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One year at our annual Charis Bible College Expand Your Vision Weekend, as I was worshiping the Lord, I just knew in my heart that the Lord had entered the room. I didn’t feel it, I just knew it. I knew He had walked into the auditorium through the left front doors and right up in front of the stage. He stood there next to me for a moment, then He turned and started down the middle aisle and toward the back of the room.
I know the Lord promised He would always be with us and, in fact, lives within us. But there was a tangible manifestation of His presence. Very simply put, I believe what we call the anointing is just a manifestation of what is already true in the spirit realm. The Lord is always with us, but His presence isn’t always tangibly manifest. This time it was.
The presence of the Lord was so real, I opened my eyes to look and see if I could see Him. Within moments, people began to drop to their knees and worship the Lord in the same sequence that I had sensed Him walking through the room. People were rejoicing and sobbing out loud. It was a powerful time of being in the manifest presence of the Lord.
But here is the thing that was so special to me: I didn’t physically see or feel anything extraordinary. I didn’t need to. I knew it by faith. By the Spirit, I knew what was happening before I opened my eyes and saw any confirmation of the Lord moving through the meeting and touching people. I was just as satisfied to know these things by the Spirit as if I had been physically overwhelmed and pinned to the floor under the power of the Holy Spirit.
As the meeting continued, there were many people touched by the manifest presence of the Lord. It was one of those times that people want to build three tabernacles and just camp there (Matt. 17:4). Although I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience, I’ve come to the place where faith when God’s presence is not manifest is just as real as the special times when feeling confirms what faith believes.
That night I ministered from Luke 24 where the two disciples of Jesus were walking to Emmaus. As they walked along the road, the resurrected Jesus joined them, but they didn’t recognize Him.
The scripture says,
“And it came to pass, that, while they communed [together] and reasoned, Jesus himself drew near, and went with them. But their eyes were holden that they should not know him.” (Luke 24:15-16)
These were Jesus’ disciples, and yet they didn’t know Him. How could that be? How could you not recognize a person you had lived with for over three years? Mark’s account of this same instance gives us the answer. Mark condenses this whole encounter into one verse and says,
“After that he appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country”. (Mark 16:12)
The reason Jesus’ disciples didn’t recognize Him was because He was in another form. This doesn’t mean He looked like another person and had different physical features. That same day, just minutes after this encounter with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus appeared to His disciples in Jerusalem and showed them the print of the nails in His hands and feet (Luke 24:39). This was the same Jesus they had intimately known before. He bore the marks of crucifixion in His resurrected body. But they didn’t know Him because He was no longer in a physical body. He was in a spiritual, glorified body. They were looking with physical eyes that could only see physical things, and Jesus was in a spiritual body that could only be fully recognized with spiritual eyesight.
Here is an amazing truth: Spiritual things can only be perceived by our spirits. Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3:6,
“That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit”.
What Jesus was saying was, flesh is flesh and spirit is spirit. You cannot perceive the spirit through the senses of the flesh. They are totally different worlds, or realms, of reality.
The Apostle Paul made this same point in 1 Corinthians 2:14 where he said,
“But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned”.
The physical senses can’t discern spiritual things. This isn’t speaking only of understanding spiritual truths with our minds; this also applies to seeing spiritual realities with our eyes or feeling spiritual things with our emotions. Of course there are exceptions where God opened physical eyes to enable people to see angels and even heaven, but normally the only way to access the spirit realm is through our spirits by faith.
Although special times of the manifest presence of the Lord do occur when we can feel in the natural what is always true in the spiritual, this is the exception rather than the rule. We are not to be more excited when we feel something than when we are just walking by faith in the promises of God. That’s a radical statement!
The Lord began to teach me this very early in my walk with Him. On March 23, 1968, the Lord manifested Himself to me in a tangible way. For four months, I was physically aware of the Lord’s love and presence with me in a way that took virtually no faith. I could feel it. It was awesome. But then that physical sensation left. Shortly thereafter, I was drafted and found myself in Vietnam. The absence of Christian fellowship and everything I was used to made my desperation for the Lord’s love and presence even more acute. I could truthfully say that I was desperate for God in the worst sense of the word.
Then one day, I woke up and felt like God was totally gone. I had no sense of His presence. Hopelessness and a fear came over me that I had never known. I remember someone coming into my bunker, and I hid under a stack of clothes. I was so afraid, I just couldn’t face anyone. I felt exactly like Ephesians 2:12 says, “That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world.”
