Filled With His Presence

The priests then brought the ark of the Lord’s covenant to its place in the inner sanctuary of the temple, the Most Holy Place, and put it beneath the wings of the cherubim. The cherubim spread their wings over the place of the ark and overshadowed the ark and its carrying poles. 

When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord. And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled his temple.

1 Kings 8:6-7, 10-11

Solomon had just spent seven years building a magnificent temple for the Presence of the Lord. The whole thing was made of cut stone blocks and cedar. The entire inside of the temple, the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place, were covered in gold. Most of the objects in the outer courtyard were made of cast bronze.

Once the temple was completed, Solomon ordered the priests to bring in the ark of the covenant. First they gathered the people, and then they sacrificed so many sheep and cattle to the Lord that their number couldn’t be counted. Finally, the ark was placed into the Most Holy Place. When the priests left the Most Holy Place and the Holy Place, the glory of the Lord filled the temple.

The Presence and power of the Lord came with such intensity that the priests couldn’t re-enter the Holy Place to perform their services. Here is how the writer of 2 Chronicles describes it:

…the glory of the Lord filled the temple. The priests could not enter the temple of the Lord because the glory of the Lord filled it. When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the Lord above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave thanks to the Lord…

2 Chronicles 7:1-3

Their natural response to the Presence of God coming in power was to drop to their knees, bow their faces to the ground, and worship the Lord. Sometimes God shows up gently and brings us peace and comfort. Yet, other times God shows up with ferocity, and when He does we might find ourselves on the ground. It’s probably best to stay there and worship Him in a posture of submission and humility.

Some Christians today have trouble with phrases like “God showed up in power” or “She was filled with the Spirit.” They tend to push back against this language saying things like, “Isn’t God always present?” Or, “How can you be filled with the Spirit if you already have the Spirit in you? Do you get more of the Spirit? Is He like a liquid?”

These responses reveal a misunderstanding about God’s Presence. We could ask the same questions about Solomon’s temple. Scripture says that “the glory of the Lord filled his temple.” Wasn’t God’s Presence already there in the temple? God is omnipresent after all. How could God fill the temple if He was already there? And why did the priests react so dramatically?

What this scene shows us is that, while God is always present, He can, at times, increase how much of His Presence is tangible or manifest. Theologians sometimes call this God’s “manifest presence.” This is sort of a measurement of how much of God’s Presence breaks through the veil between the spirit realm and the physical realm. The tangible Presence of God (or manifest Presence of God) can increase and decrease based on the environment. Because of this, our bodily reaction to God’s tangible Presence can change based on its intensity.

This is why Paul commanded the Christians in Ephesus to “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). He wasn’t commanding them to become Christians again by accepting the Holy Spirit into their lives. He was commanding them to allow the Spirit to take over more of their lives. He was telling them to allow the Presence of God within them to become the tangible or manifest Presence of God within them. When we are filled with the Spirit there is naturally going to be an overflow, and this overflow will affect the people around us. Being filled with the Spirit will often, though not always, cause physical manifestations of the Holy Spirit in our body that are beyond our control.

As followers of Jesus we need to accept the fact that God’s tangible Presence, and the Holy Spirit’s tangible Presence, will increase and decrease based on the situation we are in. It doesn’t mean God wasn’t there in one moment and that He is there in the next. But it does mean that God will increase or decrease how much of His Presence we will tangibly experience at any given time. This is what James was trying to explain when he wrote:

Come near to God and he will come near to you.

James 4:8

We know, of course, that God is alway near. James is talking about the tangible Presence of God here. If we draw near to God with hearts and minds that are worshiping, we will often experience an increase in the tangible Presence of God drawing near to us.

Welcoming God’s Presence

When they came to the threshing floor of Nakon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down, and he died there beside the ark of God…

David was afraid of the Lord that day and said, “How can the ark of the Lord ever come to me?” He was not willing to take the ark of the Lord to be with him in the City of David. Instead, he took it to the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite. The ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite for three months, and the Lord blessed him and his entire household.

