For Anyone Who Has Ever Doubted God’s Presence…

This one’s for anyone who has ever doubted God’s presence—and I’m betting that’s all of us. Or maybe I’m the only one. But I know I’ve certainly had the experience of praying and feeling like my prayers are getting stuck somewhere in the popcorn texture of our apartment’s stucco ceiling. That experience of longing for God’s presence but finding it illusive, and the peace of Christ hard to find.

For anyone who has ever doubted God’s presence, then Pentecost is your holiday. Pentecost comes each year, 50 days after Easter – which in 2016 puts it this Sunday, the 15th of May. It’s a celebration of the Holy Spirit who is present, consistently, forevermore, without exception and without fail, in all who belong to Christ Jesus.

As much as we long for God’s presence, the story of Scripture as a whole assures us that God longs for us to be with him immeasurably more. The story of God and his people begins in a Garden where God and his children walked together in the cool of the day. But that relationship was broken when his children turned away from God and broke God’s heart. And it could be said that the rest of the story of Scripture is of God longing to get his family back together.

As the Biblical narrative unfolds, God pursues an ever closer relationship with his people. God was present to his people as he led them out of slavery in Egypt, as he led them through the desert and into the Promised Land, as he tried over and over again to teach them as a parent teaches his children when they went astray, through prophets, through exile, calling them back time and again. The Spirit’s presence would come on individuals for a specific time for a specific task – like Samson, with great strength, and his prophets with messages. But in all of that time, the Spirit of God was always transitory, never permanent, and was enjoyed by the few, not by all of his children.

But Israel anticipated a time when God’s Spirit would come in fullness. They waited for a day when God would pour out his Spirit, not just on the prophets and kings, but on the whole House of Israel (Ezekiel 39:29). The prophet Joel spoke of this promise of God’s universal presence among his people:

I will pour out my Spirit on all people.

            Your sons and daughters will prophesy,

             your old men will dream dreams,

             your young men will see visions.

Even on my servants, both men and women,

            I will pour out my Spirit in those days (Joel 2:28-29)

God’s presence became closer and more tangible than ever in the birth of Jesus. But still, God in the flesh had the limitations of the flesh – that he could only be in one place at one time, present fully, but not universally accessible. Think of the crowds that clamored for him, yet he had to take time to retreat to quiet places to pray and to rest. Jesus knew that for God’s presence to come even closer to his people, he needed to return to the Father and usher in this age of the Spirit that Joel had spoken of (John 16:7.)

And then came the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost.  Take a moment and read the story for yourself in Acts 2. It happened 50 days after that first Easter, after Jesus had been killed, resurrected and had ascended to the Father. It came like the sound of rushing wind, like tongues of flames resting on the heads of the apostles and of those gathered. It came in power. The Spirit of God had come on God’s people in a new way.

And it came to stay.

This was something different. In Old Testament times, the Spirit came and went, empowering chosen people with God’s supernatural power for specific callings. But now the Spirit – God himself – the third Person of the Trinity – God had come to take up permanent residence in those who put their faith in Jesus.

So for anyone who has doubted God’s presence, Pentecost – the celebration of the outpouring of the Spirit on all believers – assures us that the Spirit IS in us if we’ve put our faith in Christ and received the Spirit.

The Spirit doesn’t come and go with your mood.

He isn’t a tingly sensation that makes your hairs on your neck stand up when you hear a beautiful worship song,

he isn’t a sense of peace in the midst of turmoil,

he isn’t an answered prayer.

And he isn’t absent when those experiences are absent.

The Spirit is certainly FELT in all of those wonderful experiences. He is the POWER behind those experiences. But we have the assurance that Christ is present with us through his Spirit which lives within us always. Even when the miracle you’ve been praying for is a long time in coming. Even when you’re distracted during the worship service because your phone keeps going off in your pocket. The experience of God’s presence is wonderful and powerful. But in this age of the Spirit, we have immediate access to God’s presence which resides in us on the good days and the bad, in moments that feel particularly spiritual and those that do not. God gives us his own self.

If that doesn’t just blow your mind, then perhaps you’ve become too familiar with the idea.

There’s a song that gets a lot of radio time these days on Christian radio by Jeremy Camp called “Same Power” and it has these lyrics:

The same power that rose Jesus from the grave

The same power that commands the dead to wake

Lives in us, lives in us

The same power that moves mountains when He speaks

The same power that can calm a raging sea

Lives in us, lives in us

He lives in us, lives in us

And since song lyrics don’t have the same authority as scripture, I’ll share the verse he’s taking this from. Romans 8:1 “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.”

Whether you’re hearing that promise for the first or thousandth time, that should blow your mind. The Spirit who gives life even to the dead, who has power beyond measure, is alive in you, present with you always. Oh, that the church may be alive today and each day with the joy, hope, responsibility and faithful exercise of the gift of the Spirit of Christ!

Happy Pentecost. God is with you.

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