The nature and leadership implications of seeking God’s face
GOD IN RESIDENCE is a pervasive theme throughout Scripture. God wants everybody to know Him up close and personal, especially His prophets, pastors, priests and kings. Psalm 27 is a prominent example. For centuries, the Jewish people have been reciting it daily during the season leading up to Yom Kippur. After declaring that God is both Light (on Rosh Hashanah) and Salvation (on Yom Kippur), King David affirms in vs 4 the solitary obsession of his life:
“One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.”
A famous Jewish scholar, Rabbi Hirsch states:
“This expression, therefore, comes to say that if we sanctify, or present our lives to the Lord, then every single place becomes a Beit Hashem, a house of the Lord… In every place where God’s Torah is observed with strength and purity, then our earthly life becomes a chariot for God’s presence, and God has a place to dwell on this earth.”
This awesome picture of God in residence among His people develops throughout Scripture:
First, He commands that a Tabernacle be built in the desert, then a Temple in Zion, according to His blueprints. Then Jesus comes and God the Creator resides in His bodily Temple. After Jesus ascends to heaven, the 120 in the Upper Room experience God’s Glory coming and inhabiting His Church. In the same way today, God comes to reside in His people, born of the Spirit. God’s clear intention is to reveal His manifest presence, or glory (Heb. KAVOD) through you and me.
I love Henri Nouwen’s portrayal of the glory of God among us:
“A mosaic consists of thousands of little stones. Some are blue, some are green, some are yellow, some are gold. When we bring our faces close to the mosaic, we can admire the beauty of each stone. But as we step back from it, we can see that all these little stones reveal to us a beautiful picture, telling a story none of these stones can tell by itself. That is what our life in community is about. Each of us is like a little stone, but together we reveal the face of God to the world. Nobody can say: “Imake God visible.” But others who see us together can say: “They make God visible.” Community is where humility and glory touch.”
Let me ask, when has God manifested His presence to you?
As a baby-boomer believer, I was privileged to witness a great revival in my home town in the 50’s, and the Asbury Student Revival of 1970. I vividly recall the Jesus Revolution in the late 60’s, popularized in the recent movie by that title. As a university chaplain in the late 70’s, I was thrilled when our student fellowship sponsored an on-campus concert with the father of Jesus Rock, Larry Norman. Many of our undergrads, ignited by the Jesus Movement and URBANA 79 pursued God’s calling as carriers of KAVOD in their personal and vocational lives.
Could it be that today’s young adults (especially Gen Z) are ready for a new wave of God’s manifest presence at work in our culture? GEN Z is about to turn 25 and its members are open to spiritual things. They are masters of web communications and they could well be the missionaries God wants to unleash on the world. If this is to happen, Christian leaders at every level need to affirm, support, recruit and release this emerging generation to re-present God differently than we have. I think of Caleb, a Calgary undergrad who came to Alpha at CWES Church last summer, and brought his Hindu girlfriend with him. He witnesses openly to her, and desperately wants her to believe in Jesus, but she has many questions. We were totally refreshed to see how she freely participated in the discussions, asking honest questions and joining in the worship time. I hope that we can find ways of tapping into this generation and inviting them to lead us in reimagining and re-presenting the good news.
Richard Owen Roberts wrote 20 years ago in his book entitled REPENTANCE:
“The sobering truth is that the greatest hindrance to the growth of Christianity in today’s world is the absence of the manifest presence of God emanating from the Church.”
When David called on Israel to “Seek the Lord, and His strength; seek His face continually” (1 Chronicles 16:10) he used the primary Hebrew sense of the verb seek; that is, to beat a path toward, to reach and inquire.
The prophets raged against the nation when God’s people exchanged The Glory for another, as they chased after other gods. When scripture uses hundreds of times the word Glory in reference to God, it means God Himself, the One who is omnipresent. To lose God means to lose the awareness of, to be disinterested in, or inattentive to His Glory. The importance of the invisible in our lives cannot be overstated. Beyond the evidences of our senses, we know that some deeper truth gives us an unstoppable power if, like Moses, we embrace and believe in it.
This brings us to one of the great mysteries and tensions that are evident in scripture, in history, and in our experience of God who is both transcendent and immanent. It amounts to a paradox, an enormous oxymoron.
On the one hand, we read that Moses, Aaron and his sons, and 70 elders “saw the God of Israel… they beheld God” (Exodus 24:10–11). The Book of Hebrews (11:27) blurts out an inspired insight: “By faith Moses left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen.”
No one can look directly at the Creator of Genesis 1 and simply call it a nice experience, like leaving Sunday worship and saying wasn’t that a nice meeting? No one can see the face of God and simply continue as if everything was normal. Looking into the face of God can change us in such dramatic ways that our previous life is all but destroyed. So God’s response sounds something like this: Moses, you can’t see My face in full glory of My goodness. If that were to happen, you would be so radically changed on every level that no one could relate to you anymore on a mere human level, and I need you to lead Israel to the land I promised.
The patriarchs, prophets and apostles were obsessed with, or addicted to the face of God. In Acts 2:25, Peter quoted Ps. 16:8 during his Pentecost sermon: David said about him, ‘I saw the Lord always before me’. Here the meaning is I keep before my eyes always.
Dr. Gerald May, in his book Addiction and Grace, claims that 100% of us are addicted to something. In 2 Corinthians, Paul makes it plain that under the new covenant our spiritual vision of Christ today is more glorious than that of Moses. In fact, said Paul in 2 Corinthians 3, the new must far exceed it in glory, so much so that what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. And even now, in Christ, We with unveiled face, behold the glory of the Lord. He is our focus, preeminent in everything – always.
I pray that the Lord will turn His face toward you and smile on you today!
Here are some suggested ways in which Christian leaders may practice the presence of God:
- Make personal worship your first priority
- Prepare yourself (with your worship team) for corporate worship
- Use objects and symbols to enhance your personal and corporate worship experiences
- Approach worship for what it is – not a program, but an encounter with The Glory
- Be sensitive to individuals and congregations in the way you draw them into worship
- Saturate private and public worship with scripture, quoting it to God and the people
- Make room for others in worship services – give expression to the gifts of God’s people
- Remember that music, whether exquisite or unpolished, does not equal worship
- Where there are hindrances to worship, be discerning and prayerfully deal with them
Father, I don’t want to lose my focus on the main thing: seeking your face. Because of your presence with me and my history with You, I can live my life with joy and victory. You’ll be my guiding light. My only real concern is getting to know the intimacy of your presence in my life. Show me Your face! Reveal You heart to me. Attune my ear to Your voice. I lift my hands right now seeking the sheer glory of Your manifest presence. Do not deny me. I’m hungry for You. More of You is all I desire. I long to attain everything Jesus has purchased for me. Father, I’m seeking You in the name of Jesus, who is the image of the invisible God, and in whose presence my life is transformed (Colossians 1:15).
For Further Study, I highly recommend this recent book by my new friend, Roger Helland: https://www.amazon.ca/Pursuing-Gods-Presence-Practical-Renewal/dp/B0C1ZYM4PN
 On this theme, I recommend https://firmisrael.org/learn/no-man-can-see-my-face-and-live/