I want you to turn in your Bibles to Psalm 27, I want to speak to you tonight on 'The Atmosphere of Encountering God'. These meetings are entitled 'Encountering God', and tonight - having looked last night at 'The Call to Encounter God', which was 'The Cost of Discipleship', the cost, the price we have to pay to go through with God - tonight we will not pack the same punch of challenge by any means, but I have to say to you right at the outset of this message that I believe that this might be one of the most important messages that you might ever hear. If you are a seeker after God here tonight, you're going to hear something that is a key, intrinsic to encountering God: 'The Atmosphere of Encountering God' is 'The Practice of the Presence of God' - the practice of the presence of God.
So Psalm 27 verse 4, just one verse, and then I want you also to turn - you might turn it up now - Isaiah 26 and one verse there also. Now I'm going to read from the version I have here, the New King James Version, which won't be dissimilar from yours if you have the Authorised Version, and then I'm going to read both these verses in a different version - two different versions. The first is the Amplified Version, which just, well it's self-explanatory, it amplifies the meaning of the original text. The second version of the second verse that I want to read is from the old Revised Version from the margin, so I daresay none of you will have that tonight - but you'll know why I'm reading it from these versions in a moment.
Psalm 27 verse 4: "One thing", David says, "I have desired of the LORD, that will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in His temple". The Amplified Version reads thus: "One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek, inquire for, and insistently require: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord, in His presence, all the days of my life, to behold and gaze upon the beauty, the sweet attractiveness and the delightful loveliness of the Lord, and to meditate, consider, and inquire in His temple".
Then Isaiah 26 verse 3, the Authorised Version reads: "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee", the Revised Version margin reads, "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose imagination is stayed on Thee", whose imagination is stayed on Thee.
Let us pray - and as I invited you last evening, and will do each night, I want you now to pray for yourself that God might speak to you. Do pray that God will speak to everyone in the place, young and old, but I want to ask you: please, ask God to talk to your heart, and to touch your life, as we come in prayer now. Abba Father, we come believing that already we have been aware of Your presence in this place. We thank You for being with us on past occasions, we thank You for the sense that You are here already before we have even arrived - and yet, Lord, we long for You to intensify the sense of Your presence; Lord, that we might become very aware that You are personally here. So, by faith, we would seek now to encounter the great objective reality of the Living Presence of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. So, Lord, we say: Come to us, abide with us, come into our midst. Oh, send out Your light and Your truth, let them lead us, let them bring us to Your holy hill and to Your tabernacle - then we will go to the altar of God, to God our exceeding joy. Come Lord, come Holy Spirit, bring the very presence of the Father and the Son into our midst, indeed into our hearts. In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ we take authority over every other ungodly presence that may be here, and even in lives - the Lord rebuke you, Satan and your kingdom, and by the power of the blood of the Lamb, and in the name of the Lord Jesus we bind you. We forbid you to operate in this place against the will of God and the word of God. Father, I ask now that You will bind up principalities and powers that would seek to rob the word of God from hearts. I ask in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, my Father, that You will release the mighty power inherent in the word of God. Come, speak to young and old. Lord, we do not know the needs, but the Lord who is the Spirit, who reads the hearts, come Holy Spirit and meet our needs. May we indeed taste of this great Presence of God in the place tonight and in our lives, for Jesus' sake, Amen.
The great desire of the heart of God has always been to dwell in the midst of His people. He longs to be manifestly present among His congregation. We see that from the very beginning of the book, in the book of Genesis we see that God walked with Adam in the cool of the day. The picture that is there in the Hebrew is that it was late in the day, at dusk. Having done a day's work, Adam would, it would seem to be his habit to meet with God - perhaps over an evening meal - and just converse with God his Creator and his Father. From there we move on, even after the fall of mankind, and we see that God still desired to meet in the midst of His people. He instructed Moses to build a Tabernacle, a tent in the wilderness where He would manifestly dwell in the midst of His people, and they would see it. There would be a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night, and God's Shekinah Glory - that just simply means His manifest, dwelling presence - would be visible amongst His people.
Of course, when the wilderness wanderings were over and the children of Israel settled in the Promised Land, in the Holy City there was a more permanent edifice where God dwelt - the Temple. Yet still, God's presence was visibly there. Now, of course the greatest manifestation of God's presence that there has ever been is Immanuel - God with us. The apostle John said: 'We beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth'. There never has been, there never will be, a greater manifestation of the presence of God than our Lord Jesus Christ - the very Word of God incarnate. You know what a word is, a word is an expression of the thoughts or the feelings of the heart - and God, His express image, is found in Jesus Christ, His Begotten Son.
