The Sense of God’s Presence

By John Thiel, mp3

Scripture Reading: Psalm 139:1 O LORD, thou hast searched me, and known [me]. 2 Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. 3 Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted [with] all my ways. 4 For [there is] not a word in my tongue, [but], lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether. 5 Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me.

We are spending our time in reaching for the sense of God’s presence.

Our life is to be bound up with the life of Christ; we are to draw constantly from Him, partaking of Him, the living Bread that came down from heaven, drawing from a fountain ever fresh, ever giving forth its abundant treasures. If we keep the Lord ever before us, allowing our hearts to go out in thanksgiving and praise to Him, we shall have a continual freshness in our religious life. Our prayers will take the form of a conversation with God as we would talk with a friend. He will speak His mysteries to us personally. Often there will come to us a sweet joyful sense of the presence of Jesus. {COL 129.3}

This is what we are honing in upon; a sweet joyful sense of the presence of Jesus.

Often our hearts will burn within us as He draws nigh to commune with us as He did with Enoch. When this is in truth the experience of the Christian, there is seen in his life a simplicity, a humility, meekness, and lowliness of heart, that show to all with whom he associates that he has been with Jesus and learned of Him. {COL 129.3}

A godly example will tell more for the truth than the greatest eloquence, unaccompanied by a well-ordered life.” (Gospel Workers, p. 104.3) A godly example is what we are after. It is the loud cry; your actions speak louder than your words. It is the loud cry that is to be given at the end in which we are living right now. The people are going to see a life that is well-ordered. But how can this life that is well-ordered, this life of simplicity, humility, meekness, and lowliness of heart, come into action? How can this fruit be brought into existence upon the tree? Here lies the answer: it is when there is a sweet joyful sense of the presence of Jesus; when He draws near to us by that sense.

There are frequent experiences when God wants to speak to us. Before He speaks to us, there is a sense of His presence. I’ll never forget the day as a youth when I was meeting the conflict in the Seventh-day Adventist church between the concerned brethren and Desmond Ford. I received a cassette tape from a friend of mine who was at Avondale. He said, you’ve got to listen to this, this man is amazing. He was really bringing him to my attention. I was about to put the tape into the slot and I had a sense. I knew the sense because I had experienced it before. I experience it when I go into nature, the sense of God’s presence. I felt someone draw near. And as I was there in a state of wondering what to do, there came to me the words to my mind, Listen and listen very carefully. Now as I look back I know that that was the Lord trying to save me from getting caught up in the wrong path. That particular experience has gone with me right through to now. The sense of God’s presence leads me to understand how to read the word and follow truth correctly.

As I listened, the presence of the Lord was felt right through, and everything that I was listening to was being firmly put into my mind. “Can you see what is happening? Can you see what he is doing?” As he was presenting his sermon, he was using Scripture and made the point from each scripture that he was reading. That was fine. The next point came and the same thing again; the scripture and the point of that scripture was brought out. The Lord said, Can you see? this is good, and this is good. Everything that is asserted has a Scripture that says it plainly. As it was half way through, all of a sudden there was an assertion made; there was an expression made that had profound impact of what he was saying. And because my mind had been geared by the Lord to listen very carefully by the sense of His presence and His words, I was waiting for the scripture that was to express the strong statement that was just made, but there was none. I waited and nothing happened. Then, as I continued to listen, the Lord said, Pay close attention. On that strong declaration that was made from the man’s own judgment of presentation, from that point he began to pile scripture after scripture onto that point that was the foundation that he laid without scripture, then he put other Bible texts on top of that. I thought, Ah! Not only did I learn of what a corrupt man he was, but I also learned from it that if I am going to present God’s word I must only use Scripture in its simple statements and draw the beautiful points out of those scriptures, so that the Scriptures and the Spirit of Prophecy are our security.

That came as a consequence of the sense of God’s presence. That sense of God’s presence affects us when we allow our hearts to be affected. “If we keep the Lord ever before us, allowing our hearts to go out in thanksgiving and praise to Him, we shall have a continual freshness in our religious life.” We will make enjoyable experiences and we will hold conversation with God as a friend and we will have a joyful sense of His presence. This experience will produce simplicity, humility, meekness and lowliness of heart. That is how it will happen. It will not happen in any other way. No matter how hard you try to be meek or humble it will all be a mimicking; it will all be something that comes from your own effort without the Lord creating it inside of you.

