Monday, May 27, 2024

Finding Rest in the Presence of God

Does God seem far away? Many feel God is far off. They wonder… Can you really experience God? Can you really sense God’s presence? Can you really know God deeply? The answer to those 3 questions is yes.

We can experience God’s presence outside of us, and within us. God isn’t far off. He’s so close we can hardly imagine it.

To know Jesus Christ, to have received Jesus as savior, we now have peace with God. And we begin a journey through this life and toward heaven. As we live day by day we engage in deep relationship with God our Father.

We pray to God. We talk to God. We experience God’s presence. We enjoy fellowship with God.

We’ve learned to increasingly look to the Spirit, and not our own soul, to be led by God.

Now I want to take us to a moment in the journey of Israel through the wilderness. Moses was leading them through the wilderness toward the promised land. God had given them His law, the ten commandments, but the Israelites had made a golden calf and worshiped the false idol, and so God punished them for their sin.

But even after this grievous event, there is hope for Israel. I think we understand that grief of sin! We’ve all been in that place where we realize, oh no, I just sinned against God. I did something very bad. And we feel convicted by the Spirit within us.

So we come to God, and confess our sins, we express sorrow, and we repent, we commit in Christ to not commit that sin again. We make a plan to stay free.

Similarly, Moses is trying to make things right for Israel. So Moses is in this terrible situation, having seen the people betray God and worship an idol. So he goes to meet with God about the situation.

And it says this, "Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it the “tent of meeting.” Anyone inquiring of the Lord would go to the tent of meeting outside the camp. And whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people rose and stood at the entrances to their tents, watching Moses until he entered the tent. As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance, while the Lord spoke with Moses. Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance to the tent, they all stood and worshiped, each at the entrance to their tent. The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent.” -Exodus 33:7-11

Moses would constantly go to God, and meet with God. All the people would watch him as he went, and they would worship God while Moses met with the Lord. Isn’t that amazing?

God would then speak with Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Moses was a friend of God! But notice Joshua, Joshua did not leave the tent. Joshua just stayed in the tent, he wanted to be with God all the time. Can we learn to be like Joshua who sought God's presence continuously? 

For Moses and Israel, God was with them in the tent of meeting. But for us as new testament Christians we have the Lord God Almighty living within us. We have the Holy Spirit inside of us. We have become ourselves, body, soul, and spirit, the temple of God (1st Cor 6:19-20).

So, to meet with God, we simply must turn within to His presence within us, and meet with God there.

Jeanne Guyon in her book has constantly referred to the concept of turning our attention to the presence of God within us. We meet with God who is with us. We have had experiences of an outward presence of God. But what about the inward presence of God?

He is so close to us. He is closer than we could imagine.

Point number one, God desires to meet with us, and the cloud of his presence surely descends from outside us, but more so, from within us. God desires to meet with us as a friend, and speak to us.

Your part in that is to turn to Him. Constantly. Jeanne Guyon makes it clear that we should continuously turn to Him. Brother Lawrence taught something similar in his famous book "Practicing the Presence of God."

From time to time we get distracted, and we lose our sense of God’s presence. So we learn to turn again to that presence and focus in on God.

As we do that more and more, we find what David wrote about the Lord, from Psalm 16:8, “I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.”

King David had learned to always have an eye on the Lord, all the time. That's wisdom! 

Next, Madam Guyon writes… “To form the act of turning within, that is the goal! When this act has been formed in you, it will express itself as a continual abiding in your spirit and a continuous exchange of love between you and the Lord. Once this goal is attained, there is no longer any need to seek after it by outward acts. You may forget the outward act of trying to love the Lord and to be loved by Him. Instead, just continue on as you are. You should simply remain near to God by this continuous inner abiding.” -Jeanne Guyon, p. 110

Point number two, the goal in turning inward toward God is that we would learn to do it over and over and over again until it’s constant.

That happens slowly for some Christians over years of practice to continuously focus on God, as it says in Hebrews 12:2 “fixing our eyes on Jesus…” we learn to turn our eyes to Jesus over and over again, but the goal is, that we would find a “constant state” where we are continuously abiding in the presence of God. Other Christians may find that place much sooner, by God's grace.

Moses has gone to meet with God about the present situation. And here is their conversation in Exodus 33:12-14, "Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’ If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”

The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

God says to Moses, I’m going with you. My Presence. The joy of my presence.

It reminds me of Psalm 16:11 David says about God, “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” -Psalm 16:11

Point three, to walk with God, we walk in God’s presence, and we find a pathway, and we find joy in life.

But it doesn’t stop there., God also says, “I will give you rest.” Complete rest. Real rest. Wonderful rest.

It’s been an ordeal for Moses. It’s going to be tough going forward. But God says I will give you rest from all your pains and struggles.

We turn inward toward God within us, toward the Spirit, and focus our attention, focus our eyes on Jesus within, we find rest. Our soul calms down, we focus on the Spirit, and we find rest in God.