Now, of course the ultimate hope of the Christian is the New Jerusalem. We read there from John's Revelation: 'Behold, the tabernacle of God will be with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God'. We read there are also that they shall see God's face - what a day that will be! His name shall be upon their foreheads! The Lamb and God shall be the light of that City, and we will bask forever in the eternal splendour of that Light that shall never fade or die.
Yet the testimony of the New Testament is that the New Covenant believer in Jesus Christ, now, today, can know the real presence of God personally. My challenge to you tonight is: do you know God and His presence in a real way? Jesus, before He went to the cross, was crucified, was buried and rose again, He promised the disciples - He said: 'The promise of the Father, and My promise is: I will not leave you orphans. You will not be comfortless, but I will come to you'. For me, the greatest verse of the Bible is John 14 and verse 23, where Jesus said to His own: 'If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We', Father and the Son, 'We will come to him and make Our home with him'. It's amazing to think that the Lord Jesus promised, as we go into the world to preach His Gospel, He said: 'Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age'. This was the promise of the Father and the Son, this was the promise of Pentecost: that God would come to be with us, and God would dwell within us.
Maybe you're one of these professing Christians that has struggled for the key to the Christian life. If you go down to your local bookshop, your Christian evangelical bookshop, you'll see reams of literature that perpetuate what they believe the key to the Christian life is. Let me say this to you tonight: I believe that one definite key to going on with God and encountering the living God is to practice the presence of God with us and dwelling within us.
Now some will say: 'But is God not everywhere anyway?'. Yes, God is omnipresent, that means He is everywhere. We cannot flee from His presence, Psalm 139, even if we make our bed in hell, God is there, His presence is even in hell - it's God's hell, you know, He created it, it belongs to Him. The old puritan said that God's centre is everywhere and His circumference is nowhere. God is the God in whom we live, and we move, and we have our being. So, yes, God is everywhere. Someone else will say: 'Does the New Testament not say, and Jesus Himself promise, that 'Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst' - and so, when the church is met, Jesus is there?'. Well, I'm not sure that every church meeting is where we're met in Jesus' name - but that's a whole other subject - but, yes, this was the promise of Christ. My issue of contention with you tonight is: how many of us, day by day, are actively conscious of the real presence of Jesus Christ, and God our Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit? Additionally to that: how many of our churches have a conscious sense of the Living Presence of God?
You see, we know an awful lot as evangelical Christians, but there's a great gulf between what our head knows to be true, and what our hearts are aware of - what our hearts, and the eyes of our hearts are awake to. Now, why is that? I believe it's because we have not learned to practice the presence of God. I read to you Isaiah 26 verse 3 from the Revised Version, the margin: 'Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose imagination is stayed on Thee'. Now imagination frightens us, doesn't it? Especially as conservative evangelicals - if that's what you call yourself. It frightens us because we think of imagination as fanciful, fantasy, or fiction - the thing of fairytale and farce. But that's not what 'imagination' means when we read it here in this verse, and indeed the dictionary definition would clear that up. We need to think of imagination rather as the faculty of the mind of the heart, the faculty of the mind of the heart, rather than the faculty of the mind of the head. We Western materialists are experts when it comes to the mind of the head, but we are pygmies when it comes to the mind of the heart - many less-developed countries have better eyes in their heart than we have.
When I talk about imagination, we're talking about seeing with the eyes of the heart. The New-Age Movement espouses visualisation, that's not what we're talking about - and some, even in the church, are seeking to do this; that is, to attempt to believe something to be true in order to make it to become true. That's not what we're talking about. We as Christians believe something is true because it's true! It is right to use the eyes of our heart to see what is true. A.W. Tozer once said: 'The practice of the presence of God consists not of projecting an imaginary object' - and he uses 'imagination' there in the way I cited about fantasy - 'It's not projecting a fantasy object from within our own mind, and then seeking to realise its presence; it is rather to recognise the real presence of the One whom all sound theology declares to be already there'. 'Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose imagination', who has the eyes of his heart or her heart fixed on the objective reality of the universe, the Living God who is.
