“How often are you aware of the presence of God?”
This question posed by Donald Whitney in Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health is certain to provoke a range or reactions.
For some people walls of fear fly up due to images of some more flamboyant worship styles or self-proclaimed “prophets” claiming to have a special word from God (just for you, of course). For such people the question itself is dangerous and send them into a world of cessationist-like apologetics.
For others, the question gets a response of “all the time” and then we get dramatic stories of regular encounters with God…and maybe (in really ugly cases) an implicit or explicit attitude that questions anyone’s salvation who doesn’t have similar regular Acts-like experiences.
Then there are those who simply respond with a deer-in-the-headlights look wondering what is even meant by the question. Often these are those who have thought of Christianity or religion as simply about a kind of moralistic living and rituals one “ought to do.” The idea of a personal God may be part of their sound theology but the actual practice of engaging God in a truly personal way has been conceptual in their daily life.
Of course that leaves those who would then talk about engaging God on a personal level and being aware of His presence practically in their lives. This group likely doesn’t go to the Acts-like dramatic level of describing their life with Christ (though there may be something like that sprinkled in every so often in their life). These people probably fall on a spectrum of awareness from “rarely” to “it used to be a lot but not so much now” to “a few times a week” to “regularly.”
Where would you say that you fall if you were to be asked, “How often are you aware of the presence of God?”
Consider your response and then take some time to consider Whitney’s contemplation about the question he posed in his book:
How often are you aware of the presence of God? If we take the teaching of the Bible seriously, perception of the presence of God should not be an occasional experience. I do not mean that we should frequently feel a supernatural presence, for that can be extremely unreliable. Nevertheless, it should not be unusual for us, wherever we are, to recognize that “God is here.” As we grow closer to Him, generally speaking, we should discern His immanence more readily and more often (p 56).
Apparently, many professing Christians identify more with the words of Jacob “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it” (Genesis 28:16) than with the promise of Jesus when He said, “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20)…
What will result from a true Christian’s dullness to God’s company? For one thing, it necessarily means thinking less often of God, His Word, and His will. This is not a great deal different than an unbeliever who rarely thinks of God…That leads to thinking less of restraining sin on the one hand, or of doing good on the other (p 57).
In effect, living apart from a conscious sense that the Lord is present is to live as though God really is not there. Ore pleasure is sought in things, dreams, or people than in God. A relationship with God is reduced to mere religion. The spiritual disciplines devolve into mere duty or even legalism. Public worship becomes and obligation, not a privilege. Obviously, this is not the profile of a growing Christian (p 58).
I do not want to imply that to be growing spiritually means you must consistently increase your awareness of the presence of God. You can be growing when you least sense intimacy with the Lord.
In the first place, I doubt that any Christian grows more aware of God’s presence every day and steadily for the rest of his life. That denies the realities of living as a sinner in a fallen world. Second, it is common for believers to have many seasons where, for their own spiritual good, God actually withdraws a conscious sense of His presence. The puritans referred to such occasions as “God’s desertions,” times when we feel as though God has forgotten and forsaken us. But even though God’s presence is not perceived, He is no less near…
It’s one thing to long for a sense of God’s presence while not experiencing it, and another to live routinely with no awareness of His absence. There is a world of difference between Jesus crying out from the cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46), and Samson saying just before his capture, “’I will go out as before, at other times,’…but he did not know that the Lord had departed from him (Judges 16:20). One is known by its agony, the other by its apathy. Though you may be progressing in Christlikeness and persevering in the will of God, yet all along unaware that God is with you, take care that you do not become Samsonlike, content with or conditioned to life apart from a sense of His blessing (pp 63-64).