THE MANIFESTATION OF GOD’S PRESENCE
Ask any Christian, “Do you love Jesus?” and he will answer, “Absolutely yes!” But words alone will not stand in the holy light of His Word, for Jesus Himself said two distinct things will reveal our love for Him. If these two evidences are not being revealed in your life, then your love for Jesus is in word alone — not in deed and in truth. These two evidences are: (1) your obedience to Jesus’ every command and (2) a manifestation of His presence in your life.
This verse says it all: “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me…and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him” (John 14:21 KJV). “Manifest” means to “shine or break forth” — in other words, to become an instrument or channel that radiates Christ’s presence.
The Church so often prays, “Oh Lord! Send us Your presence. Come among us — fall upon us — move upon us. Reveal Yourself to us! ” But God’s presence does not just “come down.” It does not suddenly fall and surprise or overwhelm the congregation. We seem to have the idea that Christ’s presence is an invisible smoke that God sprays into the atmosphere, like the Old Testament cloud of glory that so filled the temple that the priests could not stand to minister.
We forget that in this day our bodies are the temple of God, and if His glory comes it must appear in our hearts and fill our bodies. Christ does not inhabit buildings or a certain atmosphere; in fact, the very heavens cannot contain Him.
Rather He is manifested through our obedient, sanctified bodies — His temples: “For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (2 Corinthians 6:16). “Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you” (1 Corinthians 6:19).
But why is there little or no presence of Jesus in the midst of our churches? Why are so many congregations dead? Because either the pastor or the people — or both — are spiritually dead!
Experiencing the presence of Jesus in a church is not so much a corporate matter as it is an individual one. It is true that a spiritually lifeless, prayerless shepherd can spread death over the people. Yet every member is still a temple and remains personally responsible to obey God and to be available as an instrument of His presence. Your church can be dead and yet you still can be full of Christ’s presence.
Recently, four teenage boys told me, “You preached in our church last year and it was dead. So we four started a prayer meeting just for us. We wanted to get right with God, to repent and be on fire for Jesus. Our group grew to ten and we helped other fellows get saved. Now we’re inviting the deacons and pastors to come and pray with us. We really have a changed church. The Lord is there now! “
A true revival, as I see it, is a restoration of this kind of intense love for Jesus. This love is marked by a new desire to obey His every word, a heart attitude that says, “Whatever He says, I will do.” Indeed, a revival is a return to obedient love by a people who individually have confessed and forsaken all sin, desiring only to become channels of Christ’s presence. Revival is embodied in these people. They carry Christ’s glory and presence with them because His life flows through them at all times.
Pastors of large churches have said to me, “You must come and see what God is doing. Thousands are coming — we’re packed out! Our worship is really something to behold!”
I’ve gone to some of these churches with great expectations, but seldom did I sense or experience the actual presence of Jesus in these mass meetings. The congregations exhibited no true repentance. I believe that if a prophet had stood up and exposed the divorce, adultery, fornication and mixture with evil music that existed in those churches, half the crowd would have walked out.
They were having fun! In one church, a leader invited about 50 people to come to a prayer room where he gave them a sales talk. They needed to join that church, he said, ”for a covering — to get your prayers answered.” In that congregation, there were no instruments or channels of His presence. The so-called worship and praise were simply noise, and I knew it wouldn’t be long before the crowd would cry out for entertainment. Where there is no true presence of Christ, the people seek only thrills.
I left these meetings knowing in my heart that Jesus was not among the people. It was clear they did not live in obedience to Him — so in truth they could not be loving Him. Jesus will not manifest Himself to those who say they have love but do not obey. Wherever you find the presence of Jesus, you always will find at least four manifestations breaking forth among His people.
1. A Deep, Smiting Conviction of Sin
Wherever holy vessels embody the living Presence of Jesus, wherever His holy presence bursts forth from obedient hearts, the person who harbors sin in his life will do one of two things: either fall down and confess, or run and hide!
A day is coming when Jesus will reveal Himself fully to wicked mankind, and people will cry out for rocks and mountains to fall on them and hide them from His awesome presence. “They hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; and said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne” (Revelation 6:15-16).