You see, we are to believe in God's presence - but we must choose to believe this not just with our intellects, but with our hearts; and it is with our hearts that we will encounter the presence of God. No man ever encountered God with his head. Brother Lawrence was a Carmelite monk in the 17th century, and he wrote a classic book entitled 'The Practice of the Presence of God'. This was his very simple experience, even some of these young people could do this - he said: 'I make it my business to persevere in His holy presence, wherein I keep myself by a simple attention, and a general fond regard to GOD, which I may call an actual presence of GOD; or, to speak better, an habitual, silent, and secret conversation of the soul with GOD, which often causes in me joys and raptures inwardly, and sometimes also outwardly, so great that I am forced to use means to moderate them, and prevent their appearance to others'. He lived habitually in the sense of God's presence. Now this takes a bit of effort, admittedly, at first - do you know why? Because we are so present to so many other things, we're so conscious of other things other than God, our focus is on other things other than the objective reality of the Creator of the universe - but when we choose, by faith, to recognise His actual presence with us, then we will encounter God!
Now there are two errors that I want to warn against this evening. Some people, first of all, go about seeking God's presence as if it was elusive, as if it were hard to get, as if it was way up there in Heaven and it must be brought down here to Earth. I know we use language, and I do it as well, we talk about 'God coming down' - but we've got to understand that the presence of God has been given already. It is given to us by grace, but like everything that has been given to us by grace, we must receive it by faith. We must realise it, and come into it, and encounter it - and in that sense it must come to us - but it is by faith in the ultimate reality of what is there, Who is there. So don't make that error of thinking that God is way out there - I hate that song: 'From a distance, God is watching us'. He is not at a distance.
The second error is to only consider God present when there is supernatural phenomenon or miracle. So some people lust after spiritual supernatural experiences, and they only judge God to be with them whenever they see a manifestation of God's presence visibly or sensually. We are not to seek the supernatural or the miraculous as evidence of God's presence - we believe in it, but we take this presence by faith, because God is there and He has promised to be there. We encounter His presence by faith. You see, some people in revival have extraordinary experiences of the presence of God, it is manifest to them in such an extreme that it seems to invade their senses - but I want to declare tonight that God can be present, and is present, when there is no revival! W.L. Rowlands of the Apostolic Bible College many years ago said: 'In revival God comes down, but we want a God who stays'. We need revival, but I believe one of the chief ways we will get revival, individually and corporately, is when we learn to practice the presence of God who is already with us. Very strangely and ironically, an unbalanced desire for the supernatural or for revival can actually rob us of the practice of the presence of God. Would you believe it!? This must be taken by faith.
I want to talk first of all about some barriers to practising the presence of God, and then some blessings of practising His presence. I want to be as practical as possible. First of all let's look at some barriers to practising His presence. Leanne Payne said: 'If we do not practice the presence of God, we will practice the presence of another'. I want you to really get that: if you do not practice the presence of God, you will practice the presence of another. Three of the most common presences that Christians practice are: practising the presence of sin; practising the presence of self; and practising the presence of Satan.
Let's look at the first: practising the presence of sin. Now I'm not talking about actively engaging in sin - I mean, that's obvious. I mean, if you walk in the darkness, you will not know the presence of God. If you regard iniquity in your heart, the Lord will not hear you, and you will not hear the Lord for that matter - there will be a great barrier between you and God in fellowship. What I'm talking about is being conscious of your sins past, or perhaps being so aware, presently, of the struggles that you have now - which we all have with sin and temptation. There may well be a need in your life for healing and deliverance which you have not had since the moment you first believed. It is true that when we have sinned against God, we need to first become present to our sin, we need to be aware of it and the guilt of it, and we need to repent - but we ought not to stay there. God never intended anyone to stay under His conviction, God wants us to move on into the light, He wants us to look out from ourselves and from our sin, He wants us to look away from our failures and look to God. He wants us to see Christ crucified, absorbing failure and our fallenness - we must not stay beneath condemnation!