Before you put an effort into something, you need to have a sense of God’s presence. When you have a sense of His presence then you exercise the effort because the effort is generated by the sense of God’s presence. This is the manner by which the Lord will lead us through the labyrinth of confusion and perversity which surrounds us today. There is the problem as we were singing in the hymn, “O let me feel Thee near me; the world is ever near!” (O Jesus, I Have Promised). There are so many mind-distractions that prevent us from actually sensing God’s presence and letting that develop in us a right kind of Christian religion, a freshness of our religious life.

Moses was the meekest man on earth. Why was he the meekest man on earth? He was brought up in Egypt just like we are brought up in spiritual Egypt. We are surrounded by Egyptian worship.

Hebrews 11:24 By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; 25 Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season;

Egypt was a resplendent nation. He had the top job, as it were, and he was surrounded by opulence. That would have been the very thing we were singing, The world is ever near; the sense of the world that fashions and moulds us. Did that mould Moses? What did he have to do to get rid of the mould? He spent forty years in the wilderness. In the wilderness he was being moulded by the sense of God’s presence.

Hebrews 11:26 Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward. 27 By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.

He had respect unto the recompense of the reward. What was the recompense of the reward? He received the final benefit of being translated. He was looking for a country that was better than Egypt.

Think of the life of Moses. What endurance and patience characterized his life. Paul in his Epistle to the Hebrews says, “For he endured, as seeing him who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:27). {UL 111.2}

The Experience of Moses

Did Moses have a sense of God’s presence in the wilderness? He went into the wilderness to see the Invisible. Not just to hear Him, but to see Him. I get a real thrill out of this quote.

This character of Moses does not simply mean passive resistance of evil, but perseverance in a firm, consistent course. He kept the Lord ever before him, and the Lord was at his right hand to help him. {UL 111.2}

He who will keep the Lord ever before him will make an experience.

Moses had a deep sense of the presence of God. {UL 111.3}

How much of a sense do you and I naturally have, usually? Is it a fleeting sense here and a sense there? Moses is an example because the 144,000 are to sing the song of Moses, a song of their experience. What is the experience that they will sing of?

He saw God. He was not only looking down through the ages to a Christ that would be revealed, but he saw Christ in a special manner accompanying the children of Israel in all their travels. God was real to him and present in his thoughts. {UL 111.3}

Where do your thoughts run?

When called upon to face danger, to bear insult, and to be misunderstood for Christ’s sake, he was persevering to endure without retaliation. {UL 111.3}

That is meekness. It is an impossibility. We can’t generate that. When someone misunderstands or insults us when we know that what we have been doing was right because I was doing it according to God’s counsel and it’s being rubbished and torn down, what is the natural rebuff in the heart? Is there not an anger arising in the heart, and a thought that, I will have to make this straight? I am going through that right now myself. As I was puzzling, Lord, what do I do? The Lord gave me a sense of His presence again.

While I was in America these thoughts were going through my mind and my heart was troubled. The Lord drew close and He gave me a lesson in meekness that was profound. That was the answer to my perplexity. There is to be total meekness, no assertion of self in Christ at all. When that comes into your personal experience of having to deal with something and where self wants to deal with it, the sense of God’s presence re-shapes the whole exercise, profoundly so. He calls upon you to act and to move according to that. It is nothing but the sense of God’s presence that produces what we were reading in Christ’s Object Lessons: selflessness, humility and meekness. If that selflessness, humility and meekness come into action, is that something you start to show off about and pride yourself about that you have got? It is an impossibility because you didn’t generate that. That was given to you by the sense of God’s presence. This was Moses’ experience.

It is my burden to communicate this in the presentation of God’s word, hoping with what we read before, that each one of us will personally receive the oil of the Holy Spirit.

He will speak His mysteries to us personally. Often there will come to us a sweet joyful sense of the presence of Jesus. Often our hearts will burn within us as He draws nigh to commune with us as He did with Enoch. {COL 129.3}

When you are totally bereft of knowing what to do and He comes in there and shows you the way, can you be proud? Do you have to make yourself humble? It is not needed because you know that the desperate need you were in to deal with the situation you were bereft of. When it is given to you, can you be proud about it? It has been given. The Lord in His mercy has shown us the way. This has to do with the process by which God’s people will demonstrate this meekness that Moses had. They will sing the song of their experience because they know that their experience was not generated by their own manipulated way; it was given to them. Children, I want you to appreciate that although some of the material I am sharing with you, you may say, I don’t quite understand what you are talking about; yet you can right here and now. We need to go over this again and again until we can actually take hold of it.

