An overwhelming experience in God’s presence is coming—and that is going to produce some issues in the church.
I often say that a 2 Chronicles 7 church is coming—and it is going to be shocking when it does.
As soon as Solomon finished his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. And the priests could not enter the house of the LORD, because the glory of the LORD filled the LORD’s house. When all the people of Israel saw the fire come down and the glory of the LORD on the temple, they bowed down with their faces to the ground on the pavement and worshiped and gave thanks to the LORD, saying, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” 2 Chronicles 7:1-3
Now, that’s a good church service!
I am definitely wired to appreciate and crave encounters with Jesus that leave people wrecked and rocked. I’ve experienced visible glory clouds, manifestations of gold dust and oil and indescribable encounters that left me absolutely floored in the glory of God’s presence. I believe one second in God’s presence is enough to convince the most resistant skeptic and it’s enough to free people from years of demonic assault.
However his presence may not feel like what we think it might.
“I just want to feel Jesus.”
I was compelled strongly by the Holy Spirit in a recent season at Revival Church to call everybody back to the raw, elementary truths of Christianity. I shifted from teaching mostly on experience and encounter to the tenets of our faith for several weeks when I started to become troubled with the lack of maturity in the camp.
In fact, I was deeply grieved when I discovered one young lady who had connected with us and absolutely loved to worship and pray was actually steeped in extremely demonic New Age teachings. That was a wake-up call for me. How was it that we had a culture of experiencing God’s presence and someone could blend in who was so radically deceived? I knew I had to shock our culture with a fresh understanding of what God’s presence truly is—and it starts with his Word.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1
My experience there was priceless—I had to gain an understanding of the risk that will accompany the coming moves of God that will result in unprecedented manifestations of his presence. Many fiery Christians will shrink back when God’s true presence manifests.
When we shifted, I began preaching and teaching on the hard topics of salvation, Hell, repentance, the cross and the blood of Jesus. I have to admit I was stunned at the fierce resistance that came as I was communicating the elementary tenets of the Christian faith. I believe it’s possible to experience God’s presence and be so undisciplined and focused on personal experience that one isn’t even saved. This is the main reason this topic has to be addressed. Is it possible some of the most fervent worshipers and wildest dancers weren’t saved? I don’t know. I tremble at the thought of it.
In this critical season, instead of a careless, party atmosphere that had become common at Revival Church, the bar was raised as I called everybody into intentional steps of maturity, repentance and brokenness before the Lord.
What followed broke my heart—and confirmed my suspicions.
With the happy, dancing, party dialed down as we invited God to reveal himself to us in a deeper way, I saw sad faces and disengaged people.
Someone said, “I just want to feel Jesus again.”
What they didn’t realize is that Jesus was actually moving in greater power than he had previously, even though those prior encounters were something to behold. God was calling us deeper, beyond the entertainment and warm fuzzy feelings that are very much Holy Spirit initiated, but limited greatly. There was more—and for those who are addicted to happy feelings, more with God can feel like less.
“I want you to give me your life.”
I understand the struggle with feeling God’s presence removed.
In the early 1990’s God had absolutely overwhelmed my life day after day. I wish I could communicate how remarkable that season of my life was. God was overwhelming me with his presence and I became a different person literally overnight.
After work every day I’d go to the church, by myself, and pray for hours. That’s all I craved to do! God met me there continually, and I was rocked over and over again. My entire life revolved around the prayer room and enjoying God. Nothing compared.
One night my life changed forever. In the midst of my amazing daily encounters with Jesus, I found myself in a prayer room at a youth lock-in in Dayton, Ohio. While 300 students were playing volleyball and basketball I was alone in a dark, glorious room overlooking the skyline of the city. God was waiting for me when I waked in.
I paced around praying and worshiping as the presence of God swirled all around me. I never wanted to leave.
Suddenly, as I was enjoying God, walking back and forth in his manifest presence, I heard a voice, “John, I want you to give me permission to take your life tonight.”
I was irritated. My focus on loving Jesus was interrupted by someone with what felt like a terribly different agenda. Little did I know, it was an agenda to grow me up and gauge my devotion.
I shook off that distracting voice, and attempted to enter back into the glory realm. I prayed and worshiped, but the presence of God was completely gone—or so I thought.
Again I heard, “John, I want you to give me permission to take your life tonight.”
Though I clearly understood I was being asked to give my life for Jesus, my emotions were negative. I was distraught, irritated, lonely and even afraid. My enjoyment was gone. However, what I didn’t realize was this—my feelings were not sufficient to analyze the situation. God’s presence had actually increased exponentially in that room of destiny, not dissipated. The fearful judge had arrived and he meant business.