It felt like God had died or at the very least deserted me. For three days I did everything I knew to do to try and regain God’;s presence. I fasted and prayed and studied the Word constantly. Nothing seemed to make any difference. Then on the morning of the third day, I woke up and found myself kneeling beside my cot praying. Nothing special was happening, but the simple presence of the Lord was back. Or maybe it was simply that the fear and hopelessness was gone. Whatever it was, I had my normal peace back.
I know according to the Scriptures that the Lord never leaves us nor forsakes us, so I believe that this was only my perception that the Lord left me. However, this taught me a wonderful lesson. I discovered that I had taken for granted the everyday peace that the abiding presence of the Lord produces. I believe the Lord was tired of me begging for some special emotional experience. He was wanting me to start walking by faith instead of feeling. So, He removed my awareness of His presence and let me feel what hell (the total absence of God) must feel like. It had a profound impact on me.
I quit asking for some epiphany and just started thanking God for what I had. I got into the Word of God and began to believe that the Lord was with me and loved me, not because of what I felt, but because He told me so in His Word. I began the transition from feelings to faith, carnality to spirituality, immaturity to maturity. This is how I was relating to the Lord that night at our CBC Expand Your Vision Weekend.
I perceived the presence and ministry of the Lord apart from feelings. It was just a revelation from the Lord that I accepted by faith. When the manifestations confirmed what I knew by faith, I wasn’t more certain of His presence than I was before physical confirmation came. I wasn’t dependent on some physical experience. I had the everyday love, joy, and peace that I walk in, but I had faith that let me know God’s presence and love was with me in an infinitely greater way than anything I could feel or see.
I’ve had some awesome encounters with the Lord, and doubtless, I will have more. But regardless of what wonderful experiences you or I have with Him, they are limited. We’ve only scratched the surface or touched the tip of the iceberg of God’s great love and awesomeness. What we have inside is infinitely more powerful and wonderful than we can grasp, and it’s always that way. You may not always perceive God’s presence and peace with you, but it is. Even in the times when circumstances are yelling at you and affecting your emotions, God’s glory is right there inside of you, giving you love, joy, peace, and all the fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23.
You won’t always feel God’s presence. That may come as a shock or disappointment to you, but that’s the way it is. And if you are believing, unrealistically, for a constant tangible manifestation of His love and presence, you are out of step with God and setting yourself up for disappointment. That’s not the way He is. The Lord loves to work in subtle ways that only faith perceives.
Look at the way Jesus came to earth. He didn’t come in some grandiose style. He came humbly, as a child born to poor parents. His birth wasn’t announced to Caesar or Herod the king. It was heralded to lowly shepherds. Even Jesus’ physical body wasn’t exceptional. Isaiah 53:2 says “he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.”
When people looked at Jesus’ physical body, it took faith to believe that He was God. He wasn’t beautiful. He was natural. He wasn’t extraordinary. And when Jesus rose from the dead, He never showed Himself to a single person who wasn’t already one of His disciples. We would think He missed a great opportunity. Thousands had seen Him crucified just three days before. All He would have had to do was walk down the streets of Jerusalem or into Pilate’s judgment hall, and people would have been forced to bow their knees and acknowledge Him as the Christ. But that’s not the nature of God. Hebrews 11:6 says, “But without faith it is impossible to please him.”
Our God is a God of faith, and it takes faith to please Him. He could make a bird come sit on your shoulder and tell you He loves you every minute of every day. He could write your name with instructions on every cloud that passes over. He could have angels come visit you every morning and night to affirm to you that what He says in His Word is true. But that’s not faith, and that’s not God. Second Corinthians 5:7 says, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”
We don’t just walk by faith until we get the sight we really desired. We walk by faith, period. When sight comes, we praise God and keep walking by faith.
The things I’ve tried to share with you in this article are profound. Not everyone will realize the importance of them. But faith is as far superior to feelings as true love is to lust. There really is no comparison. Yet lust seems to be more common and easier to come by than true love. Likewise, dependence on our feelings is more common among Christians than faith. We know what God said in His Word, but we don’t feel it, and therefore, we don’t believe it. That’s all wrong. Faith comes before feelings and always trumps feelings. Faith will produce feelings, not every time, but sometimes, and we need to enjoy them when they come. But being controlled by feelings is a BIG hindrance to true faith. We need to get to the place where God’s Word is proof enough without emotional confirmation.
I’ve made an audio teaching on this from Luke 24 entitled “Walking by Faith.” In this teaching, I share about this experience at the Expand Your Vision Weekend and my Vietnam story I shared in this article. I go into a lot of detail on this subject that I think could really make a big difference in your life. There is much more to this than I was able to convey in this article.