The effort that we make to pass on the Holy Spirit to others, we can’t communicate that. It is the Holy Spirit that does that work. Do you remember the ten virgins? What did the wise virgins say to the unwise when they said, Give us of your oil? Can we do that? Can I pass on to you this beautiful oil of the Holy Spirit that is making an impact in my own life? I can’t pour it into anybody; however I can testify to you the power of the word. It is up to you as an individual to actually let that oil, that sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit, pour into your heart. Children, you can actually experience it if you will reach out for it.

Sensing God’s Presence in our Body

How can you feel how close He is to you? You can feel your pulse. You know that is Him. Your heart goes fast or slow according to the need of oxygen that you have in your flesh, but the heart itself has a little electrical impulse in the middle of the heart which is called the pace-maker, and that has no connection to the brain; it is just simply an electrical current right there in the middle of the heart. Where is it coming from? It comes from God. He is the one in whom we live, and move, and have our being.

Acts 17:24 God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; 25 Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; … 27 That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: 28 For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.

He has our breath. How can you feel Him? When you try to hold your breath and stop breathing, all of a sudden you automatically take a huge breath. That is God not letting you die. God is so close to us and the sense of feeling Him through your body, as you become conscious of the things I am drawing your attention to, is a foretaste if I will allow my heart to respond to that knowledge.

As you look at the trees around you, the wind in the sighing of the trees, that is how God’s voice speaks to us. Now we are seeing the trees moving in the wind. What did Jesus say about the Holy Spirit? It moves but you can’t see it. Then, as you open your heart in gratitude you stop to actually look at the beautiful senses of nature around you and you open your heart to that, you allow your heart; you have to allow it. If you don’t do it, it won’t happen. That is our part. As we allow the influences of the sense of God’s presence to fill our heart with gratitude, then something will happen. God is then being invited to take over and guide me further. We must invite God.

God is a gentleman. He is as gentle as a deer. We don’t have deer over here, but when I was in America I saw plenty of deer. They are such gentle creatures; they are not obtrusive or wild. Jesus is like that. God and the Holy Spirit are like that. He never forces Himself. If you become eruptive towards Him, He will withdraw. He will keep you alive but He won’t give you a feeling of His presence, because you have just moved Him away. But if we allow our heart then He will come close.

Our Personal Experience of the Sense of God’s Presence like Moses

I experienced that once as a youth as I was learning all these things. I was out with my father in the streets of Adelaide shopping, getting ready for Sabbath. I had read something in the morning and appreciated this feeling of my pulse and it became meaningful to me, and then as I was walking along, I looked through the buildings into the heavens and I said, Lord. The moment I said that, the sense of God’s presence came upon me. The moment I reached out with the knowledge of what I had studied in the morning it struck me that He had been waiting for me. He had actually been waiting for me to send a message to Him so He could come. That struck me like a powerful bolt of energy. Do You love me that much, that you respond immediately when I send out a message to You? My heart melted, and I just loved the Lord because of His personality that He was actually giving me to feel.

You begin to sense God’s presence with you as you come into nature like this and you stop to listen and appreciate what He is actually communicating in the sense of His presence. As you give over, instead of saying, I want to go and have some fun, you say, Lord I can sense you here. I encourage you while we are here to go in the morning, get up when it starts to get clear and go out and spend time alone with God in the silence of your soul. Look up and see whether you don’t sense Him coming close to you.

Let us tell our experiences of those kinds of moments so that, by the word of our testimony, we will strengthen our receptive capabilities of the sense of God in our life. We can be in the footsteps of Moses. Every individual can be in the footsteps of Moses. That is an important thing to understand. Not just one person in the position of Moses, but everybody can be.

The Book of Nature

The thing that you can experience from Jesus by reading the Bible is that Jesus died and Jesus rose again. Can you sense that in nature all around you? The people in the primitive world who never read in the Bible, they can actually find their relationship with God without ever reading the Bible, without ever coming to know the Ten Commandments. Sr. White writes that in reference to the following scripture.

Romans 2:13 (For not the hearers of the law [are] just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. 14 For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: 15 Which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and [their] thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)

These pagans that don’t have the Ten Commandments, that don’t have the knowledge of the birth of Jesus and the death and resurrection of Jesus in written form, what is going on in their mind? Their thoughts are responding to the sense of God’s presence ignorantly. As they look at nature around them and study nature closely, what is nature called? It is called the second book of God, the second Bible. People who do not have the Bible have nature, and if they will be responsive to the sense of God in nature they will know what to do.

