Friday, 18 May 2012

Looking for His Presence

Have you ever lost your keys? I lost mine one day in the supermarket. Members of staff were looking for them and I was running around like a headless chicken, crying and praying ‘God please help me find my keys!!!’ My elderly Grandma was outside waiting at the car (that we couldn’t get in to) and my 4 year old daughter was more than ready to leave behind her the boredom of shopping and was a little fractious shall we say. I was supposed to be somewhere and for 25 minutes I was in a state of panic!! (Just as an aside panic never solves anything, it just robs your peace.)  The staff were looking for my bunch of keys and so was I. Then a security guard came and said to me, “Did you leave your coat in the café?” And I thought, I didn’t even bring my coat in, but he said, “We have found some keys in the pocket.” I was praying God please show me where my keys are and in fact they were at the desk that I had been to many times, inside my coat pocket, that I have no recollection of taking in to the shop with me. The relief I felt was instant and then I felt very foolish having panicked so much! I said to the staff, “No one can tell me there isn’t a God. I have just prayed that God would find me my keys and there they are!!!” And then I left: lighter and wiser.

I got myself in to a bit of a state and was so blinded by my panic that I had completely forgotten even taking my coat into the store. I must have left it on the back of a chair after eating lunch in my rush to get the shopping done and be where I needed to be in a short space of time.

When life takes strange turns and we find ourselves in a state of panic it is very easy to charge headlong into a search for answers and solutions, without actually noticing what is right in front of you. I was looking for the wrong thing. I was looking for my keys but if I had been looking for my coat I would have been given it straight away and the answer (my keys) would’ve been found in the pocket. We look for reasons. We look for the thing that we want instead of looking to the God who holds all the answers in His pocket. We need to look for His presence. There is no panic in that, just peace.

In his book The Practice of the presence of God, Brother Lawrence writes:

“The most holy practice, the nearest to daily life, and the most essential for the spiritual life, is the practice of the presence of God, that is to find joy in his divine company and to make it a habit of life, speaking humbly and conversing lovingly with him at all times, every moment, without rule or restriction, above all at times of temptation, distress, dryness and revulsion and even that of faithlessness and sin.” Pg 68, English Translation by E.M. Blaiklock 1981, Hodder and Stoughton Ltd.

When we practice the presence of God we make it a habit of life. When we are at work we ‘practice’ what we have been trained to do, we may practice nursing or medicine or education or retail the list goes on. We have been trained to practice our profession. We have to see the presence of God as our ‘practice’ if that makes sense. It has to be a ‘habit of life’. We may want to go looking for the presence of God, and particularly in hard times we can find ourselves desperate for the presence of God and it is right to look for it, to look for God to open the windows of Heaven but it is absolutely essential that the practice of His presence becomes an every day habit. We must talk to Him always. We must love Him always and worship Him always. This is where joy is found. It is deeply rooted in our time spent in His presence.

In the book of Exodus we find the account of Moses going up Mount Sinai and entering the cloud of the glory of God. God gives Moses instructions regarding the Ark of the Covenant. He describes very specifically how it should be made, what it should look like and goes on to describe the table that should dwell in the tabernacle. In Chapter 25 and verse 30, having given measurements and clear instructions regarding how to set the table, we find this ‘And you shall set the bread of the Presence on the table before me always.’

Is this just a loaf of bread? Perhaps it was to be set there as a symbol of ‘food for their souls’ or perhaps it is much deeper than that. The Hebrew word here is לחם פנים lechem panim literally meaning bread of faces. It is thought that this name may be eluding to the bread being placed before the face of God in the sanctuary. There is intimacy in the connection. The bread is set before the face of God and so embodies His presence. This verse acknowledges our great need for His presence in the tabernacle.

After Moses had been talking with God, Exodus 34:29 tells us that His face shone. In fact later in verses 33-35 the Bible tells us that the Israelites saw the ‘skin on his face was shining’. That is what happened to Moses when He spent time directly in God’s presence, face to face. If the bread is set before the face of God it is the bread of His presence. It may not have done, but if you imagine that the bread on the table shone too with the presence of God it is a powerful image. It may not have been as visible as Moses’ face but metaphorically speaking, it was set before the face of God.

We need ‘bread’ (food) to survive. Our bodies cannot survive naturally without food, so everyday we must consider our spiritual food too. It must be filled with the presence of God.

It occurred to me also that in the New Testament bread was placed on the Passover table. In Matthew 26:26 Jesus tore the bread and gave it to his disciples saying, “Take and eat; this is my body”. This verse acknowledges the need for His presence in our everyday lives. Jesus was in the presence of his disciples. He was there with them but he knew he would be going soon. They ate the bread of his body in his presence. I wonder if they understood the significance fully. I wonder if they knew they were in the presence of the High King. Were they aware that as he passed them the wine too that he was making an eternal covenant with the whole of mankind?

The bread in the tabernacle, the bread of the Presence carried with it the body of Jesus though the people did not know. When we take communion this is what we experience: We remember again who Jesus is and what He did and we eat the bread of His presence. Perhaps the bread is not shining or glowing like the face of Moses, but it is filled with the same presence if we believe it to be.  

The bread of His body is eaten during communion and the bread of the Presence is eaten during communion with him. We must hunger after it as though it were necessary to our survival because it is. Communion with Him is intimate communication.

So when we look for his presence we are saying ‘I want to spend more time with you Jesus. I want to talk intimately with you and love you and worship you.’ We don’t need to look hard for His presence. We don’t need to panic that we need more of it or we can’t feel it. We don’t need to make elaborate gestures to find it. Someone who runs around panicking, like I did looking for my keys, is not someone who understands the confidence that practicing His presence brings. We just stop. We make room and we get hungry.

Imagine what it would feel like to not have food to eat for days. Imagine the pangs of hunger. Some may know what they feel like. It is a pain that only food will satisfy. We need to be people who are so hungry for the presence of God that it hurts, that we will pray with perseverance and longing for God to show us His glory. I want my skin to shine with the presence of God because I have constant intimate communion with Jesus. Constant, not just every time I need something or when I remember, every single minute of every single day. The more time we spend in His presence the more we know how vital it is. We see mundane things of this life differently, in fact our whole view changes. If I go back to my story at the beginning, I would’ve found the key to my car instantly if I had looked for the coat that was holding it. Looking for the car key wasn’t the answer: looking for the thing that held all the keys was. I am learning to look first, every day, to the holder of the keys: to Jesus who holds all the answers, to His presence that brings joy and wholeness.

A good friend pointed me in the direction of a preach by Bill Johnson called ‘The Resting place’. I encourage you to find it on You tube and let it shape you. He talks about understanding that the kingdom of God is within us. We carry the presence of God within us but we have to learn to host it and let it rest on us. He says,

“Make sure you host this presence because you have been positioned to release him into the atmosphere that He might find places to rest. He’s always looking for a resting place.”

We have to understand what it means to ‘host’ the presence of God. We can change atmospheres if the presence of God rests on us. We can change someone’s life if our words become His spirit ministering to that person. Do all you can to keep hold of that presence so that you will impart that presence wherever you go.

When we are hungry a piece of bread is sufficient. How much more then is the bread of the Presence sufficient to our souls? Eat it every day as if your life depended on it and then carry it with you wherever you go. The glory of the Lord is found in the Presence and when you ‘eat’ it is also found in you. Swallow His presence for nourishment, consume it, take it in so that you can take it out into your workplace, your streets, your towns and that the glory of God may shine from your face and make Him famous. If you are wondering where you belong; the answer is in His presence. 

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