The effect of being in God’s Presence

Stephen Whitmore, Clacton-on-Sea

Category: Exposition

IN CONSIDERING SUCH A SUBJECT AS THIS, recognizing that we can never do justice to it, we shall concentrate on four examples. These examples teach us lessons which illustrate the effect of being in the presence of God. We shall consider:-
(i) Mary - An Increasing Appreciation
(ii) Asaph - A New Perspective
(iii) Elijah - A Fearless Testimony
(iv) Moses - A Changed Image.

(i) Mary - An Increasing Appreciation
The first mention of Mary of Bethany, Luke 10. 39, tells us that she sat at Jesus' feet, and heard His word. This is in contrast to her sister, Martha, who 'received him into her house', v. 38, but 'was cumbered about much serving', v. 40. How often we recall our Lord's word, 'one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part', v. 42. If we are to know the enjoyment of the presence of God, and its effect upon our lives, we must first make time to sit at His feet, and learn of Him. 'Make' is important here, because we shall rarely, if ever, find the time unless we set it as a priority for our lives. It is easy to be like Martha, so busy in service for the Lord that we lose the blessedness of His presence. Her actions are commendable in their place, but they must not be allowed to consume the time. Let us learn the lesson of priority, or we shall never enjoy the presence of God.
The next mention of Mary is after the death of Lazarus, John 11. Now she is found falling down at His feet, v. 32. It is notable that, although Martha was first to greet the Lord, and her words appear to show more faith, she is not found at His feet, vv. 21-27. She has not been at His feet to learn of Him. Mary, having learned at His feet, now falls in recognition that her only claim upon Him is on the basis of mercy. Martha receives a revelation, vv. 25, 26, but Mary obtains a response, 'Where have ye laid him?', v. 34 and, that most poignant of verses, 'Jesus wept', v. 35. Finally, Lazarus is raised, vv. 43, 44.
The last reference to Mary is in John 12, when they make Him a supper. It is notable that she is always seen at His feet. If we are found in the presence of God, then true humility will mark us in a way that all can see. This time, she shows that her appreciation is such that no price is too great to pay for Him. Judas Iscariot values the ointment at three hundred pence, v. 5. This would be a year's wages by implication from Matthew 20, and would therefore be equivalent to several thousand pounds today. The natural mind recoils from what it sees as waste, but our Lord commends Mary for her discernment, 'Against the day of my burying hath she kept this', v. 7. Only Mary anointed Him, for He had risen from the dead on the first day of the week when the others came to anoint Him, Mark 16. 1. Mary has enjoyed His presence and now shows a discernment that none appears
to share.

(ii) Asaph - A New Perspective
Psalm 73 details Asaph's experience, and the effect upon him of entering 'the sanctuary of God', v. 17. The psalm is divided by this verse. In the first sixteen verses, we see a man judging according to man's estimation; in the closing verses we learn the effect of seeing the same conditions from the presence of God.
The opening verses present a seemingly hopeless picture, causing envy, v. 3. He sees prosperity, v. 3; strength, v. 4; and freedom from trouble, v. 5. The seemingly unchecked pride and defiance of God by wicked men, vv. 6-12, leads Asaph to feel that his desire for purity is in vain, vv. 13-16. We cannot read such verses as these without seeing how perfectly they fit the lot of those in worldly employment today. Truly, the Word of God is never out-of-date.
How important it is for us to learn the lesson of Asaph, 'Truly God is good ... to such as are of a clean heart', v.I. This statement comes from one who has viewed these conditions from the sanctuary, who understands the end of such men, vv. 17-20. Every expression speaks of a sudden end. Paul writes of a similar judgement, 'For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them', 1 Thess. 5. 3. We profess to be those who are waiting for our Lord to come. If we are living in His presence, our lives will be marked by this confidence, and not the false hopes of men.
In contrast to the sudden destruction of the wicked, Asaph writes, 'I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me ... thou shalt guide me ... and afterward receive me to glory', vv. 24, 25. Here is our confidence, a confidence which caused Paul to write, 'our light affliction which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory', 2 Cor. 4. 17, and, 'the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us', Rom. 8.18.

(iii) Elijah - A Fearless Testimony
According to 1 Kings 17.1, Elijah stands fearlessly before the wicked king Ahab because he recognizes that he is in the presence of the Lord God of Israel, He goes into the presence of one who has set himself to kill the prophets of the Lord, 1 Kgs. 18. 13, and leaves untouched and untraceable. If we do His bidding, He will empower us, provide for us and protect us.
The same principles are seen in the early church. Such was the effect upon the apostles that we read of them, 'rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name', Acts 5. 41. James takes us even further back in the experience of Elijah than the historical narrative, 'he prayed earnestly that it might not rain', Jas. 5. 17. Not only was he the messenger to tell of the drought, but his prayer had instigated it. The challenge of James is simply that Elijah had no more power than is at our disposal. If we learn the lessons of discernment and perspective, we shall be able to pray according to His will, and claim the promise that He will give it, l John 5. 14. James sets before us the contrast, 'Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss', Jas. 4. 3.

(iv) Moses - A Changed Image
In Exodus 34, we read of the second period of forty days that Moses spent in the mount with the Lord. At the end, we read, 'Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone', v. 29. The first part of the statement teaches us that the effect of spending time in the presence of God will not always be apparent to ourselves. With hindsight we may recognize how we have been changed, but at the time, we shall feel our inadequacy. One hymnwriter has captured the common experience as,
'They who fain would serve Thee best
Are conscious most of wrong within'.
The second part of the statement concerning Moses is explained for us by Paul, 'We all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the spirit of the Lord', 2 Cor. 3. 18. Here is a continuing process that will not stop until the blessed moment when we shall see Him as He is, and be changed perfectly into His image, 1 John 3. 2. This should be our chief ambition, though we can never attain it, for this will glorify Him more than our words ever could.

Conclusion
Being in the presence of God will affect our appreciation of our Lord, our perspective of circumstances, our testimony before men, and our character. David writes, 'I shall not be moved', Psa. 16. 8, and 'in thy presence is fullness of joy', Psa. 16. 11.