Some of you have never moved on from practising the presence of your guilt and your sin. Can I tell you: if you do that, Satan will readily oblige. The Bible calls him 'the accuser of the brethren', and his job is to condemn you. Condemnation never comes from the Spirit of God, conviction does - but if you confess your sin, it's under the blood, and if you still are condemned it's coming from the devil, it's not coming from the Holy Spirit. You've got to look out from yourself, stop practising the presence of the guilt of your sin, past, present, or even the fear of it in the future - look out from yourself and practice God's presence, the presence of the crucified and risen Christ, and be free from your sin! If you're not saved tonight, and you're still in your sins, listen to what Paul said to the Athenians: 'Seek the Lord, reach out for Him and find Him, for He is not far from each one of us'. God is not far from you tonight! If you repent of your sins, the Word of God is near you, if you call upon the name of the Lord you will be immediately saved! Maybe you are saved, and you're a struggling believer, you've struggled ever since you were born again - do you know what you need to do? You need to constantly affirm God's presence within you. If you're born again, God lives within you. You mightn't be filled, you mightn't be baptised, but you might know God is in you when you're born again of the Spirit of God. You need to affirm that presence of God within you, even tonight, if you put your hand upon your breast and say: 'Of a truth, God is in me' - that's where true being comes from, that's where a true sense of worth comes from. What you need to do is step into the centre of who you are in Christ, recognise who you are in Christ, and Christ is in God - and that is the anchor of your soul. Stop practising the presence of sin, and beware of anything that separates you from that Presence!
A second thing that people practice is presence of self that robs them from the presence of God. Now, when I talk about practising the presence of self, I'm talking about the disease of introspection. Does anyone not know what introspection is? It's looking in on yourself, it's being introverted, it's like looking in the mirror - as we do physically - and hating the way you look, hating the way your hair is, or your ears, or your nose, or the colour of your eyes. When we do that internally, we hate ourselves within. We look inside ourselves and we hate the way we are. Not just 'failures' are like this, not just people who continually stumble and struggle, but perfectionists are like this as well. Are there any perfectionists in the meeting tonight? Those who continually put themselves on their own dissection table - you're never good enough, what you do for the Lord is never good enough. You may need healing from past wounds and hurts, and you need to become present to your brokenness - you do! Don't deny it, don't suppress it - you need it to come to the surface, your own woundedness and your pain - but you then need to look out from yourself! That's what some of you are not doing: you need to look away from yourself, and you need to look to Calvary. You need to look to God your Father, who redeems, who saves, who restores, renews and heals - and you need to stop endlessly wasting your time and energy on yourself! Stop looking in, look out! Look to God and receive His presence within! You see, it's looking out of ourselves that we achieve wholeness and well-being within.
Thirdly, some practice the presence of Satan - not just the presence of sin and self, but the presence of Satan. They are not just sin-conscious and self-conscious, but they are Satan-conscious. Now don't misunderstand me, I think there's a great deal of unbelief in the church of Jesus Christ regarding the kingdom of darkness, the devil and his demons - that's firmly what I believe, and you'll find that out as we go through the week. There is a healthy awareness and a cautiousness, but there is also a paralysing paranoia about the kingdom of darkness. We have to beware of this. Some people are so aware of the spiritual battle that is going on around them, that they see demons everywhere - and that robs them of the presence of God. They are effectively practising the presence of darkness, rather than the presence of God's light. Beware. Corrie Ten Boom, who believed in Satan and the need for deliverance, she said: 'Fear of demons comes from the demons themselves' - how true. Satan wants us to be practising his presence, Satan wants us to be consciously aware, constantly, of the fact that he's around and he is the god of this world and he's coming against Christians. Yes, we need to know it, but we ought not to practice this for it will rob us of the presence of God.
I was in Wales just the other week, and there was an elderly lady - I was touching on this very point - and she called me over, and shared with me how she was reading a book that told the story about a Fellowship that couldn't start its meetings without binding and loosing every conceivable spirit that they thought was in the place. What happened was, their meetings got longer and longer, and more laborious, it took them ages before they could actually start to worship God - and they wondered why this was. They were aware of the kingdom of darkness, but they couldn't understand why they weren't getting through to God, and why it was becoming harder. There was a man of God who revealed to them, this is what he said: 'Every demon in the area is coming to your meeting, because they love the attention they are getting!'. We need to be careful, we need to be balanced. Satan is real, and I do believe in the ministry of deliverance, and I do believe we need to take the authority that we have over the kingdom of darkness - but we also need to beware of falling into the trap of practising the presence of darkness, rather than practising the presence of God. What we need to do when we are in the battle is to affirm the presence of the risen Jesus, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, whom all principalities and powers have been made subject to. He has stripped all principalities and powers of their power, making a show of them openly through His cross. We need to bring people into the presence of God, that's what we need to do.
