Feelings and the Presence
by Fred Pruitt
(Published originally as “Feeling the Presence” on June 7, 2013. This is my third re-writing of this same piece. I think this one might be getting the blue ribbon!)
A while back John Bunting and I were on one of our trips. After an evening session when everyone was standing around talking, I was chatting with the hosts who had sponsored our visit. One of them said, “I just don’t feel the presence of the Lord anymore like I used to.”
Without thinking, the first thing that popped out of my mouth was, “I don’t ‘feel’ the presence of the Lord, I AM the presence of the Lord.” I could see the light go on in his mind when I said that. For a moment, he “got it,” and he exclaimed something like, “I had not seen that before, but that’s true!” I could almost see the “thought” grow into a new understanding right before my eyes. My friend’s eyes lit up and his countenance changed.
As things do, that little one-liner that popped out became a point for me to ponder. I began to consider the personal aspect of my life in Christ, especially this idea of “feeling” God.
First I had to start where I am now, in the current moment. What I realized was that I have had no separate palpable sense* of the presence of God, the Spirit, etc., for years now, and have not missed it. (This might shock some, but please read on!) The reason that is noteworthy is because for years from the beginning of my spiritual life, some sense of “feeling” God had always been my goal. In fact, for the most part, I realized I had forgotten about it, and did not even think in those terms anymore, though I do not remember when or how this “change” took place in me. I just find myself – here!
In the “now,” I have been living out of the inner rest of a fixed and established faith that settled in years ago. It came by nothing I did. I could almost liken it to Elijah’s experience in the cave:
11 And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: 12 And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.” (1 Kings 19:11,12).
I think I remember Norman Grubb saying something like this, in regard to “hearing” the Spirit in the scriptures. He said something like, “When I have become quiet enough, I can receive the pure Word in the Spirit.” I don’t have that quite right, quote-wise, but I know that “meaning-wise” I do have it right. That’s the meaning of what happened to Elijah. All that uproar, all that visible upset and energy demonstrated and spent in the strong winds of a storm, the breaking up of the earth in an earthquake, and the raging of a mighty fire, were not really Him, but only put forth as a contrast, to fully draw attention to the “still, small voice.”
(It is always that way. The flesh wants something flashy! So pastors parachute out of airplanes to stimulate church growth! I’ll tell you what would REALLY stimulate church growth – have him jump out WITHOUT a parachute, AND land safely! [That’s the hard part!])
Learning that “still small voice” doesn’t come from practice or spiritual exercises. For me, and I suspect also for everyone else, it came as my Father’s Gift. It was given not attained, and the result of that Gift is that the Spirit produces His own certitude within us, apart from reason (logic or intellect) or emotion (feelings), because the certitude comes out of a deeper place than does either of them. The certitude is out of the Eternal, and cannot be reached or achieved through reason or emotion. Things that come from reason or emotion are only temporal and may change within the hour, but that which is given us out of the Eternal is fixed, immovable and unchanging.
(* “Separate palpable sense of the presence of God.” It is not God PLUS me, or me PLUS God, but one person only – Me! That is, God is the invisible inner life and will, and what is “visible” is Me, not God alone, not me alone, but He and I as one person who is a unified person – “ME!” We are no longer two, but one. “The Life I now live in the flesh ….” [Gal 2:20])
Now I “say” I am living this, but truth be told, it is not I at all, but He. And when we come into our fullness (knowing we are Christ in us), there is no fanfare at all, no graduation ceremony where we get our ‘Christ formed in you’ certificate, no parades or public announcements. We just slip silently and unnoticed into the fabric of the world, each in our own little piece of it with all its attendant issues, and live fully human lives. There we watch God unfold His mysteries in our own being, and start watching the ripples created by our lives spread out over land and sea as His mysteries are unfolded forever:
The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.” (Isaiah 40:3-5)
There is no “feeling” of that. It is a “knowing.” (I do not mean there could not be “feeling.” Of course, there is always that. But we learn to go deeper than that, because feelings are fickle, whereas truth is not.)
