I woke up thinking about the phrase, “manifest presence of God”. I am not sure where I even heard that phrase. I had not thought of it in ages, but the phrase popped into my head when I slipped from my dreams last night into a brief state of consciousness.
I would say that the so-called “Asbury revival” is an example of the manifest presence of God. What happened there was completely organic. It began after Chapel ended. it began after a very ordinary sermon on a very normal Wednesday morning.
It wasn’t planned or orchestrated. There was no leader. Some students simply lingered. They did not want to stop worshipping. They began praying for each other. Then someone felt the need to repent openly for sin. Others did the same.
One thing led to another. At the same time, students who left the chapel began to make their way back to the Chapel for reasons they could not express. Other students heard that Chapel hadn’t ended and began coming to see what was going on.
Administrators found out something was going on, and they investigated. They recognized that something special was happening, and they had the wisdom to give their blessing to it, not to take over leadership of it, but to let what God was doing simply unfold.
The ongoing Chapel was student led from the beginning. Most of the time, the students leading worship were off to the side. People playing instruments came and went. No one was the center of attention – only Jesus who was lifted up in reverent, tender worship one moment and exuberant praise in the next.
Administrators stayed in the background and supported the students. They protected them when outsiders came flooding in, and they prayed with them. They kept Christian celebrities from taking over the stage and they kept news media out. The University President described it this way:
“What we have experienced since that Wednesday morning has been a current of immeasurable goodness flooding our community and quickly moving into other regions of the world. Words fail any effort to communicate the abundance of experiences and stories that will leave us forever changed.”
The routine chapel service that started on February 8, 2023, was officially ended on February 23, 2023, fittingly on the National Day of Prayer.
God’s manifest present was demonstrated in the repentance of sin, the deep and abiding sense of God’s peace, love, forgiveness, and healing. People spoke of physical healing and deliverance, but it wasn’t front and center. There was little to no spectacle.
The atmosphere in the Chapel was reverent and convicting, but uplifting at the same time, and Jesus was at the center of it. God God was exalted, and Jesus was lifted up as people confessed their sins to one another and to God, repented with tears and weeping, found forgiveness and new joy, prayed for each other and worshipped God. All without a program, or a plan, or a person directing what happened.
Many people would say this was a revival. I don’t know, but it was an example of the manifest presence of God. God simply “showed up”. Not that He was not already present; rather His presence was manifest. To individuals and to all who worshipped corporately.
As I think about the idea of the manifest presence of God, I am reminded of Psalm 139. We can go nowhere that God is not present. We cannot escape him. If we ascended into the heavens, or even to hell, He is there!
He is intimate with us. He knows our innermost thoughts and the intents of our heart. He can even number the hairs on our head, and He knows the words we speak before we even say them.
God is present with us, but his presence is not always manifest. We do not always feel the presence of God. Sometimes, we go long (weeks, months or years) with no sense of the presence of God in our lives. Sometimes, we have trouble even giving mental assent, if we are being honest, to the fact that God is present with us.
When we do feel or sense or see evidence of the presence of God in our lives, we are encouraged, inspired, comforted, and renewed by it. Those times when we are aware of God’s presence can sustain us through the longer, wilderness times. We need to know God in this way.
Jesus is the Bread of Life and the Living Water! What bread that we eat does not satisfy our hunger, and what water that we drink does not quench our thirst? How much more should the Bread of Life and Living Water fill us up and sustain us?!
Sometimes in church we will feel and experience the presence of God with us in a moment of sublime worship or in the preaching of a good sermon. Much of our lives, however, are not characterized by the manifest presence of God.
I think of the Israelites being led in the desert by the presence of God who went before them as a cloud by day and a fire by night. God’s presence was visibly with them, hovering over the tent of meeting and the Tabernacle. Yet, they strayed in their hearts.
The Israelites saw the manifest presence of God, but it was not intimate or personal to them. Only Moses had intimate connection with God, and it was a fearful and fraught experience. God even warned the people not to approach the mountain where God’s presence was manifest to Moses.
We are brought near to God by the sacrifice, death and resurrection of Jesus on the cross. We have forgiveness of sins, and Jesus has torn down the wall of separation between us and God. We no longer need to fear God if we accept his offer of grace and forgiveness of sins, repent, and bow before him as our Lord and savior.
Now, God invites us in. God invites us to draw near, and He promises to draw near to us as we draw near to Him. We have access to the presence of God like people before Christ did not. God can now be intimate with us by the work of the Holy Spirit, who is given to us as a comforter and a guide.
When I look at what has happened at Asbury University in Wilmore KY, I would simply say that the presence of God was manifest in that place and to the people who were there. I do not understand why God’s manifest presence was on display there at that time, except that, perhaps, those students opened their hearts to God in a way that we do not usually open them in our normal, everyday lives.
Perhaps, they were expectant. Revival has broken out at Asbury a number of times over the years. Perhaps, that knowledge buoyed their expectancy. They were open to the idea and willing to receive what God might do among them.
I had one person recite to me the fact that revivals happen there all the time as proof that we should be critical of it. I think just the opposite is true. If we have no expectancy that God will “show up” in our midst and manifest his presence among us, He probably won’t.
I am not saying that God wouldn’t or couldn’t do that. In fact, I believe He does manifest Himself to us sometimes when are not looking for Him, as with Saul on the road to Tarsus. God can overwhelm us, but, I believe it is far more likely and more normative, scripturally, that God will manifest His presence to us when we are looking for Him.
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
Jesus told us to ask, seek, and knock! In fact, he told us to seek first the kingdom of God. If God wants us to seek Him, why would He manifest Himself to us when we are not seeking?
God can do, and does, what He wants, but the command to seek suggests that God will manifest His presence most often to those who are seeking Him, to those who desire Him, to those who are waiting expectantly for Him. So, it shouldn’t be surprising that God was manifest in His presence at Asbury where students sought Him expectantly, in faith.
I am cautioned, at the same time, by the words of Jesus to the woman at the well that we need to worship God in spirit and truth. We are tempted to pilgrimage to places like Asbury to “seek God’s presence”, but God is present here and now where you are.
We are tempted to chase after the experience of the presence of God, though our hearts grow cold to God Himself. When it isn’t God that we want, but a taste of His divine presence, we are in danger of missing the mark. I know this from firsthand experience. We need to worship God in truth, also.
I know from firsthand experience, as well, that we can chase “truth” to the exclusion of God, Himself, just as we can chase God’s manifest presence, yet be growing cold to God, Himself, in our hearts. When we put inordinate focus on truth, we can become like Pharisees, who know the Bible inside and out, but we miss God in our midst, standing right in front of us!
I am reminded, again, that the path is a narrow road, and danger lies off the path on either side. We need to stay ever humble and open to correction.
2 thoughts on “Asbury University and the Manifest Presence of God”
Love and blessings from Sydney Australia.
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