Getting ready to come back from sabbatical

“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them…” Acts 16:25

God has been at work in my life. Lots of pruning (ouch). Lots of prayer. Asking the Spirit to fill me with a holy joy that will sustain me through the ups and downs of everyday life. I love you guys and can’t wait to see you and preach on August 2nd!

Are you experiencing the manifest presence of God in your life?

Within every human breast rages this desire, driving him forward. Many a person confuses the object of that desire and spends his or her entire life striving for the unobtainable. Very simply put, the great passion in the heart of every human being, who are created in the image of God, is to experience the awesome majesty of God’s presence. The highest accomplishment of humanity is entering the overwhelming presence of God. Nothing else can satiate this burning thirst. -AW Tozer, Experiencing The Presence Of God

A busy religious life devoid of God’s presence

Have you ever been haunted by the idea that there should be more to the Christian life than what you are currently experiencing? I will admit that I have frequently felt that way. When I read in the Psalms how the saints of old delighted being in God’s presence I feel an ache overcome me and I want the intimacy and joy that they experienced.

We need to know the difference between the omnipresence of God and the manifest presence of God

One of the things we learn in God’s Word is that there are different ways to understand and experience the presence of God. In Psalm 139:7-12 we read this:

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,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.

What the Psalmist is describing is the omnipresence of God.  To say that God is omnipresent is to say that he is present everywhere. But Scripture also describes the manifest presence of God.

“You make known to me the path of life, in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand there are pleasures forevermore.” -Psalm 16:11

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and hit filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. -Acts 2:1-4

The manifest presence of God is when he reveals himself in a unique and clear way. It seems that the pathway to true joy is found in only one place, God’s presence. When we experience the manifest presence (or some refer to it as the relational presence) of God we find that our hearts are impacted and we are spiritually transformed. The reason why it is imperative to make this distinction is that we can affirm with our minds that God is omnipresent and yet never truly experience his power in our life. Our greatest spiritual need is to go beyond the omnipresence of God and into his manifest presence.

We need to be aware of what is keeping us from the life transforming presence and power of God

What are some of the barriers that keep us from experiencing God at a deep level?

  • We don’t truly have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. It is possible to be religious, attend church, and still not know God personally.
  • We allow distractions and busyness to keep us on the surface of knowing God. How many hours do you think you devote to a screen during the week compared to meditating on God’s Word? Social media, the news, entertainment, busyness, all work in such a way to keep us on the surface of what it means to know God deeply.
  • We numb our pain with worldly pleasures. This is a temptation that I face on a regular basis. There are hurts and wounds in our heart that we refuse to deal with. So, instead of doing the hard work of laying our hearts bare before God we self-medicate. Alcohol, shopping, TV, exercise, perfectionism, sex, and work are all ways that things that can keep us from allowing God into the deep places of our life.
  • We are stuck in a habitual sin. We have given up the idea that we can experience spiritual victory in a particular area of our life and we have grieved and quenched the power of the Spirit of God in us.
  • Truth be told, we really don’t like the idea of God being God in our life. We might not say this out loud, but completely surrendering our life to the manifest presence of God does not sound like all that much fun.

We need to know what we must do to experience the life transforming power of the manifest presence of God

So what do we do to actually experience the presence of God in our life? As I have been reading and studying God’s Word I believe these are the primary ways that we can experience God today.

  • We experience the presence of God when we are honest. Ask God to give you a desire him on a deeper level (this is where I am at right now). God already knows where we are at spiritually so we might as well just be brutally honest with him.
  • We experience the presence of God when we repent of our sin. Darkness and light can not co-exist. God will not put up with false gods and idols in our life. Spiritual renewal and revival are preceded by confessing and turning away from our sin.
  • We experience the presence of God through reading God’s Word. Are you soaking your heart and mind in the truths of God’s Word on a daily basis? One area that I want to grow in is not only reading and studying the bible but actually meditating on it.
  • We experience the presence of God when we pray. Prayer is talking and listening to God. It is in these sweet times of fellowship that we can go deeper with God. I have been challenged recently to come to God and to just be quiet in his presence. When was the last time you spent 10 minutes just being quiet in God’s presence?

The last thing I should do is act like an expert when it comes to revival. I have never lived through anything like what I have read about in the Great Awakening. But it seems to make sense to me that genuine revival among God’s people would need to be preceded by a growing awareness and desire to be in his presence.

Would love to hear your thoughts and ideas as you ponder the idea being in the manifest presence of God.

“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” -Augustine

NEW Interview with Amy Simpson, author of “Blessed Are the Unsatisfied: Finding Spiritual Freedom in an Imperfect World”

Tell us a little about yourself and your family.

amy simpsonI’ve been married to Trevor, a counselor, for nearly 25 years. We have two daughters, one in high school and one who will be starting college this fall. We also have two dogs, Rosie Cotton and Samwise Gamgee. Our home is in the suburbs of Chicago.