When I started out in Christ, a great deal of my perception of it was all about “feeling.” There were “deeper” things, too, but as the song said, I was, “hooked on a feeling.” In fact, as I delved more into it, I began to realize that almost everything in my previous life had been about “feelings.” How I “felt” about this, felt about that. How things impacted me in my “feelings.” It is one of the main things psychiatrists ask.
I constantly was taking my “spiritual temperature,” and “feelings” seemed for years and years to be the indicator of how I was doing. And it all had to do with my own approval of myself or lack of it. If I felt chipper, God was with me and stuff was going to work out. If I did not feel chipper, then I must be out of sync with God somehow, because, I reasoned (along with everybody else in “church”), if I was in-sync, my feelings would be “good.” That simple!
So the goal for quite a few years was to “get closer” to God, in the hopes that I could one day come to the place where I never felt anything except the “feelings” that indicated God’s Presence and His approval of me. I thought that was the result of becoming “spiritual,” that I would never feel “negative,” and have only positive well-controlled emotions, and I would “feel” some palpable “Presence” at all times. And throw in there some dreams, visions and heavenly revelations, as well. I’d have all that, too, as my mind saw it back then.
We attended a charismatic worship style church then, and I have to say, much of what I sought and experienced in that environment, met the “feelings need,” for those days. It happened most often in church services, of course, since a tremendous emphasis is placed on a free-form worship period, where the idea is for each individual believer to contact God themselves through worship, prayer, praise, confession, or gifts of the Spirit. The more “fervent” the worship the louder it became, usually reaching a crescendo of praise and thanksgiving, more gifts of the Spirit, ending in song, hand-clapping, and more praise and worship.
That’s what you wanted when you went to church in that environment, to get that kind of battery-charge so you feel like you can conquer the world for Jesus as you’re leaving church. Everything goes alright until about the time you reach the parking lot with the kids. Non-church-service life, which was 90% or more of life, reared its ugly head up one way or another by the time we got home, and it was non-church-service life until time to go to church again to get another shot. No wonder we went to church four times a week, not counting prayer meetings, bible studies and socials!
I’m having fun and being a little facetious, but my point is, I loved getting pumped up at church, but outside “church,” well, that was another story entirely. I could not take church-service life home with us. We tried to. But toddlers won out!
Oh, I tried to compensate with my own private prayer times, conducted alone in the same manner as if I had been in church. I assigned to myself certain numbers of “minutes” to pray, to try to get some of that church-service glory to hang around while we were at home. I would stay up after the family went to bed or get up early to “pray,” earnestly desiring to “contact” God, and I cannot say it was always unsuccessful or fruitless. No, indeed, God did meet me where I was in those days. He honored the faith I was living in, little though it was. I had wonderful experiences of “feeling the Presence” of God, that were very real to me and edified me. So I don’t make light of that. Not at all.
It was not that it was not glory; the problem was I did not know how to continually “live in” the glory. It was a hit or miss thing, both in church and at home, too.
I did not know then, that I would end that time with that church, with the Lord opening in me in a beginning way, a new consciousness level of grace through union with Christ. The way He did it, after I had resigned from that church, was for a time to take away ALL feeling of Him, ALL sense of His presence, ALL rays of light, leaving me in a palpable oppressive darkness of stark, utter terror because of the evil voices (in my mind) speaking and accusing me all around, while I had no sense of defense whatsoever. I thought they might be right. The voice told me I could not be faithful to God, and was already in outer darkness. As far as I knew, I was in hell, and I had little hope for rescue, because the voices wanted me to believe that I had been abandoned there by God, that I was no longer in His favor, and could only look forward to outer darkness and gnashing of teeth. (All this while I was working at A-1 Rents, in Monterey, CA. I’d be renting people jackhammers and backhoes, while all this other stuff was going on inside me. You never know what’s on somebody’s mind while they’re busy doing other things!)