You see, the contrast in experiences was so stark that I actually wondered if the voice was coming from Satan! My lack of maturity in spiritual discernment and biblical truth resulted in a misdiagnosis! This is the risk of the presence movement!
I ended up rebuking the voice that was speaking to me! I was rebuking God as if he were Satan! The lesson is clear—our analysis of the situation must include sources much more comprehensive than feelings alone.
After all, would Satan ask me to lay my life down for Jesus? My feelings should have been shelved in that critical moment in lieu of applying the Word of God.
Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? Matthew 12:22-26
Though I tried to enter back into worship again, it was futile. I heard the voice one more time, “John, I want you to give me permission to take your life tonight.”
I didn’t realize it that night, but the reason I couldn’t enter back into worship is two-fold:
- I wanted to worship a God of my own design. I wanted to enjoy God conditionally. I cringed when he decided to reveal another part of his self to me, and since it wasn’t what I expected, I rejected him, at least temporarily as I was wrestling that night. God demanded that I worship him as he is, not as I presumed.
- I was resistant to embrace the costly, troubling part of Christianity—potential martyrdom. I was all in when the glory was on me, but I was quick to hesitate when something negative was required of me—my death.
Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Matthew 10:39
Finally, in a state of lonely desperation, I realized I couldn’t live my life without the fire of Jesus burning within me. I needed him. I wanted him, even if it meant the loss of my physical life.
Understand, I was convinced that I was going to physically die that night. It was very real to me.
I told God, “I can’t live without you. If my death will result in the advance of your Kingdom, I give you permission to take my life tonight.”
The moment I said that, his manifest glory flooded the room about one hundred times greater than I had experienced it before. I had experienced the glory and the severity of God, and I was forever changed.
When the person said, “I just want to feel Jesus,” they didn’t understand what they were asking for. In my experience I felt Jesus in a variety of ways. My problem was that I presumed happy feelings equaled Jesus and difficult feelings equaled Satan. Boy was I wrong. Happy feelings can be Satan and difficult feelings can be Jesus! We can’t discern emotionally, we must discern spiritually. Confirmation must come from the Word.
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105
Spiritual discernment bypasses feelings and our human senses and draws from the truth of Scripture.
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. 1 Corinthians 2:14-16
The Rhema and Logos of scripture must drive us. We can’t allow ourselves to check in and out based on what we are sensing. Our commitment is unconditional and it can’t waiver based on what we perceive. We always return to the Word.
We must lean on Jesus and his revealed will in the Word of God.
Who has measured the Spirit of the LORD, or what man shows him his counsel? Whom did he consult, and who made him understand? Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding? Isaiah 40:13-14
The point is that our counsel must come from the Counselor. Our discernment must come through the spiritual truths found in the Bible. As we yield to the Word, the Holy Spirit can awaken revelation to us as it is needed.
We must move beyond the subjective statements about what we feel God is saying or doing and truly understand his revealed truth.
It’s all too common to hear personal opinions about what someone feels God is saying or doing, and how they feel led to respond, while their discernment is simply off or incomplete.
As we mature we become less reliant on nebulous senses and more reliant on both God’s clear voice and what he reveals to us in scripture.
This issue of leaning on feelings can impact us negatively in many ways. It’s easy to feel like God doesn’t love us due to the lack of, well, feeling him, even though the Bible makes it clear that he does love us. It’s so sadly common to hear about people who struggle their whole lives with this issue. Does God even love them? It’s a black and white question with a black and white answer. Yes. Their feelings have led them astray and it affects their entire life!
The answer is to simply believe! That belief doesn’t come from an experience or a feeling. It comes from reading text on paper (the Bible) and believing it. We don’t have to feel it to believe it!
Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:29
I often tell God that I want to worship him with my belief.
Back to the discussion about my season of teaching on the tenets of the faith. They didn’t result in a euphoric sensory overload. It wasn’t a glory teaching. So, some withdrew when the feeling wasn’t happy even though the information was truth. It was important truth. It was time to go to school and to the altar with tears in our eyes, and not a time of dancing.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; Ecclesiastes 3:1-4
Blow the trumpet in Zion; consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Consecrate the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber. Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep and say, “Spare your people, O LORD, and make not your heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’” Joel 2:15-17
The risk of the coming presence movement is that people will reject anything that doesn’t feel like glory, even when it is God.