During one Tuesday night service at Times Square Church I was overwhelmed as the presence of Jesus became manifest through the godly worshipers waiting upon Him. People came to the altar, some weeping. The fear of the Lord, was awesome. I felt like Isaiah who said, “Woe is me! for I am…a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5).
At this church we often preach against sin, and many can say, “I’ve laid down everything the Spirit has exposed in me that’s unlike Jesus.” Yet I realize we have not arrived; we still fall short of His glory. But preaching alone will not bring the hatred for sin that so many need in these last days. It’s going to take deep, piercing manifestations of God’s holy presence. We learn to hate sin and to walk in His fear only while in His holy presence.
I hear Christians boast, “On that Day of Judgment I will not have to fall on my face. I will stand boldly, warts and all, because I am trusting in His salvation, not in my works!” It is true that we are not saved by works. But if we do not obey Christ’s commandments, then we never really loved Him and He was not manifested in us (John 14:21).
The Apostle John, our ”brother, and companion in tribulation” (Revelation 1:9), the one who once leaned on Jesus’ breast, saw Christ in His glorified holiness. John testified, “I turned…I saw…one like unto the Son of man…his eyes were as a flame of fire…his voice as the sound of many waters…and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength. And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not” (Revelation 1:12-17).
You may be as John was, a righteous brother or sister in the Lord — a servant who has endured much tribulation — but can any of us stand before a Presence that shines as the sun in all its strength? We will no more be able to look upon that holiness than we can now look into the sun without tinted glasses. He will have to enable us in that day — to touch us and reassure us not to be afraid. “Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy” (Jude 24).
The presence of Jesus has power to destroy and drive out sin! “Let God arise, let his, enemies be scattered: let them also that hate him flee before him. As smoke is driven away, so drive them away: as wax melteth before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God” (Psalm 68:1-2).
This is a picture of what ought to happen when you get alone with God in your prayer closet. His awesome, manifest presence is like a hurricane that blows away the dirt and smoke of lust; like a blazing fire, it melts down all hardness. Wickedness perishes in His presence.
“The hills melted like wax at the presence of the Lord” (Psalm 97:5). The hills in this psalm represent satanic strongholds and mountains of stubbornness, all of which melt from those who are shut in with God. We can pray until we’re exhausted, “Oh God, send Your sin-exposing, sin-destroying power to all our churches!” But it will not do any good until the Spirit raises up in those churches a praying, holy remnant whose pure hearts invite His presence into the sanctuary.
You will not experience the real presence of Jesus until you have within you a growing hatred for sin — a piercing conviction for your failures and a deepening sense of the exceeding sinfulness of sin. Those without Christ’s presence become less and less convicted by sin. The further they withdraw from His presence, the bolder, more arrogant and more comfortable in compromise they grow.
Yet it is not enough for us to eat and drink in His presence; we must also be changed and purified by being with Him. “Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets. But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity” (Luke 13:26-27).
Those who confess that they have eaten and drunk in His presence will really be saying, “We were in Your presence. ‘We sat under Your teaching!” Thus they will be judged out of their own mouths. They will admit that they sat in His presence — but they were not changed. They remained blind to their own sinfulness, hardened and unaffected by the presence of Christ. Jesus will answer them, “I don’t know you. Depart from me!”
How dangerous it is to sit among saints of God who radiate His glory and presence, where Jesus reveals Himself so powerfully, and not be changed. How deadly not to see the ugliness of sin, the plague of the heart! Will you dare tell the Lord, “I attended a church where Your presence was real — I sat in your holy presence”? This will seal your own damnation. It would be better for you never to have known His presence.
2. A Spirit of Holiness
“Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord…declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness” (Romans 1:3-4). True holiness has a spirit operating behind it. Wherever you find the presence of Jesus working in or among His people, you will discover abundantly more in them than obedience, more than separation from the world, more than abstinence from the ungodly things. You will find a spirit of obedience.
To these people, obedience is no longer just a matter of doing what’s right and avoiding what’s wrong. The believer who so delights in pleasing the Lord has a spirit resting upon him which automatically draws him to the light. “For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God” (John 3:20-21).