Wherever there is an impulse of love and sympathy, wherever the heart reaches out to bless and uplift others, there is revealed the working of God’s Holy Spirit. In the depths of heathenism, men who have had no knowledge of the written law of God, who have never even heard the name of Christ, have been kind to His servants, protecting them at the risk of their own lives. Their acts show the working of a divine power. The Holy Spirit has implanted the grace of Christ in the heart of the savage, quickening his sympathies contrary to his nature, contrary to his education. {COL 385.1}

In spite of everything that they learned in the world around them, in the way that their parents were teaching them, they found something else in nature.

Those whom Christ commends in the judgment may have known little of theology, but they have cherished His principles. Through the influence of the divine Spirit they have been a blessing to those about them. Even among the heathen are those who have cherished the spirit of kindness; before the words of life had fallen upon their ears, they have befriended the missionaries, even ministering to them at the peril of their own lives. Among the heathen are those who worship God ignorantly, those to whom the light is never brought by human instrumentality, yet they will not perish. Though ignorant of the written law of God, they have heard His voice speaking to them in nature, and have done the things that the law required. Their works are evidence that the Holy Spirit has touched their hearts, and they are recognized as the children of God. {DA 638.2}

Some people think we have to go and tell these people, they are ignorant. If they are to be saved the Lord will take care of them. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t go and do missionary work. God wants to use us to help others so that we will be helped ourselves. How many know already from experience that if you share something with somebody it strengthens you? Missionary work is preparation for heaven; our preparation. But God doesn’t need us, it is for our good. He can use His Spirit among the heathen and they will learn of God in nature. They will watch the birds. They will learn how beautifully God is manifesting Himself in those birds. I drew your attention a moment ago about the death and resurrection of Jesus. Can they read of that? Look at nature around you right now. You have trees that have lost all their leaves. Where are they? They are on the ground. They are slowly rotting away. You can see the trees that have fallen. We are surrounded by death in nature. It is not as pretty in this bush as where I have just come from. In USA it is brilliant green, all the leaves are alive on the trees. But just before I was leaving, autumn was coming and those leaves were turning red and yellow; they were going to fall off.

What are we sensing as we study the death around us? As you study at school about when things rot in the ground, what does that produce? It produces compost. It will produce nourishment for the next plants that are growing. Death and resurrection. As the trees lose their leaves in the USA through the winter it is stark, and you can see through the trees, there is no more hiding behind trees. Those leaves that have fallen off die and make lots of humus. And after the snow there comes new life again. As you are looking at all this around you, you know very well that soon, when it stops raining, this is all going to look brown. It will die and go into the ground. All those seeds from all those flowers will be developed and fall into the ground, and there they will wait until the next lot of winter rains come. And what happens then? Death and resurrection. By having your mind open to receive nature’s lessons you will appreciate the terrible suffering of Jesus in death and the new life that comes up from that.

In Zechariah we read of the people that are going to be saved and who will say to Jesus, What are these wounds in thine hands? They didn’t know about Jesus hanging on the cross, but they are there because they have surrendered themselves to what Jesus did when He hung on the cross. They learned it in nature. They are the children of God. There are many people today who know of the death and resurrection of Jesus but will not be saved. What have they failed to do? They failed to allow their hearts to be lifted up by the things which they have learned of Jesus in His word. They have failed to look at nature and see the lessons that the heathen have taken and opened their hearts to. It is essential for us in order to be saved to open our hearts to all the influences of the senses of God’s presence. We see it around us all the time.

Taking Time to Find the Sense of God’s Presence

I love going for a walk through nature, but somebody else who loves going for a walk through nature as well just goes ploughing through it and I have to try to keep up with them. Then slowly they realise that I am slowing down and looking and enjoying the Lord in nature. But they are just ploughing through for their exercise in nature, and they are not picking up the beautiful things that nature is showing them. This is our problem. Sr. White writes that many people are having their worship in the morning; they speed through the worship and then get off to work with no time to stop and spend a little time with the Lord in the contemplation of His word. That is the same thing as walking through nature and not paying attention to the beautiful things that give us the sense of God’s presence.

How Important is the Sense of God’s Presence?