Let me move on quickly. Those are some of the barriers of practising the Presence, but some of the blessings, quickly. There are eight, and I'll not spend too much time on any of them. First of all: practising the presence of God is the cure for temptation. Would you not love that? I would! It's a great problem in my life, and if it's not in yours, well, you're deluded! You are either dead, or you're deluded. Even our Lord Jesus had temptation, though without sin. Listen to what Psalm 16 verse 8 says: 'I have set the LORD always before me; because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved' - do you see what the Psalmist is saying? Because I'm God-conscious, whenever I'm God-conscious I'm never sliding into temptation and then sin. He will be tempted, but when he is aware of the presence of God and conscious of it - again, Proverbs 16:6: 'By the fear', or the awe, 'of the LORD one departs from evil'.
One of the modern phenomena that young people, and not so young, are struggling with today is the plague of Internet pornography. Many of you are afflicted by it, many of us are tempted by it - but one of the ways to circumvent it is accountability, and there is software that you can get and put on your computer, and you can have an accountability partner - that's just someone who is able to see whatever you're viewing on a weekly basis. That just severs the power of that temptation, to know that your pal down the road knows exactly what you're gawking at on the Internet during the week. How much more power would we have over temptation, if we knew that the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the Earth, and He sees everything that I'm doing, where I am, what I'm even thinking? The practice of the presence of God is a cure for temptation, if ever there was one. The old hymn put it like this:
'I need Thee every hour, stay Thou nearby;
Temptations lose their power when Thou art nigh' - when You are near.
It's a cure for temptation, secondly: it's a cure for fear. I believe there are Christians here, or this would be a very unusual meeting, who are practising the presence of fear. I used to practice the presence of fear, and I have to very strongly observe the practice of the presence of God in order to stop it getting in again. Fear was my problem. You see, when you practice the presence of fear, it is mutually exclusive to the presence of God. Isaiah 43 verse 5 says, God speaks: 'Fear not, for I am with you'. You see, when you fear God, you fear nothing else - all other fears pale into insignificance, they melt away in the awesome fear of God. As another old hymn put it:
'The storm may roar without me,
My heart may low be laid' - finish it...
'But God is round about me,
How can I be dismayed?'
Practising the presence of God is a cure for fear, and some of you need delivered from fear. God has not given you a spirit of fear. Some of you might have a spirit of fear, but God has given you power, love, and a sound mind. Thirdly, another blessing is that practising God's presence is a cure for loneliness. It was Milton, the poet, commenting on Genesis 2:18, who said: 'Loneliness is the first thing which God's eye named not good' - that was before the fall. Loneliness, some of you here tonight are lonely because of the loss of a loved one, or maybe you're surrounded by family and friends, or men and women on the factory floor, but you feel the loneliest person on the face of the earth in your heart. Do you know what the cure is? Practising the presence of God - you will never be lonely if you know that God is with you.
Fourthly: it's the cure for dissatisfaction or discontent. There are so many dissatisfied, discontent people - let alone Christians - in our world tonight. Listen to Hebrews 13 verse 5: 'Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you''. As another old hymn put it: 'I have Christ, what want I more?'. Are you practising His presence, or are you discontented, dissatisfied? Now I know there should be an insatiable desire for more of God, we want that, we want a hunger and a thirst - but we need to be satisfied with knowing that He is with us. He is with us, and He is within us - we need more of Him, we'll talk about being filled with Him during the week, but we know - we know - that He dwells with His people!
It's also the cure for lukewarmness - personal lukewarmness, and lukewarmness in the church - the presence of God. The Laodicean church had that awful experience of Christ standing outside the door knocking for admittance. Christ is outside the door of the church, generally speaking, in the Western world. We need to implement radical steps, practical steps to realise again the presence of God in our churches, and to preserve and conserve the presence of God with us.
Sixthly, practising the presence is also the condition of healing. In Luke chapter 5 and verse 17: 'Now it happened on a certain day, as He was teaching, that there were Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting by, who had come out of every town of Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was present to heal them'. It is the presence of God that will bring healing power, and the New Testament church experience was meant to be this, Paul said: 'If there is speaking in tongues, and strangers come in, they will not understand what you're saying - there needs to be interpretation or they will think you're mad; but if they come in and there is the prophetic word, the powerful spoken word of God, they will fall upon their faces, and they will say 'God, of a truth, is among you!''. The secrets of men's hearts will be revealed and they will know God is in the midst of the church! Vance Havner said many years ago: 'Nothing is scarier today in Christians and churches than the absence of the presence of God'. Moses said: 'How shall we know that we are Thy people? Is it not in that Thou goest with us?'. Henry Ward Beecher said: 'I should as soon attempt to raise flowers if there were no atmosphere, or produce fruits if there were neither light nor heat, as to regenerate men if I did not believe there was a Holy Ghost'.