A holy person is not afraid of the light of God’s presence. Rather, he invites that glaring light, because a spirit of holiness within him cries out, “I want all hidden things to be brought out! I want to be as much like Jesus as is possible for a human being on this earth.” This servant runs to the light, and when he surrenders, the light of Christ’s presence becomes pure glory to him.
Yet those who harbor hidden sin possess a spirit of deviousness. This is a secretive spirit that hates a message of reproof and cries, “Grace!” to cover hidden corruption. But when the presence of Jesus is manifested, it exposes all secrets and brings all hidden things into the open. God’s people forsake all darkness and become open books, to be “read of all men” (2 Corinthians 3:2).
Literally hundreds have come to Times Square Church, sat in the Lord’s presence and left, never to return. They walked away saying, “These preachers are too hard, too rigid, too legalistic. They make me feel I’ll never make it.” Yet in truth, most of these hearers are nurturing a pet sin which they know will be exposed if they keep coming to the light. Their trouble lies not in this church nor in our message. It lies in their desire to stay in darkness where their evil deeds may remain hidden.
Listen to the language of the spirit of holiness, to the motivation of that spirit: “We keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight” (1 John 3:22). In the Greek translation, these words are very strong: “We keep His commandments, taking them up with great excitement because we know it pleases Him!”
Here’s how I believe this spirit of holiness operates in a church where the presence of Jesus is manifested. First of all, brothers and sisters come to your church in victory with the smile of an overcomer. They testify, “I’m being changed! The Lord is putting a desire in my heart to obey and walk blameless before His presence.” As you witness this, your spirit rejoices, saying within, “Thank God, another servant is bringing Him pleasure! My brother and my sister are making heaven rejoice!”
Your excitement extends beyond the freedom we presently enjoy, beyond our rescue from the devil’s power. It’s because more than all else, we are becoming a body that is learning how to please Him. We obey not out of duty nor out of slavish fear, but because inside us lives a spirit of obedience. We delight in Christ’s joy, rejoicing that His heart rejoices! This is holiness.
3. A Sharing of the Lord’s Burden
Every true burden that the Lord has given me to bear has been born out of a deep, life-changing encounter in the presence of Jesus. Thirty-one years ago the Spirit of God came on me in a spirit of weeping. I sold my television, which dominated my free time, and for a year I shut myself in with my Lord in prayer. I spent months praying in my study and in the woods.
And while I was in His presence, He opened His heart to me and showed me a whole suffering world. Out of this came the command, “Go to New York.” I obeyed, and while I walked these streets He shared with me His burden for gangs, addicts and alcoholics.
About five years ago, God called me to a life of much deeper communion. I spent months alone with Jesus, being purged, laying down all ambition, wanting only to please Him. Once again came the command: “Go back to New York.” Now our ministry moves only through prayer and by being in His presence. The burden we have must be His burden or it is all vain.
When I was eight years old, camp meetings were popular. At that time there were no PTL campgrounds or Christian retreats; tents and little cabins were all churches could afford. Gwen and I used to go to one called “Living Waters Camp” in Cherry Tree, Pennsylvania. People would come to that camp full of His presence. We had no TVs, and no one dared even to think about going to the theater; Jesus was our everything!
The meetings would last most of the night. And in just such a meeting, where Jesus shone forth so mightily, we all ran to the altar. I remember kneeling in the straw, and while I was in God’s presence He became my life. He spoke to me there, saying, “Give me your life!”
I doubt if I would be ministering today if not for the dear saints who came to those camp meetings so full of Jesus. They manifested His glory. I lay for hours, weeping and trembling at that camp-meeting altar, And when I stood up — just a boy of eight — God’s hand was upon my life and His burden was on my soul.
No one shared the burden of the Lord more than the Apostle Paul. Jesus laid on his shoulders the yoke of His own heart. But how did Paul receive that burden? From an encounter with the bright sun of Christ’s presence! “Suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: and he fell to the earth” (Acts 9:3-4). This was the very presence of Jesus.
