To be a member of God’s true church, you must be known by the name of Jehovah Shammah—“The Lord is there” (Ezekiel 48:35). Others must be able to say of you, “It’s clear to me the Lord is with this person. Every time I see him, I sense the presence of Jesus. His life truly reflects the glory of God.”
If we’re honest, we have to admit we don’t sense the Lord’s sweet presence in each other very often. Why? Christians spend their time involved in good religious activities—prayer groups, Bible studies, outreach ministries—and that’s all very commendable. But many of these same Christians spend little if any time at all ministering to the Lord, in the secret closet of prayer.
The Lord’s presence simply can’t be faked. This is true whether it applies to an individual’s life or to a church body. When I speak of God’s presence, I’m not talking about some kind of spiritual aura that mystically surrounds a person or that comes down in a church service. Rather, I am talking about the result of a simple but powerful walk of faith. Whether that’s manifested in a Christian’s life or in an entire congregation, it causes people to take note. They tell themselves, “This person has been with Jesus,” or “This congregation truly believes what they preach.”
It takes much more than a righteous pastor to produce a Jehovah Shammah church. It takes a righteous, shut-in people of God. If a stranger comes out of a church service and says, “I felt the presence of Jesus there,” you can be sure it wasn’t just because of the preaching or worship. It was because a righteous congregation had entered God’s house, and the Lord’s glory was abiding in their midst.
In the midst of their trial God told Israel to do three things: “Fear not. Stand still. See the salvation of the Lord.” His call to Israel was, “I am going to fight for you. You’re simply to hold your peace. Just be quiet, and put everything in my hands. Right now, I’m doing a work in the supernatural realm. Everything is under my control. So, don’t panic. Trust that I’m fighting the devil. This battle is not yours” (see Exodus 14:13 and 14).
Soon dusk fell over the camp. This was the beginning of Israel’s dark and stormy night. But it was also the beginning of God’s supernatural work. He sent an awesome, protective angel to stand between his people and their enemy.
Dear saint, if you’re a blood-bought child of God, he has put a warrior angel between you and the devil. And he commands you, just as he told Israel, “Do not fear. Stand still. Believe in my salvation.” Satan may come against you breathing every evil threat. But at no time during your dark, stormy night is the enemy ever able to destroy you.
“Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night” (Exodus 14:21).
What a storm it must have been. And what a fearful time it had to be for Israel. I ask you, what was God up to here? Why would he allow such a terrible windstorm to go on all night? Why didn’t he just tell Moses to touch the water with his mantle, and part the waves supernaturally? What possible reason did God have for permitting this awful night to take place?
There was but one reason: The Lord was making worshippers. God was at work the whole time, using the terrible storm to make a path for his people out of the crisis. Yet the Israelites couldn’t see it at the time. Many were hiding in their tents. But those who came outside witnessed a glorious light show. They also beheld the glorious sight of waves mounting up, mighty walls of water rising to form a dry path through the sea. When the people saw this, they must have shouted, “Look, God has used the wind to make a way for us. Praise the Lord!”
John 6 contains one of the hardest passages for me in all of Scripture because it speaks of followers who end up rejecting Christ and turning away. It is a scene in which people literally left Jesus in droves (see John 6:66).
Jesus had just miraculously fed a crowd of thousands. The people were amazed and thrilled by what he had done, ready to follow this wonder-working Messiah. But when he challenged them about what they were really after, they scoffed and left by the masses.
Underlying this passage is a question for anyone who would follow Christ: “Who is in charge of your life, you or Jesus?” Do we allow God to have total direction of our lives? Or do we try to determine for ourselves what God wants of us?
Every Christian faces this question early in his or her walk with the Lord. From the outset, a battle takes place in us, a clash of two warring cultures. First, there is the outer culture of the world, which constantly urges, “How can you benefit from this?” Then there is the culture of God’s kingdom, which asks, “How can you serve the Lord and your neighbor?”
Jesus had already preached that the kingdom of God was at work in the world: “The kingdom of God is near” (Mark 1:15, NLT). In other words: “The kingdom of God is present among you.” Most of Christ’s listeners that day had the world’s mindset. They were driven mainly by what they could gain for themselves. When Jesus came along offering blessings, they flocked to him, saying, “Sure, if you’re going to provide me with everything, I’ll follow you. If you’ll heal my sick family members and answer my prayers, yes, absolutely, I’ll be your disciple.”