Professionally, I’ve been involved in publishing and media for nearly 25 years. I currently work as an acquisitions editor for Moody Publishers. I’m also an author and a speaker. On the side, I’m a leadership coach, and I love to come alongside people to help them live with purpose and intention and to move forward.

The first chapter of your new book, “Blessed Are the Unsatisfied: Finding Spiritual Freedom in an Imperfect World” is “Jesus Doesn’t Want You To be Satisfied…Yet.” Explain what you mean by this and why it is so important that we understand it and apply it to our lives.

This is a direct challenge to a message I frequently hear from Christian teachers and leaders: “This world won’t satisfy you, but Jesus will.” This is a true statement, but it needs qualification and explanation. When we don’t talk about this in the context of the limitations we live with here and now, we seem to be pointing people toward Jesus with a false promise that claims if we will only follow Christ, we will be completely satisfied—maybe instantly. And sometimes people do come right out and claim that every follower of Christ should be experiencing a deeply satisfying life—without longing or emotional needs—here and now. This extends to sometimes communicating (intentionally or not) that if a Christian doesn’t feel completely satisfied or still feels unsettled in this life, something is wrong and he or she needs to try harder. I want to encourage people to rethink this message, to find freedom in embracing unsatisfaction, and to discover the blessings that come with being unsatisfied.

The fact is, Jesus never promised us a fully satisfied life this side of heaven. He promised us trouble. He also promises his presence, his peace, hope, and the comfort and help of the Holy Spirit. But when we follow Christ, our sinful tendencies are not magically taken away. Our needs are not neutralized. God doesn’t insulate us in some kind of spiritual bubble that cancels all of the effects of living in a world that is in active rebellion against God. We still live with a powerful distance between us and God, without the kind of intimacy we were created to enjoy.

But while our lack of satisfaction might come as a result of sin’s curse, God knows how to turn curses into blessings. The most fundamental way we are blessed is in what Jesus described in Matthew 5:6: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” We are blessed, whether or not we feel like it, because satisfaction is coming. Our name is written on it. And for those of us who are willing to acknowledge and live peacefully in our lack of satisfaction, Christ’s redemption and renewal of creation will be very sweet. Living in the presence of God will be spectacular.

When we buy into the idea that satisfaction is for here and now, we lower our standards below what God wants us to long for. To think this life is as good as it gets is not good news. On the other hand, it is encouraging to remember this is not all there is. This is not the world we were made for, and this is not as good as it gets. That’s good news. That’s blessing.

You also mention in your book that we have the tendency to make happiness our god, or into an idol. Can you explain to us what that looks like in everyday life and how we can avoid it?

In one sense, this is the American (or perhaps Western) way. For most people in our society, the basic needs of survival are met. So we reach beyond them and engage in what we’re all entitled to: the pursuit of happiness. Yet it’s also human nature. We are built to seek pleasure and avoid pain. It’s actually part of what helped our ancestors survive.

The problem is, whenever we encounter something we enjoy, like happiness, we want to make that our sole experience. But a life full of happiness—and nothing but happiness—is impossible on this earth. And because happiness is merely one element of the human experience, it can’t bear the weight of our expectation. It will never be enough. Plus, happiness is powerful partly as a contrast to sadness, disappointment, anger, even mediocrity. So when we try to rid our lives of those more difficult experiences, happiness loses its luster and isn’t fulfilling anymore.

In everyday life, the idolization of happiness takes the form of giving space only for the expression of positive emotions, moving from one party to the next, doing only what we feel will make us happy in the moment without considering broader consequences. It looks like running away from the deep work we need to do in order to grow or perhaps heal, because we fear the experience of feeling unhappy or uncomfortable. Sometimes it means we miss opportunities to lament, to mourn with those who mourn, or to grieve what grieves the heart of God.

We can avoid it by being self-honest, acknowledging the truth—that we are and will be unsatisfied people—and learning how to live in the “now and not yet,” the dual reality that the Apostle Paul wrote about in Romans 8. We can learn to enjoy happiness when we experience it and to acknowledge it’s not the only thing we will experience—and that’s OK.

It’s important to be honest and authentic about our lack of satisfaction because, for one thing, we have to live with it. We live in a world that lies under a curse, and every single one of us feels the distance between us and God and the life we were originally made for. Ignoring that gap won’t make it go away. Building our lives around happiness will mean we try to avoid a lot of reality. And if we’re trying to avoid the truth of it, chances are, it’s dictating the way live, to some degree, because we’re always stepping around it. When we face into it, we can find freedom, live with greater integrity, and stop distracting ourselves with the effort to find something we won’t find.

What are some blessings that we experience when we admit that we are not as satisfied as we would like to be?

God has us right where he wants us when we are unsatisfied, longing for the better world he has planned. God does not want us to be satisfied in this life, but to experience the blessings that come with intentionally living an unsatisfied life.

Embracing our lack of satisfaction also puts us in good company. As we get real with other people, they will be more real with us. And we can discover that we all have this in common. We can find support and encouragement, and we can help each other come to God on God’s terms rather than with satisfaction of our desires in mind. We can help one another stay focused on the full and complete satisfaction to come.