Paul’s ministry came out of that encounter. Notice that “Arise, and go” (verse 6) came next! When you have the actual, living presence of Jesus, you don’t need committees, strategies or “how to” seminars for direction. The Holy Ghost comes and says, “Go here…go there…do it this way….” He tells you when, where and how!
You may hear two ministers, each sincere, each preaching the same message. The doctrine of both may be right, and each one may preach with gusto. Yet the words of one are lifeless and fall on deaf ears; nothing results. But the words of the other prick the heart like a sword.
This preacher shares and reveals the true burden of the Lord, because he has been shut in with Jesus and can speak what is on His heart. The Lord’s presence through him brings both conviction and life.
Show me a minister who is shut in with Christ, waiting in His presence, and I will show you one who never misses the mind of Christ. If he takes one step out of line, the Lord brings him back. Likewise, show me a church that obeys God’s Word and manifests His presence, and I’ll show you a church body that hears from God, knows His burden and does only what pleases Him.
Such a body lets the striving crowd pass by. They will hear a thousand voices of good causes and promotions saying, “Come help us!” Yet they will not move until He says move. This church will pursue no cause if His presence is not in it.
4. An Exuberant and Exceedingly Great Joy!
“Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou shalt make me full of joy with thy countenance” (Acts 2:28).
Have you ever wondered what Jesus was like day to day, His heart, His attitude? Did He look crushed by all the burdens He carried? Did He weep mostly? Was there a solemn heaviness in His presence?
He did weep, and He did carry heavy burdens. In Gethsemane He sweat drops of blood, and at other times He groaned and sighed over unbelief. But the Word of God makes it clear Christ was full of joy and gladness.
“For David speaketh concerning him, I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved [troubled]: Therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad…. Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou shalt make me full of joy with thy countenance” (Acts 2:25-28).
In speaking this to the Council of the Jews, Peter quoted a prophecy from Psalm 16. It was a vision of Christ, Who would have a rejoicing heart, a tongue speaking gladness and a countenance full of joy because of the presence of His Father.
We are to rejoice, be glad and full of joy for the same reasons Jesus was joyful. The first reason for His joy was that He knew it was impossible for death to hold Him. And so it is for us! This knowledge destroys the wicked doctrine that says Jesus was put in the devil’s hands and had to fight His way out of hell. But Jesus knew on earth that death could not hold Him — and so do we.
Second, the Lord is at our right hand in all our troubles. We can rest hopefully and expectantly, knowing He is beside us at all times.
Third, “Thou will not leave my soul in hell [death]!” We will rise to new life in a new body, in a new world.
And last, His very presence floods us with joy! How can we do anything but shout and be glad when we have been delivered from hell, promised eternal life, given His assurance in all troubles here on earth and have His presence manifested before us?
At times we must be still and know He is God. Sometimes the Spirit brings forth sweet, melodic love songs to Jesus. But throughout God’s Word, whenever He brought victory over enemies, the people always lifted up a great shout, a loud noise of praise to the Lord.
On the seventh day that Israel marched around Jericho, this commandment circulated: “All the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city shall fall down flat” (Joshua 6:5). “And the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat” (verse 20).
In Ezra we discover that another great shout took place when the temple foundation was laid. “When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord…they sang together…in praising and giving thanks unto the Lord….
And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the Lord…. So that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people: for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the noise was heard afar off” (Ezra 3:10-11,13).
The Hebrew word used for “shout” here means “split the ears.” The weeping of the Israelites was so joyful and the praises so loud that they split the ears! Some people say they can’t stand noise and shouting in church. But hear this: “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout” (1 Thessalonians 4:16).
God wants us to know His Word on this matter. The Psalms command us to make a joyful noise unto the Lord. “Noise,” in Hebrew, suggests thunder, sparks, fire. “Make a joyful noise unto God, all ye lands” (Psalm 66:1). “Sing aloud unto God our strength: make a joyful noise unto the God of Jacob” (Psalm 81:1).
“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise…. With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise before the LORD, the King…. Let the floods clap their hands: let the hills be joyful together” (Psalm 98:4,6,8).