I won’t go over all this story again, except to say that the “experience” of that darkness that I feared for a time had swallowed me up and hidden me forever from the Lord, became the foundation spring-board for everything the Spirit has taught me since!!!
Everything was gone from me, inwardly speaking. God took all “sense” regarding Him away from me during that time!!! I was simply terrified – spiritual terror!!!! I was in darkness (though still believing in Jesus) and could not get out of it. It seemed to have me and would not let me go. It was stifling every bit of light that had come from any sources that I had known up until that time. The accusations against me in the spirit were displayed before me, and I almost abandoned hope.
“Where is God? This must be hell!” It was!
But then in a moment, in the darkness, the Word did come: “Thus my heart was grieved, and I was pricked in my reins. So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast before thee. Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.” (Ps 73: 21-24).
That “light” came into my spirit, and shined there, long enough and clear enough that I received it; I knew it and I believed it. Somehow in that moment I had a sense of being “sealed.” I SAW THAT MY CHRISTIAN LIFE WAS NOT UP TO ME! When those words from Psalm 73 struck me, “Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory,” I saw once and for all He had hold of me, not me Him. He was not counting on my ability to hold onto to Him or to obey Him, but rather He was the One in me bringing me to fullness of Himself in me. Not me, but He! I did not yet know “I and my Father are one,” (John 10:30; Gal 4:19: John 17:11, 20-23, etc.). He was the One Who would bring me in all the way, not me. I saw that one day in something of a “flash,” while eating my lunch at the rental yard. As soon as lunch was over, the oppression came over me again, but it didn’t terrify me like it had before, because I saw, by the Spirit, that He would bring me through.
Because once the moment was gone, hell came back again, and continued with almost the same intensity for the next few months.
Eventually the Spirit took me into a union reality, and as I grew in that understanding and consciousness, a relaxation of “be-ing” gradually overcame me through the years. The ultimate “rest” of course was to come to the revelation by the Spirit that it is no longer “I,” but He in me, and that “the government is upon His shoulders.” That changes everything, everything we’ve ever seen or known, everything we’ve ever been or tried to be. At first everything becomes inside out and upside down, but then we realize that’s the way everything had been, “inside out and upside down,” but that now, by the Spirit, things are outside out and right side up, and each is proper in its own element.
Now, what then of “feeling” the presence of God? First, I do not doubt, because I know from experience, that God sometimes blesses us here and there with spiritual openings and “special” visitations.” These things do happen. But they do not happen all the time. This is to God’s purpose, that though we do not yet see all, we nevertheless walk by faith in the total, seeing God’s perfect All in all in the Spirit. In the flesh, world, or circumstances of life, we see it as true here and now even while gazing at it afar off. Paul says while we are in the body, the Lord is still hidden from us in full sight, and Hebrews 2: 8-9 says all is complete, but for a time we do not see it, but see in Christ Jesus our fulfillment.
Part of that “rest” and “be-ing” comes from the inner sense that all this “truth” of Christ in me and as me, is a settled matter. It is no longer me trying to live by a concept, nor anything I have to “work.” It’s a done deal. It has simply become assimilated fact in me. We always use this term in a negative sense, but we live in union with Christ, and it is RIGHT to take it for “granted” that this is so, because the “granted” is in the “whosoever!”
I really meant what I said to that brother, “I don’t ‘feel’ the presence of the Lord, I ‘AM’ the presence of the Lord.”
It really could not be simpler, could it? Jesus said He had come to make His abode with us, and we either believe that or we do not. If we believe it, then when we walk in somewhere, whose Presence are we? We don’t worry with, “trying to be the light,” by “trying to act like Jesus,” we ARE the Light because He is the Light, and the Life we are manifesting is HIS Life! There is no “trying” in the kingdom of God. I AM! And, it has nothing whatsoever to do with how we are “feeling.” I know many understand this and are living in this faith. It can seem like this “presence of the Lord” issue is a different issue, but it is not.