2 Samuel 6:6-11

King David was taking the ark of God to the City of David (Jerusalem). The manifest Presence of God went everywhere the ark went, so David wanted His Presence in his own city. But instead of carrying the ark on polls by priests, as prescribed by the Law, David and his men clumsily transported it on a cart pulled by oxen. This was the equivalent of treating the ark like a common pagan idol. It was how one might transport a harvest of produce.

In addition to this, no one was supposed to touch the ark. To touch the ark was tantamount to treating the Presence of God flippantly and irreverently. Imagine meeting the Queen of England and greeting her with a “good game” on her backside, then multiply that times a hundred, and we’re approaching the irreverence of touching the ark.

All of this sloppy irreverence with God’s Presence culminated in the unexpected. Uzzah, thinking he was doing a good thing by grabbing the ark, fell down dead in God’s Presence. This terrified David, and fear caused David to want to avoid the manifest Presence of God.

This still happens to us today. The Presence of God is not something to be taken lightly. God is awesome and powerful and His manifest Presence will do some strange things to people. I’ve been in worship services where people fall to the ground having lost control over their bodies in God’s Presence. I’ve seen people tremble uncontrollably. I’ve seen people get bombarded with the joy of the Lord in such a powerful way that they start laughing uncontrollably. One might think they were drunk if they didn’t know better (just like in Acts 2:4 & 13).

I’ve seen people get muscle contractions in their abdomen so strong it looks like–and sometimes sounds like–they are giving birth. I’ve seen both men and women experience this. I’ve seen the Presence of God fill a person so powerfully that they start jumping up and down like a pogo stick. And I’ve seen people just completely pass out in His Presence.

All of the above, except for the pogo stick jumping, I have personally experienced firsthand, so I know it is not fake. I’m sure a few people exaggerate or fake some things, but having experienced almost all of these, I know that these encounters are incredibly intimate, massively powerful, and often unexplainable.

Why do these strange things sometimes happen in the midst of God’s manifest Presence?

Well, picture an unattended fire hose on the ground which suddenly experiences high volumes of water passing through it. That hose is going to do some strange things when that much water, that much power, flows through it. Or, imagine a circuit or power cord normally meant for 110 volts suddenly has 220 volts passing through it. We should expect unusual physical phenomena when God’s manifest Presence comes near.

Unfortunately, our reaction is often the same as King David’s. FEAR. We don’t understand God’s power and we certainly can’t control it. As typical humans, anything we don’t completely understand that we also can’t control makes us afraid. And when God’s Presence does the unexpected or unusual, our fear causes us to step back. We push God’s Presence away. We don’t want to be a part of it. We don’t want to lose control like “those people.” We want sanitized, safe Christianity. We want measurable and controllable Christianity. We don’t want God’s Presence if it shows up in a way we can’t predict or subdue.

However, King David paid a price for this reaction and so will we. David left the ark of God (and therefore the manifest Presence of God) at the house of Obed-Edom. And simply because Obed-Edom was willing to steward the ark (and the Presence of God) in a way that was both reverent and without fear, Obed-Edom and his whole household were blessed.

The churches that are willing to invite God’s manifest Presence, treat it with awe and reverence, and not succumb to fear when God’s Presence starts affecting people in unusual ways will be the houses that God will bless. God’s manifest Presence always brings blessing where it is welcomed and stewarded well.

But here are some decisions we have to make ahead of time, before God’s Presence shows up in power:

  1. We have to decide ahead of time that we won’t be afraid if God does something unusual.
  2. We have to decide ahead of time to let the Spirit move without trying to control Him.
  3. We have to decide ahead of time that God’s manifest Presence can sometimes get messy.
  4. We have to decide ahead of time not to take His Presence for granted, as if God owes us something, and instead treat it with awe and reverence.
  5. We have to decide ahead of time to be as welcoming, inviting, and hospitable to the Presence of God as we try to be to guests who visit our church.
  6. We have to decide ahead of time not to quench the Spirit if God starts moving powerfully in us or in the person next to us. In other words, if things start getting weird, we have to resist the urge to extinguish it and instead hold a “Yes” in our hearts.