God is omnipresent, he is everywhere. However, there are times when you get a more apparent sense of God: his manifest presence. This is the bit that always sounds really weird when you try to explain it. Either it sounds implausible and I'm just a loon or it sounds like I've been smoking something. But, these are two times when I've felt really close to God. There have been others, but I chose these because I can remember them the best and because they are quite different to each other.
February 7th, 2012
I used to work at a sixth-form college as a teaching assistant. When I didn't cycle in, I would catch the train to a nearby station and walk the two-miles to the college. Often, I would use this time to think about what has happening in life and to pray about it. In February, 2012, I was really unsure about what the future would hold. I knew it was about time to leave my jobs as a youth worker and teaching assistant, but I wasn't sure what was going to happen next. It looked like I hadn't got a place on the PGCE course I wanted and I didn't know what the alternatives were.
The walk involved crossing a bridge that went over the River Test. The scene from the bridge was often quite beautiful in the morning. On one side there were stretches of marshlands that were often covered in mist. On the other side, you could see the Test lead into Southampton Water, and the ports were often silent and the silhouettes of the cranes were quite eerie. Despite the traffic on the bridge, there was a peacefulness to this spot. It was on this bridge that I had a real tangible experience of God's presence. I had been praying about my worries and thoughts. Suddenly, it felt like someone was standing next to me and if I turned my head I was going to see someone there. But it was just me, the traffic and some geese on the marshland.
I needed reassurance that God was dealing with my problems and that he was going to be with me in all the ups and downs. He did this by giving me a real sense of his presence, that he is with me. The Book of Joshua reminds of us this when it says,
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.It was a reminder of this, that I need not be discouraged, for God is with me wherever.
4th December, 2012
At this point I was half-way through my first PGCE placement. Again, I would often walk home, and I would use this as an opportunity to pray. A stretch of it allowed for amazing views over Southampton. I had to walk down a steep hill (or up in the mornings) and one corner allowed for views across the River Itchen and you could see most of the city.
On this particular walk back I felt quite angry. I felt like people had let me down in various ways. I had tried to help them and they had ignored my advice. I had put so much energy and time into those relationships and they didn't seem to care. I was at the point of giving up with those people and I was telling God I'd had enough. Then, as if someone had just turned a light on in my brain, I suddenly realised how unreasonable I was being.
I was reminded of Isaiah 53. I remembered how Jesus was rejected, how we have all gone astray, but, ultimately, how Jesus didn't give up on us but died for us. For a brief moment, I understood a tiny bit of the pain of the cross. Not the physical pain, but the emotional and spiritual pain Jesus must have felt. My sense of rejection and disappointment was real and painful. But it was nothing compared to what Jesus must have felt. Whilst, walking home I was closer to Jesus than I had ever felt. I had the same desires and hopes for my friends as he did. We both longed for the same thing. But rather than giving up, Jesus 'poured out his life onto death'.
I also became acutely aware that Jesus must have these same feelings about everyone and that definitely included me. I was one of those sheep that had gone astray and my problems and failings had contributed to his pain on the cross. God had used that moment of anger and pain to allow me to recognise what grace actually meant.
Everyone is different
What I love is that God connects with people in very different ways. It took me ages to realise this and I'd often get frustrated. When my friends were having amazing experiences at events like Soul Survivor, I was sitting there wondering what all the fuss was about. Okay, I may have got a tingle down the back of my neck but that was probably just a draught.
God often connects to me through nature and silence. I wrote about it a few years back in a post called, The whisper of God. I hope it encourages you that, if you're like me and have been waiting for those same experiences, it is not because you are doing anything wrong, or God has forgotten you, rather he is just wanting to use you and speak to you in different ways.
- Have you ever felt close to God?
- What was it like for you?