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.

Following the Presence

“When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before…”

Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.”

Joshua 3:3-5

The people of God were directed to follow the ark into the Promised Land. The only way to enter into the promises that God has over our life is to follow His Presence. The ark represented the Presence of God. We follow His lead by watching to see where His Presence is and moving in that direction. We have to do this because we’ve never been where God is taking us. We’ve “never been this way before.”

If God seems to be moving in one area of our life, we go with it. We follow it. We pursue it. While they had the ark, we have the Holy Spirit. We have to grow in our ability to sense the movement of the Spirit. When He moves, we move. When He stops and stays, we stop and stay. This is what Paul was trying to describe when he told the Galatians, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit“(Galatians 5:25).

Consecrating our lives to the Lord is a big part of seeing God move in powerful ways. If we want to see God do amazing things among us, we must live lives of surrender, obedience, and holiness. The fire of God is a purifying fire.

I was talking to my oldest son the other day about the difference between following the law and following the Spirit. He asked me if there was a movie rating beyond “R.” I explained that there was NC-17 and pornography, both of which show things that no one should be watching.

He asked me if mommy and I watch rated R movies. I told him that sometimes we do but that, generally, we don’t. I told him that just because we are old enough to watch them doesn’t mean that we should watch them. We are allowed (the law) to watch but that doesn’t mean it would be spiritually or emotionally healthy to do so (the Spirit).

I went on to explain that sometimes following the Spirit means breaking the law (as Jesus did when He broke sabbath law to heal on the sabbath). And sometimes following the Spirit means not doing things that the law allows us to do (like watching movies that feed our mind harmful things).

I explained to my oldest son that sometimes mommy and I have started watching a show on Netflix only to realize that it was too violent or had too much graphic sexual content. So we stopped watching it. It’s not that we weren’t “allowed” to watch it but that it wasn’t feeding our mind and soul things that were helpful, holy, and healthy. Then I paraphrased Paul’s words to the Philippians:

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”

Philippians 4:8

Following the Spirit is about both consecration and direction. We follow the Spirit as He directs us into places in life we’ve never been before. We also follow the Spirit as He consecrates us and makes us holy. Both ways of following the Spirit are exercises in the submission of our will to His. The Christian life is more than a life of following religious principles. It is a life of following a Person.