What does experiencing the presence of the Holy Spirit feel like?
A friend once told me about a Christian singer he knew who rented a recording studio. After an extensive setup and sound check, she began performing her first song. The sound technician thought it sounded great, but about hallway through the first verse, she stopped abruptly, threw up her hands, and said, “It’s no use. Turn it off! He’s not here.”
The sound tech said through the studio mic, “Uh…Who’s not here?”
“Him,” she said, “the Holy Spirit. His presence—it’s missing.” She called a few friends into the studio, and they commenced to laying their hands on various pieces of equipment, praying for God’s presence and dabbing the equipment with oil.
After a few minutes, she began singing again. About thirty seconds in, she again said, “Stop! He’s not here. Let’s pray again.” Another fifteen-minute session of walking about the room: anointing, shouting, muttering incantations. Again she started…and again she stopped.
And again in came the prayer posse. By this time, the sound tech was getting annoyed. His equipment was getting greasy.
As she began recording for the fourth time, he noticed that the reverb on her monitor was turned off, so he reached down and turned it up, at which point she put her hands in the air and began to say, “Hallelujah, there he is! He is here!”
The sound tech simply didn’t have the heart to say to her, “Uh…no ma’am. That was the reverb.”
Many Christians equate the presence of God with a mysterious, tingly feeling you get when the music crescendos just right at a Christian concert or as the pastor goes on an alliterative roll at the climax of his sermon. For some, an encounter with the Spirit means getting a “peace that passes all understanding” in your heart that you made the right choice or goose bumps when a spectacular confluence of events convinces you “that just had to be God.”
What exactly is the presence of God? And how do you know when you are experiencing it? What does it sound like, or feel like, when he’s speaking to us? What’s the difference between general intuition and Spirit-prompted insight, between God orchestrating a set of events to communicate something to us and just a “lucky” happenstance? And how can we tell the difference between the Spirit’s stirring in our spirit and, say, indigestion?
These are exciting questions, deeply personal, and sometimes baffling. I do not pretend to know all there is to know about them, but I hope that through careful biblical examination and some really honest personal reflection, I might provide some handles to help you better grab hold of where the Spirit is moving in your life.
I plan to present six distinct ways that we experience the life of the Holy Spirit. We experience him (most importantly) in a) the beauty of the gospel, b) in and through the Word of God, c) in his endowment of specific spiritual gifts onto us, d) through the members of his body, the church, e) in our spirit by communion with him in prayer, and f) in his sovereign control over our circumstances.
One of the most surprising discoveries I had while writing this book was on that first point: the deeper you go in the gospel, the more alive you become in the Spirit. Paul, for example, equates intimate knowledge of the largeness of the love of God in Christ as an experience of “all the fullness of God” in Ephesians 3:14–18, We grow more full of the Spirit, Paul says in Galatians, in the same manner we first received him—by hearing and believing the gospel (Galatians 3:1–3).
This wasn’t new to Paul, either. On Mount Sinai, God put Moses in the cleft of a rock, covered him with his hand, and passed by in front of him. It’s hard to imagine being more in the presence of God on earth than that! But note how Moses describes the situation: “And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin” (Exod 34:6–7).
As God passed in front of Moses, he declared his name to him, describing his character and proclaiming his gracious acts of salvation. The sense of God’s presence and the belief in God’s great saving acts went together.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that this text pictures how God’s presence comes into our lives today. God’s Spirit “declares God’s name” in our hearts, hiding us within his cross, rehearsing his mercy toward us, and making his holiness, justice, love, and glory come alive in our hearts. It’s not new knowledge about God that we gain, per se. It’s often old knowledge becoming more real. Moses already knew God’s name. But in that moment, he felt it. His face glowed for days as a result.
The gospel is an invitation to relationship. To delve into the doctrines of the gospel is to commune with the God making them alive by his Spirit. To fail to interact with the Spirit of God in the doctrines is to miss their real purpose.
Over the years, I’ve used this prayer by A.W. Tozer from The Pursuit of God to express my desire to know more of God in the gospel. I invite you to pray it, too, as a plea for more of his presence in the Holy Spirit:
“O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need of further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still.”
“Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, so that I may know Thee indeed. Begin in mercy a new work of love within me. Say to my soul, ‘Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.’ Then give me grace to rise and follow Thee up from this misty lowland where I have wandered so long.”
This is an excerpt from Jesus, Continued…: Why the Spirit Inside You Is Better Than Jesus Beside You. Order your copy here today!