Point 4, God gives us rest. Is this rest idle? No it is not. It’s not sleeping rest, or taking a nap rest. It’s active rest.

God keeps drawing Moses toward himself. There is a magnetic pull for Moses toward God. It’s the same with us, with God’s Spirit inside of us, we are constantly pulled toward God more and more as we practice going to God when he calls.

When I feel a nudge to pray, I go pray, then the nudge is stronger next time. If I say no, then it’s a bit weaker next time. So we should learn to continuously turn toward God in prayer, practice, and reading of the word of God.

It’s a journey, deeper and deeper into the fullness of God’s presence and power. We grow closer and closer to God in relationship, and eventually we go to be with God in the next life.

The word of God says that the Lord gives the Spirit without limit (John 3:34). We can get as close to God in this life through the Spirit as we want to. There’s no limit to the depths of God and knowing God more and more.

And that will continue on into paradise, the new Jerusalem, the adventure continues to know God more and more deeply… as Jeanne Guyon writes..

"If you were to fall into the sea, and were that sea infinite, you would fall from one depth to another for all eternity. This is how it is with a Christian who is in that place of continuous abiding. He is not even aware of his descent, and yet he is sinking with inconceivable swiftness to the most inward depths of God” -Jeanne Guyon, Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ, p. 112

I think that’s what heaven is like, each day is even better, as we draw nearer and nearer to God, deeper into His depths, for all eternity. That’s the greatest adventure imaginable, are you ready for that?

Yet at the same time, there is another path, a nightmare, for those who reject God and choose sin. There is hell, the lake of fire, which is I think a different kind of journey, a journey of going further and further away from God, for all eternity.

The word of God talks about the “bottomless pit” (Rev 9:2) where Satan will be cast, and he will fall for all eternity, there is no bottom to that pit, he will just keep falling, an endless sinking, for eternity. Don’t join the enemy there.

Choose the journey toward God through Christ. That’s the road to take. And the adventure continues after death.

That’s our fifth point today, the adventure is to turn toward God and search out his depths (infinitely). But the greatest sorrow is to fall from God (forever).

All of this can be related to a sailing ship. This is a journey. And anyone knows that launching a sailing ship out is not easy. There is a lot of work involved in getting that ship out of port, away from the dock, and out into the deep waters. That takes strenuous activity.

Remember that when it feels hard to pray or hard to read the word or when you don't want to go to church or when you feel far from God. Launching out at first is sometimes hard. Push through. 

That’s our sixth point, sometimes launching out is hard, but be persistent, and you’ll find that place of catching the wind.

“The writer of Ecclesiastes said it: "To everything there is a season." (Ecclesiastes 3:1) This is especially true of your soul. Every state of
transformation the soul passes through has a beginning, a progress, and a consummation. To stop at the beginning of any one of these stages is foolish. You must go through a period of learning, then a period of progress. At first you toil diligently, but at last you reap the fruit of your labor!” -Jeanne Guyon, Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ, p.113

But as we do the work of seeking God and faithfully following, we eventually find we break through, we row and row and row to get out to open sea, but then at last, we stop rowing, and we open the sails on the ship, and the wind takes the ship, and the captain of the ship simply holds the helm, turning it gently toward the right direction.

That’s what it means to be led by the Spirit not by the soul. The soul is strenuous activity, exhausting, and empty. But when we open the sails and let the Spirit lead, we flow freely.

Point number 7, this is what it means to find rest before God. We are tuned to the presence of God within continually, we are led by the Spirit, and we are empowered by God, and this is not sleep. This is active. It’s blowing on the winds of God, like an eagle rising up, soaring on the winds, at rest, yet flying. The ship at rest, yet moving at a steady pace.

“Now, as you begin to move into Him, He will gradually gain possession of your heart. He gains it in the same way—little by little—that the gentle breeze fills the sails and moves the ship forward. When the winds are favorable, the pilot rests from his work. The pilot rests and leaves the ship to be moved by the wind. Oh, what progress they make without becoming the least bit tired!”

-Jeanne Guyon, Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ, p. 114

One last thought, remember God is near. Whether you feel or sense God or turn within to Him constantly, he is certainly there either way. Does turning our eyes to Jesus and setting the Lord ever before us cause a seismic shift? It certainly does. But He is with us, even when we don’t sense it.

Review of Main Points:
1. God desires to meet with us.

2. The goal in turning inward toward God is that we would learn to do it over and over and over again until it’s constant.

3. To walk with God, we walk in God’s presence, and we find a pathway, and we find joy in life.

4. God gives us rest.

5. The adventure to turn toward God and search out his depths. But the greatest sorrow is to fall from God forever.

6. Sometimes launching out is hard, but be persistent, and you’ll reap a harvest of spiritual growth.

7. Real rest before God is active rest, like a sailing ship moving by the wind blowing in it's sails. So it is when we rest in the leading of the Spirit.