Desperate for His Presence
By Rhonda Hughey
"As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?"
Psalm 42:1-2 NIV
"AMEN" the pastor declares as the morning worship service concludes, and the worship leader finishes playing the final song. It was a very nice service, filled with a variety of interesting activities; a special drama presentation, an update on a missionary family serving overseas, the children's special song, and the upcoming fundraiser for the new youth center.
You watch people chat while making their way to the door. Then you notice a woman who doesn't seem in any hurry to leave, isn't that the young mother who was recently divorced? Then you look at the people leaving a little more closely: the teenager with a blank, empty look on his face, the well dressed man who is bravely facing a recent diagnosis of inoperable cancer, an elderly woman with a kind but sad eyes. You wonder about deeper issues that are invisible, the addictions, emotional bondages, fear of the future, loneliness, families being torn by conflict. But you couldn't see that of course when people carried those burdens into the service, and then quietly carried them back out. Something tugs on your heart.
"What's wrong?" you think to yourself, "this was a normal service, nothing unusual, the worship was uplifting, the sermon was encouraging". And there was the prayer time when you felt a moment of peace. You hope that somehow the peace will last a bit further into this week, at least past your Monday morning meeting. Reality begins to seep into your mind and your thoughts race ahead to the coming week…
You take one more look at the people leaving the sanctuary, but something is wrong, you can't quite put your finger on it. You feel a longing in your heart for something more. You wonder if there is something missing, or maybe Someone…
The Silent Cry for 'One Thing'
A widespread cry is growing in the hearts of believers for a real, tangible encounter with God. They want, like Moses, to see Him face to face. They don't want only to read about Him, talk about Him, and pay homage to Him on Sunday mornings. This strong undercurrent in our nation manifests as a holy dissatisfaction with the status quo of the institutional church. Many people who have attended church faithfully for years are now wandering around disconnected from any connectedness to the Body of Christ. Researcher George Barna estimates that more than ten million born-again believers in the United States are now considered "unchurched". People have become disillusioned and jaded, many are unwilling to return to the local church in its current condition.
What are people longing for? I believe it's the presence of God in the midst of His people, the manifestation of His nearness, and an awareness of His love that is both real and relevant. We desperately need the tangible presence of Jesus both in the church and in our communities!
How do we gauge whether or not His presence is among us? Do we just assume He is present? This is a fair question. How do we know? Can we know? Should we even ask the question? I'm not referring to the omnipresence of God but to His manifest presence. Do we believe Jesus is present because we wish Him to be there? Or is there discernible evidence when He is present and when He is absent?
God is looking for people with a heart like David, who declared: "One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple" (Ps. 27:4, italics added NKJ).
People who are desperate for God's presence move beyond convenience and personal comfort. They have gotten hold of something in their spirit, and they cannot let go. Jesus is not a religious concept - He is reality. If God intended for Jesus to be simply a religious concept, He wouldn't have found it necessary to send Him to the earth in human flesh. The very fact that Jesus came to live among people is a clear example of His desire to be with us in a way that we can both understand and pursue.
An initial hunger and thirst comes with the gift of salvation, but after the spiritual honeymoon is over we must intentionally cultivate our spiritual passion. Recognizing that we may have grown cold in our love toward Him, our first prayer must be to ask Him to increase our spiritual appetite. Jesus warns us that in the last days the love of many would grow cold. We must commit to our pursuit of His presence and accept His invitation for real relationship and intimacy.
Jesus issues an invitation in Revelation chapter 3. Writing to the church of Laodicea, he challenges their lukewarmness by saying, "You say 'I am rich; I have become wealthy, and have need of nothing' - and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked." (Rev 3:17).
His counsel to the compromised church is: "buy from Me gold refined in the fire that you may be rich; white clothes that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see". (Rev. 3:18).
How do we buy this gold from Jesus? What type of currency allows us to buy pure gold in exchange for our "wretched" condition? The answer is hunger. Desperate hunger is the currency of heaven. Hunger is what causes us to empty ourselves of compromise and creates holy dissatisfaction that drives us to our knees and makes us depend on God.
We cannot be hungry for God if we are being satisfied with other things. Because the church constantly "nibbles" on "junk food" from the world, we have lost our appetite for God! We never feel the pain of hunger for Him; we are starving for lack of His presence without even knowing it. In order to make room for Him in our lives, we must empty our hearts and lay down our own agendas. Before we can be filled we must be empty!
The best way to get "empty" is to cultivate a life of spiritual hunger and remove all traces of self-satisfaction. The greater the capacity on the inside of us, the more desperate our hunger will be for God. We have settled for so much less than He wants to give us of Himself!
Our relationship with Him cannot simply be added to our life like an appendage. He is not a lucky charm we carry in our pocket to protect us from bad things or bring us good fortune. He is God! He doesn't fit into our little boxes and our self-centered agendas. God wants to fill us to overflowing with who He is - to conform us to the image of His Son-and then pour us out into the lives of the people in our communities. In all too many churches today we are confronted with the reality of Isaiah 64:7: "there is no one who calls on Your name, who stirs himself up to take hold of You."
