I cannot imagine how religious persons can live satisfied without the practice of the presence of God. For my part I keep myself retired with Him in the depth and center of my soul as much as I can. While I am so with Him I fear nothing; but the least turning from Him is insupportable. ― 17th century believer Nicholas Herman, also known as Brother Lawrence, in a letter to a fellow Christian
After the Israelites worshiped a gold calf idol at Mount Sinai, Moses feared that the Lord was about to abandon them in the wilderness. The great leader prayed, pleading with God: “How will it be known that I and your people have found favor with you unless you go with us? I and your people will be distinguished by this from all the other people on the face of the earth” (Ex. 33:16). Moses knew that without the Lord’s presence, he and the Israelites would be lost and doomed. They would have no peace, no power, and no purpose in life.
The tabernacle, particularly the ark with its gold mercy seat, was the visible symbol of God’s dwelling with His people (Ex. 25:21-22). The writer of Hebrews explained that the tabernacle of Moses’ day foreshadowed “the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands” (Heb. 9:11). In the new covenant, Jesus Christ entered the heavenly holy of holies as the believer’s Great High Priest, offering His own blood once and for all for the forgiveness of sins. Further, God has sent the Holy Spirit permanently into believers’ hearts to seal our salvation (see Eph. 1:13-14).
How, then, do we as believers demonstrate the indwelling presence of God’s Spirit? How do we show that we are the children of God through Christ our Great High Priest?
The Old Testament tabernacle foreshadowed four ways we can practice the presence of God.
Obey Him. In Exodus 39:42, Moses recorded that in constructing the tabernacle and its furnishings, the Israelites obeyed “everything the Lord had commanded.” In the subsequent verse, Moses repeated that the people did “just as the Lord commanded.” Obeying the Lord’s commands shows that we recognize He is present with us. Jesus said as much when He told His disciples, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23).
Worship Him. All of the tabernacle’s features had one goal: provide a means for sinful people to approach, honor, and worship a holy God (see Ex. 40:9-10). Sinners cannot survive in the presence of divine holiness without a mediator. The tabernacle, its furnishings, and its priesthood were anointed with oil to set them apart as holy. Hebrews 9:15 reminds us that Jesus Christ is “the mediator of a new covenant.” In Christ, believers are set apart to “continually offer up to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name” (Heb. 13:15). We practice God’s presence when we worship Him in spirit and in truth (see John 4:24).
Revere Him. In Exodus 40:34-35, Moses recorded that God’s presence (“the glory of the Lord”) filled the tabernacle so completely and awesomely that he was unable to enter. What kept Moses from entering the tabernacle at that moment? I believe it was his great reverence for God. In Deuteronomy 34:10, Moses’ epitaph describes the great lawgiver as a prophet without equal, one “whom the Lord knew face to face.” Numbers 12:3 adds that Moses also was “a very humble man, more so than anyone on the face of the earth.” He revered the Lord as infinitely greater than he was, and he never took for granted the honor of being in God’s presence.
How about us? The writer of Hebrews encouraged believers to “approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). If we received an invitation to speak face to face with the president, would we not enter the room with humility and proper respect? How much more should we approach the God of our salvation with reverence!
Follow Him. In Exodus 40:36, Moses recorded that the Israelites “set out whenever the cloud was taken up from the tabernacle throughout all the stages of their journey.” If the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night—the representation of God’s powerful presence—didn’t move, neither did the Israelites.
Following the Lord is similar to obeying Him, but the distinction is also worth noting. We obey His commands so as to live in ways that please Him. We follow His guidance so as to go where He wants to take us in life. When we follow God’s guidance wherever He leads us, we show that He is present with us every step of the way. He is our Good Shepherd who leads us “along the right paths for his name’s sake” (Ps. 23:3).
David Briscoe is a content editor at Lifeway for Explore the Bible resources.