From the Hebrew word for the presence of God, paneh, and the four Greek words, enopion, emprosthen, para and prosopon, we gather that the definition in the Bible for our modern word, presence, is the face, appearance, presence of God; it means to come before, in front of, to face, to act on behalf of or by the authority of God. Elijah was called to stand on the mountain and await God’s presence, as we, too, are called to stand before God. To Elijah, God wasn’t in the fire, or the wind, or the earthquake. And yet, he could hear God speak softly and directly to him (1 Kings 19:12).
Today, God is present in our lives, in our own souls, hidden from us until we begin to devote our lives to God and to hear and follow His “still, small voice.” It is not enough to believe in God and Jesus Christ, His Son. We need to connect directly with the Indwelling Spirit of God. We don’t need an intermediary to translate God’s voice which speaks directly to us today, every day whether we can hear It or not; It guides us, suggests each next step to us, honors who we are before Him. If we can just come to observe our own loud thoughts rather than be driven by them, then we can hear the whispers of God within us (1 Kings 19:12 NIV), then we can hear God. There are many ways to become an observer of our thoughts, so that we can begin to detach from them, so that we can heard God directly: through Centering Prayer, meditation, journaling, sitting in silence. Our thoughts don’t go away, but if we just observe them, we don’t give them any power to upset us or to make us afraid or angry. And then they get quieter in our minds, so that we can hear the Indwelling Spirit of God.
Another way to hear God speaking to us is called lectio divina, a way of reading the Bible with God’s presence. We are to read a short passage slowly three times, looking for a phrase that resonates with us, pausing between each reading to settle into us. After the third reading, write down what struck you and think about what God is saying to you that day about this phrase.
To believe in God doesn’t necessarily open us up to experience the indwelling Spirit of God in each of us, His image within us [Genesis 1:26-27]. In addition to becoming an observer of our own thoughts, we must cultivate a spaciousness within ourselves to bring forward His presence within us. We must give up our attachments to the world’s ways and attach ourselves to God’s ways. We must admit our own faults and mourn the things that were done to us, then give these up to God to heal in us. We must step back from our thinking minds, our own agendas for our lives, and the narrative that I wrote about a few weeks ago, so that we can hear and recognize God’s “still, small voice” within us. And then we must do what He suggests. Over time, as God heals us of all that stands between us and God, we are more and more able to hear His suggestions and to follow His directions.
I am sure that each of us has our own way of experiencing God, but it is important to entertain different ways, because they could be telling us (in God’s own way) that we are missing something that He is trying to give us, that He wants us to understand. My experience is that over the years since I gave my life to Christ, I have been more and more aware of His presence in me. I am much more open to His suggestions. My writing used to be inspired by the Holy Spirit, I thought, but now I just sit at my computer and the words just seem to flow. I take notes all day long from the suggestions that I hear from Him, so that I do not miss anything He is adding in. A good portion of this post came one night when I was lying awake and ideas about His presence were flowing. I took a page of notes about experiencing His presence that night.
I often feel God’s presence when I see something beautiful, especially something in nature; tears will spring to my eyes. Lately, my tears are evoked by the clouds and the fall colors more than anything else. Or, when a friend or acquaintance suggests something to me that resonates—a book or movie or thought that strikes me as a message from God. Throughout my days I hear quiet suggestions of what to do next, what route to take, and ideas that would never have occurred to me.
Three times that I remember clearly, God has spoken loudly in my mind; 1) “I have an agenda for my life!” 2) “How can I say I love God if I can’t love my mother?” and 3) when my husband’s cancer returned, “If I can just hold all possible outcomes equally, well then…” Three or four days after I heard God’s suggestion to give up my fear, I was able to hold all possible outcomes equally. Then I was given a gift of faith that went wide and deep. That new depth of faith carried me through the next two months before he died. And stays with me still.
Lately, during this fall, a time of turmoil in my life, I hear this clearly, “Don’t worry about writing the book—wait for all this turmoil to go away first.” A few weeks later, I heard that I was to not write the book until after the holidays and my trip to see my sons and their families. That I was to focus on the blog and the family.
Additional inspiration for this blog post came from a conversation with my spiritual director a couple of weeks ago about how I experience God’s presence as vibration around the crown of my head and she shared hers, too, a feeling in both arms. Later, in thinking about that sharing, I felt called to write about the range of experience of God’s presence in our lives as I know it.
We can learn a lot from the saints of the church about how God has directed their lives and what they have learned from Him. Read Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Julian of Norwich, Hildegard of Bingen, and many others to see how the mystery of God’s presence unfolded in their lives. We, too, are called to have a personal relationship with God, even as we are called to be His servants in this world.
How do you experience God’s presence in your life? If you would like to, let me know how you experience God’s presence and/or how you recognize the voice of God in your heart or mind. Just leave them in the comments below. God just doesn’t think like we do. Often His suggestions might get a “Oh, no, I can’t do that!” because God often takes us beyond what we have thought of for ourselves, definitely beyond our comfort zone.
We have been designed so that we can hear His voice within us, so that we can be followers of Jesus, if we so will it, so that we can enjoy His presence throughout our days. This is the huge blessing we are to receive when we attune ourselves to the Indwelling Spirit of God. I am sure that different people experience God in different ways. We can learn so much about what to look for when we ask others about their own experiences.
[Please note that I may use what you send me in my writing, but I would only use your initials, not your full name.]
- I am giving away a 10-week journaling guide to Jesus’s Two Great Commandments. If you are interested, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send it to you, free of charge.
- My latest book, Called to Help the Poor and Needy, is now in bookstores and on line. It’s about the more than 2,000 verses in the Bible which detail God’s instructions for caring for those in need.
Questions to ponder over the week: Do I feel and hear God in my life? Am I aware of His presence? If I am not aware of His presence in my life, what might I change in order to be able to enjoy it? If I only feel His presence occasionally, what more might I do so that He can be my constant companion?
Blessing for the week: May we be the people of God who enjoy all the blessings and graces of His presence. May we live in gratitude for all that He is to us and all that He does for us.
See more blog posts and offerings at patsaidadams.com.
Check out my other website, deepeningyourfaith.com for information about spiritual practices and more writings about the spiritual life. New posts every month. 111.18.21’s is entitled “Grounding Ourselves in Jesus Christ.” Sign up to receive these as monthly emails at the website.
 Edward W. Goodrick & John R. Kohlenberger III, Zondervan NIV Exhaustive Concordance, 2nd Edition, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999) pp.1474, Strong’s #7156, p. 1549, #1967, p. 1548, #1869, p. 1579, #4123, p. 1588, #4725