Do we long for God’s presence? King David wrote in Psalm 27 about the “one thing” he wanted in life. That was “to gaze on the beauty of the LORD …” Later in the same Psalm he wrote, “You have said, ‘Seek my face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, LORD, do I seek.’”
So what is it to “seek” God? And how will it shape our lives? Is it a devotion to learning: to be trained in theology? Is it experiential: a quest to “feel” God’s presence in spiritual exercises or prayers? Is it a sense of transcendence from singing worship songs at church? Or is it something we achieve by diving into church ministries?
All these may have a place but let’s pause and ask a prior question. What makes us hungry for God? And why are some more hungry than others? So that if and when we have a way to seek God we take it?
In David’s case his desire for God was certainly part of what made him “a man after [God’s] own heart.” And it concurs with Blaise Pascal’s axiom that every soul has “an infinite abyss” that can only be filled “by God himself” (Pensées, 75). As a boy David had been assigned the family shepherding role—and it’s unlikely others wanted it! Yet the long nights certainly gave him time to reflect on God—as we read in Psalm 8—and to cry out to God when marauding bears or lions came by to snack on the flock.
Not long before David’s time Samuel also had the startling experience of God stirring him. In two nighttime moments he heard God’s voice before Eli told him the third time to respond with, “Speak, LORD, for your servant hears.” This isn’t an experience we’re told to expect from God—we aren’t promised midnight calls—but it does fit the spiritual “Seek my face” experiences David referred to in Psalm 27.
Here’s a premise for us to explore. That God really does want “all” to “reach repentance” as is promised in 2 Peter 3:9. But repentance is still a gift from God. We’re able to dismiss it, as in Acts 11:18 & 13:48. So it’s ultimately God’s overriding work to awaken some, but not all (Acts 13:48). That means it’s our fault if we reject his self-giving offers. Just as Paul had, for a time, been ready to “kick against” the Spirit’s prodding to catch his attention (Acts 26:14).
So let’s just assume that God, as revealed in the Son, is more attractive and captivating than we could ever imagine. That he is still the wonderful God who David regularly celebrated in the Psalms. And that God isn’t at all reluctant to share his presence with us.
The problem is actually on our side. That we still have a “veil” of unbelief, spiritual distractions, heart-entanglements, roots of bitterness, or whatever else can get in the way of faith. And the Spirit is, in the meantime, gently whispering, “Check out the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4).
Too many Christians are busy blaming God for withholding himself from us. Even when we have an open invitation to “turn to the Lord” who “is the Spirit” and who promises to transform us as we, “with unveiled face, [are] beholding the glory of the Lord” so that we’re transformed—heart-wise—like Moses was transformed face-wise up on Sinai. Read 2 Corinthians 3 & 4 as a reminder.
And remember that Moses wasn’t self-conscious about his changed face. Others were. In other words he wasn’t seeking God’s presence as an end in itself, but as he needed God’s presence to make life work—which for Moses was all about leading a nation out of captivity—he was pressed into God’s presence by his circumstances. And so was David, out with his sheep.
So there’s a Bible model for us to follow, based on Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians: get busy meeting the needs of others around you. Cry out to God for help. Gaze at Jesus as revealed in the Bible while acknowledging, “Apart from you I can’t do anything!” And, voila: you have a great formula for practicing the presence of God.