I learned that well 36 years ago at A-1 Rents in Monterey. In the darkest hole I’ve ever been in, there He was. None of us would ever choose to go there by ourselves. Who would want to? What kind of sick masochistic mind would desire that kind of insanity?
The whole thing, as I thought then, was “engineered” by the devil. With one brief statement in my inner being, “If God told you to go back to that ministry, you wouldn’t do it,” he put me into an out-of-control tailspin, so that I found myself spiraling downward to total hopelessness and utter despair, because I thought the voice was right. I knew I did not want to go back to where we had been – that was true! But if it was a matter of obedience to God – would I do it even if I didn’t want to? Not yet knowing Who lived in me both to will and to do of His good pleasure and therefore not knowing myself in Him, I thought the voice might be right and THAT sent me into a terror I had never known before and haven’t experienced since. Thinking I might be willfully disobedient to God, there was nothing to hold onto or to prevent my full “slide” back into hell. I had NO sense of God’s presence, and I thought I was down for the count.
But love penetrates darkness, even where the Light cannot go. A Word of Life came as if out of the darkness, out of the tempest, and proved to me beyond a shadow of a doubt forever, that He was with me and closer than a brother:
“Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee.” (Ps 139: 7-12).
And that’s the way it has become with me, in this settling of the matter of Who I Am. I quit taking my spiritual temperature by gauging my feelings long ago. This scripture above we can take to heart, because the final word it imparts to us, is that the “night shineth as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to Thee.”
I do not find God primarily in feelings anymore. God IS. How can one feel an “IS?” This may be hard to get across in words, but I will give it shot. God (Father/Son/Spirit) is my ever present reality, the very environment or milieu in which we live! It is something that is just “true” for every moment of every day. I can liken it to Revelation 21, “And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it. And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.” (Rev 21: 22,23). No outer props necessary – the Lamb is the Light thereof!
There is no “separate” sense that God is present, though in every way we are billowed over by Him, glorified in Him, filled to overflowing with HIM. He IS. I AM. In that we find “the Presence.” For me, I live in the IS, and “the Presence” is the most pervasive reality in it, in that our sight sees the Father above all, through all, and in all. (Eph 4:6). There is no one but He! (Is 45).
So then, speaking for myself but really for all of us in Christ, we are always “in the Presence,” and “The Presence” is always in us! Feelings have absolutely nothing to do with it! Feelings are feelings and have their place, but truth is truth, and continues to be truth, no matter how one “feels” about it. And the full truth is, we are the Presence of God in our world. We do not “seek” God’s presence; instead, we operate in it and “are” it. Our lives originate and operate out of this reality – the Presence of God! We don’t get in our cars and drive off to some other place to find it. And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20,21).
Frankly, I just don’t think about it anymore. Once we see that we are eternally united in oneness in Christ with God, we don’t bother too much anymore with ourselves or how we are progressing. It is ALL Him in us and has become NORMAL that we have this unconscious consciousness of, “I and my Father are one,” and, “the Father that dwelleth in me, He doeth the works,” and, “Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.” (Jn 5:19).
That is the Son’s truth, and since it is the Son’s truth, then it is also our truth, for we are sons also, and co-heirs of His inheritance from the Father! That’s a pretty big deal, if the Father is the Creator of the Universe, and has promised His Son that He would have dominion over all things, so that all “power” on heaven and earth (anywhere) is given to Him, and there is no power left over for anybody else. Not even the devil.
In any given day, I might “feel” elated, depressed, apathetic, excited, anxious, hopeful, despairing, angry, joyful, fearful, hurt and so on and on. That parade will continue I am certain.
But even more steadfast is the One Who is Eternal, Who causes us to stand, Who causes us to see and to walk in His ways, and that is the living reality in which we live. After all, we are the Sons! I and my Father are one.