This is a condition for healing and power in the church. We need to start practising the presence of God in our churches. I'll tell you something: there is a generation that has arisen, now in middle age, now young people, and they have never known a touch of God in church services - and if it came they wouldn't know what to do with it. I know this for a fact. We go to churches at times and God does presence Himself, as I believe He's going to do tonight - is doing now, but will do at the end of the meeting - and what often happens is, some musicians (I'm not against the musicians, I love you!) but some of them aren't aware that God has come. They start blattering away at the piano, or the organ, and there needs to be a stillness. Or somebody starts waffling in the pew, or gets up and rustles keys or plastic bags, and people are getting up and talking about everything - they're not aware that God has come! The Holy Spirit, as He is dove-like, He goes immediately! We need to learn to discern, to preserve, and conserve the presence of God when He comes into the midst!
Seventhly, this is a condition for holiness - and Ulster has long been plagued by a 'do this and don't do that' mentality regarding holiness, doing good and not doing evil, but holiness does not come that way. Holiness comes through being, it is through being that we do what God wants and don't do what He doesn't want. Being comes only in His presence: 'I am only in the great I AM'. Do you want holiness? You need to practice God's presence.
Eighthly and finally, it is the condition for fruitfulness. John 15, Jesus said: 'If you abide in Me, you will bear much fruit'. Do you know what abiding is? It's just the condition of abiding in the presence of God. What are you practising tonight? Are you practising the guilt of sin? Are you agreeing with the devil, and he's hammering you over the head for it? Are you practising the presence of self? Are you a perfectionist, an introspectionist? You need to look away from yourself, you need to start forgetting about yourself and look to God who is with you and within you. Are you practising the presence of Satan? You see a demon in every teacup - whether they are there or not, you don't need to be concerned about them. You need to know that God is with you, and God is within you, and Jesus is stronger than Satan, and Satan to Jesus must bow. Do you need a cure for temptation, for fear, for loneliness, for dissatisfaction, for discontent, for lukewarmness? Do you want healing? Do you want holiness? Do you want fruitfulness? You need to practice God's presence, and it's dead simple.
I want to tell a story as I close now - even you young people, listen, you can understand this. Children are very good at practising God's presence, because children are simple and children use their imagination - not to imagine things that aren't true, but to imagine what is true. Let me tell you the story, listen up as I finish. It's about an old lady called Jacqueline. By now she had become an elderly woman, and she lived to care for her disabled daughter - she was wheelchair-bound, but one day tragically her daughter died. Jacqueline not only lost her purpose for living, but she lost her sole living companion. Her cottage was in the countryside, and it seemed empty as an eggshell to her. She was so lonely. Occasionally a friend would call or a note would arrive, but most of her time she spent in oppressive on-going solitude. Her health didn't allow her to circulate much, and her best friends were all now gone as well, they were in heaven. One day Jacqueline opened her Bible, and she read Philippians 4 and verse 5, and just four words struck her forcibly: 'the Lord is near' - that's not talking about His second coming, that means He is near at hand. 'The Lord is near' - 'If so', she thought to herself, 'I should be more aware of it! Lord', she said, 'I'm going to pretend that You're here all the time. No, forgive me, Lord, for using that word 'pretend', there's no pretending to be done. Help me be ever mindful of the reality of Your nearness'. That evening as she retired, she said: 'I'm going on to bed now, Lord, will You please watch over me as I sleep'. The next morning, on awakening, she said: 'Good morning, Lord, this is the day You have made'. Sitting down with her hot tea, she read through the book of Philippians again, and underlined verse 5 of chapter 4: 'The Lord is near'. Then she prayed for a longer time than usual, it had to be said. At noon she then said: 'Now Lord, let's watch the news on television together, so You can show me things in this world that I can pray for'. Jacqueline and the Lord watched the news together, and then she prayed for some flood victims in the delta, a newly installed president in an African country, for a man sentenced to life imprisonment. At suppertime, she bowed her head and thanked the Lord for her food - but she said a remarkable thing: she said she didn't feel her prayers were travelling up to heaven, she felt instead that she was talking to someone sitting across the table from her. Gradually her attitude was transformed, the loneliness lessened, her joy increased, her fears diminished, and she never afterwards felt that she was alone in that house - because Jacqueline was learning the presence of God.