Living unsatisfied means living with anticipation. People who are truly satisfied don’t look forward to what is to come. And God wants us to live in the hope of what he promises us. Anticipation produces a wonderful mindset that can get us out of bed in the morning.

There’s also a lot of good news here! Acknowledging that we are unsatisfied puts us in position to enjoy the blessings that come with unsatisfaction. My book mentions several others, and it’s encouraging to think about the many good things that come with embracing the unsatisfied life. In general, embracing our lack of satisfaction puts us in a position to receive some of the best gifts God has to offer us. In his grace and goodness, God has taken a symptom of curse and made blessings from it. So while our lack of satisfaction ultimately comes down to a consequence of human rebellion, God still allows us to experience good things in it. When we stop denying unsatisfaction, and embrace it, we can experience these good things.

What are some practical things we can do to deepen our satisfaction and joy in Christ?

There’s no substitute for knowing Christ through prayer and through his Word. The more we spend time reading the Bible, studying it, and considering what it says, the more we will experience joy and fulfillment in our relationship with him. The more we communicate with him, and listen to him, the more we tend to trust him, to go to him with our needs, and to experience his peace. It’s also really helpful to engage in long-term relationships with other people who are seeking to follow Christ, to know him, and to live his way.

At the same time, I feel like these recommendations should come with a disclaimer! The more we get to know Jesus and develop a closeness with him, the less comfortable we tend to feel in this world we live in. It’s only natural—the more closely we align ourselves with our Creator, the less we feel at home in a world that is in rebellion against him. So while these activities can deepen our joy and move us toward greater satisfaction in Christ, they can also sharpen our sense of longing and our feelings of discomfort in the world. But our longings for him are good, wholesome, and sweet. And they will be fulfilled. God will never disappoint us.

Amy’s website

Amy’s Twitter

What People Aren’t Telling You About Happiness

Isaac Watts wrote the famous hymn “Alas, And Did My Savior Bleed” in 1707. Due to the fact that I have been in the church all of my life I have probably sung this song hundreds of times. Here is how the chorus goes:

At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light,
And the burden of my heart rolled away,
It was there by faith I received my sight,
And now I am happy all the day!

OK, either Isaac knew something that I don’t or there is something seriously wrong with me and my faith. What I can say for sure is that this idea of being happy all the day does not line up with my personal experience.

We all want to be happy and joyful.

All of us want to be happy. All of us are seeking after something that will fill up the empty spaces of our life and make us feel complete. This pursuit is what leads people to accomplish great things like going to college, advancing in their career and raising a family. The pursuit of happiness also leads people into addictions and bad relationships. This hit will ease the pain. This person will finally be the one. Every step we take in life is a step, we hope, that leads us towards greater joy and happiness.

We were told that only God will make us happy.

At some point many of us are told that only God can make us happy. So we head off in a new direction. We leave behind the things that have failed to satisfy us in the past and make our way towards God.

Unfortunately we were not told that even when we have God that there will be many times where we are struggling, hurting and feel like something is missing.

These days I am increasingly disturbed by the fact that we are telling people half truths about happiness and joy. Yes, I still believe that joy is found in Christ. The part that we are leaving out is that this happiness and joy is incomplete. It is true, we have found the greatest treasure of all in Jesus Christ but our souls are still encased in a human body that is strongly impacted by sin. Our joy is only a fraction of what it will be one day.

“We want. Life leaks. Desires are disappointed. And God, our Father, remains eternally good.” -Jen Pollock Michel

Here is why I believe this is such a big problem. We are making promises about the Christian life without the support of God’s Word. Think about it for a moment. The saints in the pages of Scripture went through valleys of all shapes and sizes. The Psalms are filled with men and women who had a deep intimate relationship with God yet at the same time went through seasons of serious heartache, sorrow and depression (Psalms 42-43).

I can say that Jesus is my greatest source of joy. I also need to be painfully honest and say that I live with a haunting sense in my soul that I am still not complete. Every single day feels like I am in one intense spiritual battle. There is an ache that I live with that I wish I could just make go away. Some days I truly wonder if I have the strength to keep going.  If we are not open about how we are feeling I believe we could cause others to question the authenticity of their faith. If we look around and everyone seems like they have it all together then something surely must be wrong with us, right? Perhaps we have combined the American Dream with the gospel and created something that is bound to disappoint and disillusion everyone who comes into contact with it.

If you love Christ but still sense in your heart that there must be more you are right. You are not odd. You are not alone. You are a normal Christian person. Being discontented with life is not always a bad thing. We long for a new body free of pain and disease. We long for relationships that are completely safe and true. We long to be rid of our ever present sin nature. Finally, we long to be home. I am talking about home in the best sense of the word. Home with God.  Let’s rejoice that one day our joy will be full but until that time let’s temper our unrealistic expectations with these words from the Apostle Paul, “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” Romans 8:22-23

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” -CS Lewis