The lack of desperate longing for God has brought us to our present condition. The stale quality of our religious lives is a result of our lack of holy desire. Jesus waits to be seriously wanted and invited, in response we must trade our complacency for abandonment. He promises that those who hunger and thirst after righteousness shall be filled. Let us ask the Lord to "salt our hearts" and cause a fresh hunger and thirst to overtake us. He will give us as much of Himself as we ask for!
Running to the Altars
I witnessed a powerful example of desperate spiritual hunger during an international revival conference in Argentina. That evening, as evangelist Carlos Annacondia preached to eight thousand people in a stadium, the air was filled with anticipation! God had already done so many marvelous things during the conference. Leaders who had traveled from more than forty nations waited to be touched by the power and goodness of God.
The floor of the stadium could hold only five thousand standing people, so we knew it would be interesting to see what would happen when Annacondia invited them forward to pray. Sure enough, as the evangelist closed his message, people quietly began to creep to the stadium floor and sneaked along the wall toward the platform. It was fun to watch. Soon the "sneakers" grew in number. Undaunted by the polite request to keep the stadium floor clear, they had done the calculations and knew that all eight thousand people couldn't fit on the floor. As a result they made a decision. Because of their desperate hunger for God, they decided that no matter what it took, they would get to that altar and receive prayer!
Then it happened: when Carols Annacondia issued the invitation for the altar call, the crowd surged toward the altar. Within seconds five thousand hungry people pressed in tightly on the stadium floor, hands raised, crying out to God. I heard a testimony from a pastor later who said when the power of God fell on the crowd, it felt like a lightning bolt had struck his head. He remembered thinking, "This is going to kill me!"
At the same time another interesting situation was unfolding up in the bleachers. I had to walk up and out of the stadium during the altar time, and as I did so a small group of leaders from the United States grabbed my arm and stopped me. "We have traveled thousands of miles and spent a lot of money to come to this conference to have Carlos Anacondia pray for us," they shouted. "Now look! The floor is already filled, and there is no way we can get to him!"
They were important leaders, and I knew I should be helpful as their host. But as I looked down at the floor packed with hungry people getting touched by God, the only thing I could think of was: "Well, you need to learn to run to the altar." As many other people ran forward in desperate hunger for God, these guys were all still sitting comfortably in their chairs! We had no way of keeping the "sneakers" from getting there first, nor were we interested in policing spiritually hungry people to make room for those who felt "entitled" to be there.
The realization struck me that some people expect special treatment. They want the presence of God brought to them. They want it to be easy. I started noticing this same attitude in cities where I traveled and ministered. We in the Western World aren't so willing to run to the altar. We expect God's glory to come to us on our terms and in our timing. God is not our butler! But sometimes we treat Him like one. When He hasn't served up revival in our timing and on our terms, we conclude that it is not going to come. Subsequently, we go about our business and then compensate for the lack of God's manifest presence with distracting activities or entertaining events.
What Are We Hungry For?
The issue is a lack of hunger - desperate, aching, unspeakable hunger for His presence! How hungry are we? We say we are hungry for God, but are we really? What are we hungry for? What are we filling ourselves with? If we are already full of the lesser pleasures of this world, how can we really have an appetite for God?
We must abandon ourselves to the pursuit of God until the nature of Jesus is formed within us and His life flows out of us like a river. We must become desperate in our search for God!
The pursuit of God's presence is costly! It requires sacrifice, diligence, and time! And this requires us to make choices about how we live our lives. Perhaps the amount of God's presence we experience is related directly to the sacrifice we pour out. Jesus wants to be "found" by us! God is trying to get our attention, to reveal Himself to us, to communicate with us. As we intentionally pursue His presence in our lives, our hearts become tenderized by His love and our capacity to know Him increases. Intimate fellowship with God makes our hearts receptive to further revelation of His nature. We have within us the ability to know Him if we will but respond to His invitation.
Jesus promises in John 7:37-38, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water." Anyone! If you are thirsty you qualify! It is the rightful inheritance of every believer to have a heart overflowing with the Living Water of the Holy Spirit. This is a promise Jesus sets forth in His Word.
Our thirst for God can be quenched by lesser things, and we must be intentional to guard that thirst according to the warning in Proverbs 4:23: "Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life". The scripture makes it clear that this river flows out of the believer, that means that what God pours into you is intended to flow out from you. There is a big difference between a river and a lake! God intends there to be an ongoing reality in our lives of thirst for God, being poured out and then as a result becoming thirsty again!
People who are desperately hungry will do almost anything to satisfy that hunger. Those who are willing to move out of their normal routine and circumstances to seek to encounter the presence of God will not be disappointed.
We must become hungry and thirsty for more of Jesus in our midst. We must cry out in desperation for God's presence to be restored in our lives, our churches and ultimately in our cities. We must treasures the manifest presence of God, because as Jesus said in John 15:5 "Without Me you can do nothing".
From "Desperate for His Presence" By Rhonda Hughey: