A scene in the gospels recently etched an image on my mind when Jesus took James, Peter and John up a mountain to experience something new of His presence. The encounter involved the spirit of Moses and Elijah but also the transfigured Christ (Matthew 17, Mark 9, Luke 9).
The message paraphrase of the Bible describes the manifest presence of Jesus in that moment in this way,
“…as they found themselves buried in the cloud they became deeply aware of God”
This was a helpful new expression for me of what it might mean to experience the presence of God – ie to become more aware of Him at any given moment despite his ever-present omnipresence.
Nephology is the study of clouds and this little gospel moment got me thinking about their significance being the main symbol of the presence of God throughout the Bible, and what it might have been like for three working-class-disciple guys to find themselves buried in the cloud of His manifest presence. It wasn’t just any old cloud. It was the cloud of His glory.
If you have ever been on Dartmoor you will know that weather cycles there can be very dangerous due to their tendency to suddenly turn. Once I was at the top of Hay Tor when a fog descended very abruptly meaning that I could barely see my hand in front of my face, let alone the general panoramic of the terrain to guide myself back down to the car safely. It can be seriously dangerous. The experience of finding myself buried in the Dartmoor fog is the closest thing I can think of when I think of Peter, James and John buried in the cloud of Jesus’ transfigured, manifest glory.
In that moment I had to slow down, concentrate, listen more carefully (for traffic on the road) and have much more respect for my surroundings that had now over-shadowed me.
The normal bias of my senses had changed – I was now relying not so much on what I could see, but what I could hear
This was the main thrust of what Jesus was teaching His guys in the gospel passages mentioned above – to listen to His words very carefully. In that moment of cloud burial, the main thing the Father wanted was for them to listen to Jesus’ words.
What does it mean to be in the presence of God? What can we say about this? What would we tell someone who has never had the experience of finding themselves lost, in this way, in His presence?
I love the thought that as Jesus’ hard core found themselves lost in the cloud, that they might have had this kind of experience:
- More deeply aware of God
- More oblivious of themselves (not the same as point one)
- More physical response to the Presence
- More spiritual appetite
- More responsiveness to the Presence
- More attentiveness to the Word(s) of Jesus
The thought of being deeply aware of God leaves me with thirst and hunger for Him. It highlights my own often oblivious awareness of what He is doing and saying and it reminds me that His Universal Presence is not the same as His divine immanence. A W Tozer explains this in chapter 5 of The Pursuit of God in the chapter entitled The Universal Presence.
Until the release of the Presence Project in August, may I encourage you to read this chapter and consider what it means to Pursue His Presence?
FInd the book for free here: http://www.vergenetwork.org/2013/04/23/free-ebook-the-pursuit-of-god-by-aw-tozer