I hear people say things like, “I could feel God’s presence at that church.” Or, “I could really feel God’s presence while we were singing that song.” There is certainly no doubt a person can have a fantastic emotional response to a song or to the friendliness of a church, but I don’t believe God Himself is experienced in this way. Furthermore, trying to discern the will of God based on whether or not you “feel His presence” seems a very dangerous way to live your life. Here are some things I hope you will consider:
1. God is Present Everywhere
The God of the Bible is omnipresent, meaning He is present everywhere. The apostle Paul preached, “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man” (Acts 17:24). When we relegate God’s presence to a certain time and place, we may unintentionally imply He isn’t present at other times or in other places.
The Psalmist wrote,
“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you” (Psalm 139:7-12).
While God has always been omnipresent, there was a time when His presence dwelt in a unique way in the temple of Jerusalem, but that is no longer the case. At Christ’s death, the curtain of the temple was torn and from that time on God’s presence no longer resided uniquely in a physical building. Now, the only unique place in which God dwells, is in the body of Christians through His Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). If you are a Christian, you take God with you EVERYWHERE you go.
2. God’s Will is Not Discerned by Feeling His Presence
Many people justify decisions by saying, “I knew I was doing the right thing, because I could feel God’s presence.” This type of emotionalism is not Christian discipleship. Christians discern the will of God by examining and applying Scripture, not by trying to feel the presence of God.
- The Jews in Berea were commended for examining the Scriptures to discern the will of God (Acts 17:11).
- Paul told Timothy, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be completely equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
- And the Psalmist wrote, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.” (Psalm 119:9)!
Furthermore, Scripture tells us our heart is deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9), trusting in our heart is foolish (Proverbs 28:26), and the way that leads to death almost always seems right at the time (Proverbs 14:12). In other words, the will of God cannot be determined emotionally. Just because you felt like God was there, does not mean your decision was one God would endorse.
If you want to know His will, you have to read His word.
3. God’s Presence is Known, Not Felt
While on earth, we must experience God through faith. Faith is knowledge (Hebrews 11:1) and comes from hearing God’s word (Romans 10:17). Faith is knowing God is present when I feel happy, knowing He is present when I feel sad, knowing He is present when I feel like He is next door, and knowing He is present when I feel like He’s a million miles away. Even when I don’t feel like it, I KNOW by faith that God is present.
But you may ask, “Then why do I feel something special when I worship, when I study the Bible, or engage in other spiritual activities?” The Gospel – the Good News that Jesus Christ has reconciled us to God – should evoke an emotional response from us. When the knowledge of what God has done for us through Christ, and the knowledge that we can approach God’s holy throne of grace with confidence (Hebrews 4:16), really sinks deep into our hearts, we ought to be overwhelmed with emotion!
The fact that a song about God’s love for us brings tears to your eyes, doesn’t mean God suddenly showed up during that song; it just means a beautiful truth just sank a little deeper into your heart.
I would simply encourage you to search God’s word and know His will. Know the reality of His omnipresence. Obey the gospel of Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 1:8) so that “Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Ephesians 3:17). And know that, if you are a Christian, God is uniquely present within you no matter where you are and no matter how you feel.
I love you and God loves you,