It produces the fruit; it produces the holiness, and it produces the manifestation of Christ in our life. If that is what we need to be saved, why don’t we spend time in the exercise and the reception of the sense of God’s presence? The contemplation of death and resurrection around you makes people sad. What does Sr. White write about Adam when he saw the first leaf falling from the tree? What did it feel like to him? He was so sensitive that he wept over the leaf that was falling off the tree. Are you sensitive? We think it’s all right, we just kick it with our feet. We don’t weep over the leaves. Adam wept over one leaf falling off the tree. He knew that it was his sin that had caused the death of that leaf. Here we are surrounded by death. There is a dead tree here, but it is standing upright and it is completely dead. Just imagine Adam seeing that. He would be broken-hearted. What is it teaching us? What should we be sensitive to?

The Experience of Jesus

By the connection of nature with us and the word of God we want to sense the Lord Jesus in our life.

John 16:32 Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me.

Jesus made a profound statement here which we want to understand by the way of sense. Jesus said, You are going to go through a shocking experience and terrible disappointment; you are going to run for your life because I am going to be crucified. But, said He, The Father is with Me, I will be all right. That is what He said and He meant it.

Matthew 27:46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

What did Jesus feel? He had said, The Father is with Me, but now He cried, You are not here! What did Jesus sense? He sensed sin that caused death and separation from the Father. As He sensed that, you and I, if we will meditate on that, if we will open our hearts to that, we will sense Jesus very close to us. How many times have you and I felt in our hearts, “Where is God?” when you feel condemned over something in your life and you feel that, “It’s just too bad, I am not going to make it; I feel so bereft of God’s presence”? Jesus is giving you a sense of His own experience. When everything is looking good we are all right, as Jesus expressed, The Father is with Me. Isn’t that the way we feel? Everyone is happy now, and tomorrow when things go wrong, “Where is God?” I thought He was with me. That appreciation is the sense that we must pick up from God’s word. It is the sense that we must pick up from nature. When things are looking miserable around me, I am identifying with a sense of Jesus being very close to me.

Christ felt much as sinners will feel when the vials of God’s wrath shall be poured out upon them. Black despair, like the pall of death, will gather about their guilty souls, and then they will realize to the fullest extent the sinfulness of sin. {2T 210.1}

Jesus felt that.

Faith and hope trembled in the expiring agonies of Christ because God had removed the assurance He had heretofore given His beloved Son of His approbation and acceptance. {2T 210.2}

God had removed the sense that made Him able to say, My God is always with Me. God removed that sense.

The Redeemer of the world then relied upon the evidences which had hitherto strengthened Him, that His Father accepted His labors and was pleased with His work. {2T 210.2}

What was He relying on? He was relying on the memory of the sense of God’s presence. As He was hanging there on the cross He broke through the darkness by the sense of His memory in His relationship with God. There we can see so vividly how important the sense of God’s presence is. Without the sense of God’s presence we will be like the wicked when there is no hope. Jesus met that. But He took hold of the sense of God’s presence with Him in the past.

Here is what I want you to take away from this hour of meditation. You remember the senses of the presence of God as you walk in nature, as you read the word of God, as you have experiences in the times when you opened up your heart to Him and the sense of God’s presence was something which became very meaningful to you. When you go in the opposite direction in the lack of the sense of His presence remember the past; remember the sense of His presence and reach through by faith as did Jesus. That sense of our precious times that we have spent together in these campouts, the meditations that we have had, they are necessary when we meet the challenges that we will meet which will be overwhelming, which will be of a sense that, as we were singing in that hymn, “The world is ever near! … around me and within.” It is so close, “But, Jesus, draw Thou nearer.” Get even closer than that Lord; I need to sense Your presence.

When everything falls apart in your life, which it is going to, you will need the sense of God’s presence. For us who are living under God’s message, everything is going to fall apart. It will fall apart for the wicked as well but before it happens to them it will happen to us. Some of the wicked have already met that, or they are meeting it now. Some of us have had experiences where everything has fallen apart, but as we come up to the time after the close of probation we will go through Jacob’s trouble. And we will go through that experience of everything falling apart in our lives. I shared with you what the Lord gave me in that dream where nothing made sense anymore. It is in those times that the sense of God’s presence needs to be remembered, it needs to be taken hold of again because we are going to have to go through that time of trouble without a mediator. We are going to have to rely upon the sense of God’s presence. When we rely on that because He is there, He will give us little gleams of His presence just to remind us, then we will persevere through until we will sing the song of Moses.

May God grant us the deep sense of the urgency of reaching out for the sense of God’s presence. May this be our determination, and may we never forget, as it said there about the Gentiles, that they had no knowledge but they did remember the things they learned from nature. May we be faithful to the end because of these things is my prayer.


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Posted on 11/12/2013, in Divine Service Sermons and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.