But what happens to our faith commitment if these things don’t come to pass for us? How committed to Jesus are we when we realize he’s not just our “assistant” in life? The same people in this scene who were quick to follow Christ were just as quick to reject him. Disappointed, they left, giving up on him.
Jesus knew this would happen. That’s why on the heels of performing a great miracle for those multitudes, he confronted them: “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs” (John 6:26, NLT). Is the same true of us today? Do we follow Jesus mainly because of his blessings or because he is Lord?
When we look at the Christian landscape today, we see many churches that are doing great things for God — people are finding Christ and being baptized, prayer meetings are bringing down God’s blessings, and a spirit of love is pervading the atmosphere. The Spirit of Christ is in those churches, and excitement is in the air.
But we also can see some churches that probably give Jesus Christ a bad name. They’re lukewarm and dishonor the Lord because of their actions and attitudes. The inevitable signs that God’s Spirit is in control are absent; in fact, a deadly spiritual chill fills the air.
The apostle Paul told the church at Ephesus: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). If all Christians were already filled with the Spirit at all times, why would there be this strong command from Paul? In just a few verses before this Paul said, “Be very careful, then, how you live — not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is” (5:15-17). It seems that Paul was saying we need to keep on being controlled by the Spirit if we want to live wisely, to understand the Lord’s will for our lives, and to make the most of every opportunity. If we’re not Spirit controlled, we will miss out on being what God wants us to be.
So here’s the question: If the Bible makes it clear that being controlled by the Spirit is so vital, what prevents so many of us from fully surrendering ourselves to the Holy Spirit? Some of us are afraid of opening up to the Holy Spirit because we prefer to stay in control. That’s understandable. We’re concerned about self-preservation, so giving up control can be scary.
The irony of Spirit-filled living is that we have to give up power in order to gain a greater power. How many times in your Christian walk have you come to a place where you struggled to do something, so you just tried harder? But Christianity is not a self-effort religion but rather one of power — the ability and might of the Spirit.
“For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13).
Jim Cymbala began the Brooklyn Tabernacle with less than twenty members in a small, rundown building in a difficult part of the city. A native of Brooklyn, he is a longtime friend of both David and Gary Wilkerson.
One of the greatest burdens I have as a shepherd of the Lord is, “Oh, God, how do I bring hope and comfort to believers who are enduring such great pain and suffering? Give me a message that will cancel their doubt and fear. Give me truth that will dry up the tears of the grieving and put a song on the lips of the hopeless.”
The message I hear from the Holy Spirit for God’s people is very simple: “Go to my Word, and stand on my promises. Reject your doubtful feelings.” All hope is born out of God’s promises.
I received a letter once that contained a beautiful living illustration of this. It’s from a mother who writes, “My daughter is sixteen years old. She has a physical degeneration of her muscles, ligaments and joints, and is in extreme pain twenty-four hours a day. I lost my son to suicide in 1997 due to the same pain. He was twenty-two when, after nine years of suffering, he took his life. He couldn’t handle the pain.
“My daughter was a ballerina and was looking forward to going to Julliard School in New York City. But her dreams were shattered when she was stricken with the same disease that tormented her brother. The doctor said that her pain on a scale of 1 to 10 is at 14. The amount of painkiller needed to be effective for her would destroy her kidneys, so she can’t take the medicine.
“She loves the Lord, and is a joy to be around. She is a wonderful poet whose writings have appeared in over 15 publications, and she is listed in the ‘International Who’s Who in Poetry.’”
In the face of everything, amid a relentless shaking of body and soul, this mother and her daughter have put their hope in God’s Word to them. And he has given them peace.
Has the enemy tried to tell you that God has bypassed you? Have you been tempted to conclude that the Lord isn’t with you? Have you almost given up your faith? Put your hope in the Lord’s Word to you:
“I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Hebrews 13:5).
“The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. And those who know Your name will put their trust in You; for You, Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You” (Psalm 9:9-10).