Dear Pastor, once we feel the tangible presence of God, why is it still so easy to walk away?
A: Anything can be taken for granted, my friend, even the presence of God.
Countless husbands and wives, tearfully devoted at the wedding vows, find themselves in sordid affairs twenty years later. Children reared on the leisure of a family trust run through the money and suddenly awaken, alone and penniless in their forties. Olympian athletes devolve into anti-American politicians with raging tempers, immoral lives and shame. Lottery winners of millions are destitute inside of four years. What happened in these tragic scenarios? People failed to acknowledge their gift from God was a priceless treasure to be stewarded. They didn’t know what they had until it was already gone. They got comfortable, entitled and lost sight of the truth. They took the Lord’s blessing for granted and forgot how special it was.
I’m sure your question intrigues folks who wonder what God’s tangible presence feels like: Thankfully, opportunities to engage the Holy Spirit are as vibrant as ever inside our personal journey. He lavishes himself on anyone who wants to know him; asking him for an encounter is a great start. What happens when the presence of God comes? His tangible presence often heals pain and disease, makes the impossible look logical and it changes the atmosphere of any environment. It dissolves loneliness, depression and rejection—the three ingredients to a broken, human spirit. The Holy Spirit (the Comforter; the Presence) solves problems, invents solutions and makes a way through any difficulty. Our old friend Isaiah the prophet knew the value of encountering God and he pleads, “Turn to the LORD! He can still be found. Call out to God! He is near.” (Isaiah 55:6, CEV)
God’s tangible presence accompanies authentic worship, most of all. However, just like the relationships we have with friends, family or co-workers, the depth in which we experience God will depend on the level we invest. If we want to hear from him, we must read what he wrote (the Bible) and train our mind toward his voice. If we want to feel his touch, we must practice providing God with a sacred space to visit us, using our time and devotion as bait. I compare a touch from the Holy Spirit to a butterfly who has alighted on my arm; some say it is like a dove on the shoulder. It is tender, precious and easy to miss if we are not looking for it.
Fortunately, God is always a bigger giver of his time, attention and touch, than we are. According to the Apostle John, he is continually in hot pursuit: “So you see, our love for him comes as a result of his loving us first.” (1 John 4:19, TLB.) When we seek the Lord in kind, we simply draw him closer, faster and with tangible results. His presence comes to us on his terms alone, but it is often secured through our relentless search of him.
In spite of the wonders of God’s supernatural visits, human beings still have the choice to walk away from him, and they often do. The problem is systemic: Our ancestors, Adam and Eve, enjoyed the physical presence of God every day and still chose a life away from him. We’re flawed people who were given free-will and we don’t often use it correctly. Yet this fact makes our connection to God all the more special when we persevere to stay engaged. We’re saying, “I value you, God. I’m still devoted to you,” every time we focus on him. And he comes to reward us with a big hug.