Listen to the word of God: 'Without faith it is impossible to please God, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him'. Are you practising His presence? Oh, we know He's everywhere, we know He's where two or three are gathered, we know it up here - but with the eyes of your heart, with your sanctified imagination, the intuitive faculty of the heart and mind that God has given and Westerners have shut down: do you know the Lord with you day by day?
Let us pray. Now, I'm not asking you to use your senses, I'm not asking you to use your sight, I'm asking you to use your spirit - and to some of you that is a foreign statement, some of you may not even be aware that you have a spirit. I'm not talking about the Holy Spirit, I'm talking about your human spirit that God breathed into Adam, and you have got - whether you're saved or not, you've got it. If you're not saved, it's cut off from the life of God, but it's still alive in the sense of a baby in the womb that has not been born but it's still there. You've not been born again in your spirit, and maybe you've even sensed God touching you tonight - you've no idea of the things we're talking about, but there is a sense of reality, that God is real - maybe you have even sensed Him here tonight. Well, listen: He is not far from you, Christ died for you, He is risen, He is here tonight, and He will save you! Young children tonight, He will save you if you come to Him and ask Him, ask Him to be your Saviour - ask Him now, say: 'Lord Jesus Christ, I confess my sin, save me now'. You older people, if you have never done that, do it tonight in the presence of God. Backslider, your sins have separated between you and your God, your sins have hidden His face from you. You need to confess your sins and know the presence of God again.
Maybe you're a believer tonight, and you have been practising other presences - is that true of some of you? Now come on now, let's be real here tonight - is there anyone here tonight that will admit that they have been practising the presence of something other than the presence of God? Is there anyone who will raise a hand here, even as a believer, to say: 'I have been practising another presence'? Praise God, is there anyone else? God bless you. People are responding. This might be the most important message you hear. You need to deal in the presence of God now with any obstacle to practising His presence in your life. Is anyone else here tonight who wants to confess and renounce what they have been practising, that has taken the place of the sweet presence of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself? Is there anyone else who will raise a hand? God bless you. Is there anyone else? God bless you.
Now listen, God isn't just going to fall down on you. You, by faith now, not only must you renounce that false presence that has robbed you of the real - whatever it is - you must receive by faith the reality of God's presence with you and within you. You must choose to believe, and with the imagination, the intuitive eyes of the heart, you must see now God with you - you must see this now, it's by faith. You must see what is real in the unseen - that is faith, the evidence of things not seen. You must say: 'Lord, now I believe that You are with me', even put your hand on your breast and say, 'Lord, I believe that You are within me. I believe that You are with me'. Don't be afraid, get out of your straitjacket tonight and put your hand on your heart - I'm doing it. Say: 'Lord, I believe You're within me, and I believe You're with me, because You have said it I believe - and may it make the difference - and I choose by faith to practice Your presence, now and every day'.
Now, if any of you need help, we'll be here to help, we'll be at the door, we'll be at the front afterwards if you want to remain where you're sitting, or speak to us at the door if you want to chat - we'll be glad to pray with you. I'll be speaking tomorrow night on 'The Condition of Encountering God', humility - the condition of encountering God. Let me suggest something to you: do you sense God's presence here tonight? Do you sense Him with us? If you should desire, I would ask you that you all quietly, as far as is possible - I know there's a mixed gathering of age here, and we're not going to be stern and strict - but if you want, you practice His presence just where you're sitting in the meeting. Even when the meeting is over, if you want to sit I'm sure there is freedom here to do that for wee while.
Father, we thank You that You have come - but Lord, we long for more of You, Father, Son, Holy Spirit. We say with David: 'One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek, inquire for, and insistently require: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord, in His presence, all the days of my life, to behold and gaze upon the beauty, the sweet attractiveness and the delightful loveliness of the Lord, and to meditate, consider, and inquire in His temple'. May that be each and every one's experience tonight. May they encounter God. May we encounter God like never before. Amen.
Don't miss part 3 of Encountering God: “Pride vs Humility - The Condition Of Encountering God”
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This sermon was delivered at Abbots Cross Congregational Church in Newtownabbey, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the second recording in his 'Encountering God' series, entitled "The Practice Of The Presence - The Atmosphere Of Encountering God" - Transcribed by Preach The Word.
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