The cry of our heart must be for God’s true presence to be with us always, regardless of the form it takes.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Psalm 51:10-11
His presence will hit us with truth as our hearts are cleansed, as we are consecrated. His presence can be glorious and it can be fierce.
The mountains melt like wax before the LORD, before the Lord of all the earth. Psalm 97:5
Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob, Psalm 114:7
God will be raising up key prophetic and apostolic leaders who will be leading people into the presence of God and into the missions of God. There will be many focuses that don’t feel like God (note my experience of being asked to die above) that God’s leaders will call the people to. Will the people respond? What if they don’t sense the Holy Spirit on it? Feelings and senses are wildly subjective. I personally value counsel that’s directly from scripture much more than I do personal, subjective experiences or supposed discernment. That doesn’t mean I don’t at all value personal discernment, but that revelation almost always ends up on the shelf as I await confirmation.
Keep in mind, I radically affirm prophecy. I promote encounters and experiences. I believe in dreams and visions. I have an intercession team that evaluates prophetic data on an ongoing basis. But, the point remains—we see in part. And, we can often see wrongly. It takes humility to admit that.
Sometimes we are so in tune with our own historic personal encounters with the spirit realm that we can lose sight that we are human! I’ve had a lot of amazing encounters and I have a high level of sensitivity in the spiritual realm. I also know that I’m human and that I’ve been wrong in the past. I much prefer to submit prophetic data for evaluation and for confirmation in scripture. Just because something feels right doesn’t mean it is right. Feelings sit on the lowest shelf of the confirmation process. More revelation and confirmation is necessary to trust our feelings.
Apostolic leaders will call you to action very often in ways that are contrary to what you are sensing. Are you ready to respond regardless? Or will you declare that God isn’t in it and hold back?
Read the following point from my article “Five Reasons NOT to Leave a Church.” The reason I’m including it is to highlight how important it is to promote scripture over feelings:
When NOT to leave a church? When God tells you to. OK, I’m sure you are awake now! Have you ever played the God card? As a leader I’ve heard many times, usually through the grapevine, that, “God told so and so to move to another church.” Really? That’s odd. I was entrusted as their leader, which is a very serious position, and God just forgot to tell me about this? He left me out of the loop? Maybe Hebrews 13:17 isn’t what we think it is? The church I’m leading isn’t important enough for people to honor the mission?
I hope you are getting the point.
We are called to submit to authority—even ungodly authority like judges, elected officials and our bosses at work. Certainly it makes sense that God would include our godly authority in a decision making process as important as leaving one family and one mission for another.
The point is this—God wouldn’t just tell you to leave without your leader being involved in the process. In fact, can I just be blunt? It’s extremely disrespectful, presumptuous, rude and self-serving to abdicate your responsibility in your current church by leaving without honoring the authority in your life. Your pastor has every right to participate with you in your process.
1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 (ESV) 12 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.
Why was it important to include that portion of the article? To show how critical it is that we are biblical Christians. We can’t presume a feeling or a discernment exempts us from biblical protocol. I’ve felt on many occasions that a leader in my life wasn’t hearing God, and that I was, but in humility I had to surrender my opinion and follow my leader—and often I realize that my sense was in fact wrong or incomplete. We can’t gravitate toward what is easy, happy, glorious and enjoyable and away from what is troubling or negative by using the “God card.” God will often call us into his fearful presence, and we have to be unified with others who are being led in that direction.
Do you remember the Exodus? The Israelites were famous for analyzing their various situations based on their feelings. They felt alone and abandoned, so they crafted a new god made of gold. They presumed that the absence of God’s manifest presence meant something was off—yet, little did they realize one of the most astounding events in history was taking place up on the mountain! They then ended up dying in the desert when they presumed God was all about their comfort and happiness—and were indignant when he was asking them to put their lives on the line in a land of Giants—and a land of Promise.
I want to challenge you to get ready for a great outpouring of God’s presence. It will feel very different than you expect. It may be a glory cloud or it may be in the midst of a fiery furnace.
Ask yourself how you react to your feelings now. Do they drive you? Do you presume any negative feeling to be from the enemy? Do your feelings and emotions drive your decisions?
You need to wrestle with this now so you are ready to receive Jesus when he shows up. I am certain—he will manifest in ways we’ve never experienced before.
On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. The LORD came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. And the LORD called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. And the LORD said to Moses, “Go down and warn the people, lest they break through to the LORD to look and many of them perish. Also let the priests who come near to the LORD consecrate themselves, lest the LORD break out against them.” Exodus 19:16-22