns from heaven above

With wisdom power and love,

Our God is an awesome God.

*

And then a picture came to me . . . I saw our daughter, Courtney, approaching light so bright I could not see beyond it.  I wasn’t sure what it meant, but the thought crossed my mind that it might be a picture of her crossing over in death, into light, that would swallow her up out of our sight. I staggered against the shower wall, sobbing.

As hot water coursed over me, the hardness of the cold white tile became an altar, where I sensed God asking me to yield the unrelenting demand of my prayers — my daughter’s healing.  It was a moment of clarification as I saw the fierceness of my prayer, trying to wrest what I wanted from God.  He was not asking for Courtney — but He was asking me to trust His goodness, to trust Him with the outcome, whatever it might be.

In all of our suffering, there is a spiritual battle that reduces to one question — is God good?

*

Courtney and Paul joined us for breakfast. She was bright and animated. Paul, newlywed and young, soberly faced her fragile condition with protective tenderness.

“Mom, the weirdest thing happened this morning!”  Courtney announced, as she plopped down next to me.

“It’s never happened to me before, but I woke myself up singing. Actually, I wasn’t singing; but this song kept singing itself in me. The darn thing woke me up!”

She nudged me playfully. “It was that song from your new CD, you know, ‘Our God is an awesome God.’”

My heart stood still.  That was the song that had awakened me, singing itself in me — something that had never happened to me before either.

The screen of my imagination flew up,  filling with moving imagery: I saw two pieces of paper laying side by side.  I knew they represented our two identical experiences.  And then one piece of paper was laid on top of the other, and I saw God’s hand signing them.  He was telling me that our two experiences were one, and that He was their author.

God, Who comforts and encourages and refreshes and cheers the depressed and the sinking, was comforting, encouraging and cheering me —  making His presence real to me when I so needed it.

Our being awakened by the same song was not a coincidence; it was the divine dialogue — telling us that He was there with us.

A wave of emotion swept over both Courtney and me, giving us boldness to face the unknown, giving her a lightness of spirit as she faced the battle for her life.

As we left our hotel that December morning headed for Johns Hopkins, we did not know that she was going into remission, that she would be able to live a normal active life, that she wouuld be able to have four beautiful children.  I didn’t know that the image of her being swallowed by the light was a picture of her fully giving herself to God.  We knew none of these wonderful things.  We had no assurance of the outcome — but we were safe in the secret place of the Most High — where no arrow of fear, no plague of despair could touch us.

With hearts light and triumphant, we faced the very real peril with confidence — not because we were being strong — but because God’s reality made us strong.

* * *

The divine dialogue is grace in action: the merciful kindness by which God exerts His influence upon our souls, to turn us toward Himself, to keep and strengthen us, to increase our faith, to develope His virtue in us, to make it possible for us to know and trust Him.

The divine dialogue is not the privilge of a special few — it is the life-line to God by which His power flows to you.  It is the imperative that every single one of us will desperately need at one time or another.

But it is also a choice.  Many whom I love dearly do not believe — either it is a little too supernatural for their taste, a little “out there”, or they do not think they are capable of and do not hold themselves accountable to understand what God is saying to them.

They are missing the priceless life-line that is meant-to-be their own.

 

 


[1] Ps 91: 1-7, 14, 15, NKJV

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High

Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.

2 I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust.”

3 Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler And from the perilous pestilence. 4 He shall cover you with His feathers, And under His wings you shall take refuge; His truth shall be your shield and buckler.

5 You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, Nor of the arrow that flies by day,

6 Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness, Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday.

7 A thousand may fall at your side, And ten thousand at your right hand; But it shall not come near you . . .

 

14 “Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him on high, because he has known My name.

15 He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him. 16 With long life I will satisfy him, And show him My salvation.”

 

 

 

[2] David Platt, the 33-year-old pastor, who leads The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., sparked debate when he expressed his concern that in trying to make Christian belief easy, with the popular “sinner’s prayer,” we are not presenting an adequately rugged, Biblical picture of what it takes to know and follow Jesus.  I agree with him.

 

Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/david-platt-still-addressing-controversy-over-sinners-prayer-remarks-77462/#k276uzT8p64rRfMi.99

 

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  1. John Webster says:

    Pwerfully and wonderfully expressed. May it remain so in my life. Thanks

  2. Seth Barnes says:

    Valerie, your battle to find God in the muddy, everyday reality of life on earth is refreshing.

    Thanks for taking the time to listen and then to share with the rest of us what you’ve heard.

  3. Ann Lester says:

    Thank you Valerie, for this beautiful message! As I push through, becoming much stronger in not giving in to fear, I feel His peace more and more. I have grown tired and weary in watching the news and seeing constant bickering between the two political parties. It is exhausting to me. I am trying to find a balance between staying informed and listening to Him.

    Love you,
    Ann

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