It’s Christmastime, and though many of us chafe at the busyness and commercialism of the season, I think we all are glad that our whole society slows down to show honor and appreciation to friends and family for a few weeks.
There are ministry opportunities for those who will make time to seek out the people whose fractured family lives make Christmas a season of depression. There are evangelistic opportunities, for while our culture is so secularized that many are saying “Happy Holidays” and scowl at those who say “Merry Christmas,” Jesus is on people’s minds and many will be introduced to Him in the next few weeks.
With that in mind, I want to unwrap the gift God gave us when He gave us His Son:
Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which is translated, “God with us.” (Matthew 2:23)
God with us. One of the best things I’ve seen in the church in the last few years is that many of us are starting to build our lives around the gift of His presence. And a lot of good things are happening there, but there is a complication: God does such a good job of making himself look human that it isn’t always clear what’s of God and what’s of man.
God’s presence can look too human.
God is with us; Jesus came so we could live in the presence of God. Sometimes we take it by faith, not worrying about the fact that we don’t feel His presence. After all, we have covenant promises that He will never leave us nor forsake us. What more do we need?
Of course there were a few years when the presence of God tabernacled in a single human body. Those who lived with Jesus saw great things as He forgave sin, set captives free, healed the sick, and did many wonderful works.
We often think they were a special generation, exempt from the laws of faith that we have to live by. But I’m not sure it was any easier for them than it is for us. I suspect they too were tempted to wonder if God was really with them because He looked too human. He got tired and hungry and sat down by a well in Samaria; He fell asleep while they were in the boat battling a storm; it was maddening that it took him four days to respond to the call to minister to Lazarus. Is this what God looks like?
The people I know who are accessing God’s manifest presence have some of the same questions. We feel His presence and see God work, but we also have moments when it all looks so human that we wonder if God is really working in our lives at all. Is it Him, or is it us?
Sometimes I’m asked to pray for someone. Because I have a prophetic touch, I always like to pray first and then ask what their need is – often God speaks through me and addresses the need before I know what’s going on. But whenever I minister I do my best to hear from God, I perceive a phrase or see a mental picture, and then have to ask myself, “Is this God, or is it me?” I have to make a fresh choice every time, deciding to trust that God will honor His promise to feed His people. His presence looks too human.
I travel and minister and do a lot of equipping, and I find that many people are already hearing from God. It may be in words and it may be with non-verbals – dreams, visions, simply knowing something, feeling His presence, being moved with compassion – but we all face the same issue: God’s presence looks too human. Is it Him, or is it us?
And of course, we’re hungry. We don’t want it to be just us; we want God to do something transcendent in our lives, something that will open the heavens to us and give us an experience beyond ourselves. But often He answers our prayer with a gentle nudge that we could easily overlook. This is God?
Our encounters with God may seem as improbable as it must have seemed for the shepherds to have an angelic visitation instructing them to go to a stable and look for a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.
Miracles happen in God’s presence.
I tasted this when I first started leading whole worship services with spontaneous prophetic songs. After thirty or forty minutes of singing the new song, the presence of God was overwhelming.
It’s not that I’m a good worship leader; I’ve led plenty of services that never got off the ground. But there seems to be a richer sense of God’s manifest presence reserved for those who worship spontaneously. God inhabits the praises of His people, but the Hebrew word is tehillim, the spontaneous songs that overflow out of us. I travel in ministry and visit a variety of churches, but I consistently find that the presence of God is the richest in the churches that take time to cultivate prophetic worship.
And things happen. Often God releases songs of deliverance, and people get set free from depression or unforgiveness or addictions. Sometimes they need a few minutes of personal ministry as someone speaks words of faith over them, but more is accomplished in a few minutes in God’s manifest presence than we would normally experience in weeks or even months otherwise.
Some of the strongest altar calls at Agape, our home church, happen when we’ve gotten into a flow of the Spirit in spontaneous worship.
We’ve seen it at the Healing Rooms in Santa Maria. Before the ministry teams lay hands on people, they spend about an hour soaking in God’s presence – being still before God as worship music plays in the background, and being filled with God’s glory and love. Then in the presence of God, miracles happen easily. Check out the testimonies they’ve posted.
JoAnn and I are spending the next two months at Dunamis Resources in Las Vegas. Last Friday night, after about an hour of worship that spent half or more of its time in spontaneous song, Dennis Walker took the microphone, began singing, and soon was calling out words of knowledge for healing. Within minutes, people were bending and stretching to test themselves to see if they were healed. Several said their pain had left them instantly.
The problem with ministry in God’s presence is that it’s too easy. Shouldn’t I try to be the great man of God, laboring in faith and pressing through great spiritual opposition, acting on powerful principles that are too deep for most people to know? Instead, in God’s presence I forget all about myself, I rest instead of working hard, and I never quite feel that I know what’s going on.
I preached in a church in Peru and then prayed for healing for the whole congregation. A boy raised his hand and announced, “God put arches in my feet!” His mother examined his feet and said, “He really does have arches now. He didn’t have them before. He’s had to wear special shoes…” They testified again on Sunday; he was still healed.
But I hadn’t done anything special. It was too easy. All I did was preach a few simple truths about Jesus and invite the people into God’s presence. The presence of God did the work.
Accessing God’s presence.
Friday night, Dennis Walker taught that there are three ways to receive healing: by standing in faith on God’s promises, by hearing an initiative from heaven, or by just getting into God’s presence.
All three of these ways are different aspects of connecting with Immanuel, God With Us. The boy in Peru had his feet reshaped by getting into the presence of God. Many of us have heard stories of people who have stood in faith and been healed – maybe it’s happened to you that way. But after Dennis shared about three ways God heals, a first-time visitor at Dunamis shared his own testimony, and it was an example of healing by what Dennis calls the “initiatives of heaven.”
The man dreamed that his brother had cancer, that he went to pray for him at the hospital, that he got all the unbelievers out of the room, and then as he laid hands on his brother a flash of power shot down through his hands and his brother was healed.
Was God in the dream, or was it just him? It seemed to be just him; his brother was in perfect health. But within two weeks, cancer flared up and his brother was in the hospital, and they didn’t give him long to live.
The man went to the hospital and did what he saw in the dream. His brother was healed instantly; they released him from the hospital, cancer free, five days later.
“That’s an example of the initiatives of heaven,” Dennis said. “Whatever He says, do it. You may hear His voice, or it can be any of the five spiritual senses He’s given you – you might see something or even smell something, using the spiritual sense of discernment. But whatever you sense, act on it…”
Three ways: standing in faith, responding to God’s initiatives, or simply getting into the manifest presence of God and reaching for miracles and transformation. Really, they all come back to the same thing: God is with us. One way or another, He wants to make His presence tangible in our lives.
The Christmas Gift
So this Christmas, you already have a gift from God, and it doesn’t come with a tag saying “Do not open until Dec 25.” You have the opportunity to be a doorway for God to pour more of His Son into the world through you. If Christ lives in you, there’s more to you than eggnog and gift-wrapping. The greatest gift is the presence of God – it’s His gift to you, and He’s sending you out with it to touch others.
Soon Christmas will be over and we’ll be looking ahead to 2010. Let me challenge you to make it top priority to make room for more of God’s manifest presence in your life next year. Don’t live a dry Christianity. God’s gift to you is Immanuel, God With Us. He wants His presence to make an impact in your life and in the lives of all you meet.