For many years as a younger Christian, I rarely thought of my need to personally encounter the presence of God. I assumed He was present because I had a healthy understanding of the doctrine of God’s omnipresence. God is always everywhere, right? What more do we need? In fact, I felt back then that I frequently encountered Him through reading His word. I also sensed His presence regularly in corporate worship on Sundays when the music and lyrics moved me within. Additionally, I heard God’s instructional voice when sermons were preached to me. If you had asked me back then if I had ever encountered the presence of God, I would have affirmed that I had done so many, many times.
Then, in February of 2003, I encountered God personally in a way that radically shifted my thinking. He overwhelmed me in my office one morning in what I call a sovereign ambush. I would never think of His presence the same after that day. I did not know what I did not know before that day when He love-pounced me. While I continue to this day to encounter His presence when I study the Scriptures, hear worship songs that stir me, or find my soul being instructed when someone preaches, I now know that there was always so much more that He had for me. He continues to have more for me. You too.
I love personally encountering the Lord, but supernatural encounters with God (on their own) do not produce in us holiness, faithfulness, obedience and endurance. In Exodus 24, Nadab and Abihu were among a group of men who ascended Mount Sinai with Moses and saw a physical manifestation of God with their own eyes (Exodus 24:9-11). We do not know all that those eyes beheld, but they saw some self-disclosure which God released to that chosen group of men. While God would later separate Moses from his associates and take him alone higher up on the mountain, the Scripture is clear that Nadab and Abihu both had their own up-close, powerful, supernatural encounter with God. Nothing before this encounter could have ever compared to what they saw that day. Flashing forward a bit into their futures, these same two priests later became casual with serving God in the tabernacle, and they flippantly offered some form of “strange fire” on the altar. Displeased with their disregard of His holiness, God killed Nadab and Abihu on the spot with His own holy fire (Leviticus 10:1-3).
Let that hit you: two men whom God had chose to powerfully encounter Him on a mountain were later taken out by Him in judgment because they irreverently served Him. I sense a warning for us in this – especially those who have been called to steward the presence of God through ministry done in His name.
I love encounter with God and daily seek Him. Some days it is evident that He is nearby, and I can feel within every part of me that I am in His presence. I call this God’s presiding presence. Yet, when I do not have that sensory impact of His nearness, I refuse to despair because my trust in Him reminds me that His pledge to never leave nor forsake me is always in full effect, no matter what I might be feeling. God the Spirit is God indeed, and He lives within every believer. He also operates around us and through us. It just makes sense that if He is in us, around us and through us, then we will sense Him powerfully at times. Our prioritizing His presence honors Him. Dismissing the value and privilege of experiencing His presence personally is dishonoring to Him. Not seeking Him in this way betrays that there is likely either skepticism or fear somewhere in our hearts that is holding us back from intimacy with the Almighty. To do so might actually be its own sort of strange fire. We need encounter with Him, saints.
If whatever encounters I am having with Him, however, do not produce within me a lasting reverence for Him, I have gone astray. If personal encounter with God does not result in a growing, holy awe and consecrated obedience to Him, then I have poorly stewarded my encounters. Encounters are not about getting the thrill of some spiritual climax and then leaving His presence unchanged until come we back for another supernatural zap. True encounter with God will both deepen us and humble us. Honestly, authentic encounters must necessarily produce in us God’s own likeness. If we are not becoming more like Jesus, then our encounters are born of the flesh. Jesus taught that Spirit produces spirit, flesh produces flesh (John 3:6). If we who serve as Kingdom-priests, pastors, worship leaders, or ministry heads become casual with the fire of God’s presence, then we will commit the same sin as Nadab and Abihu. Those two men were chosen, privileged leaders who experienced nearness to God in ways that nearly nobody else got to experience in their day. Somehow, it did not translate into lasting gratitude, honor and obedience in them. If we do not treasure our encounters with God, our lives will eventually produce some form of strange fire which clearly displeases the Lord.
If we go that route, we should not make the mistake of presuming that He will deal with us any differently than He dealt with them.
You will know that you are truly experiencing His presence when your consecration increases and your fire is holy.