“Give me your lantern and compass, give me a map, So I can find my way to the sacred mountain, to the place of your presence, To enter the place of worship, meet my exuberant God, Sing my thanks with a harp, magnificent God, my God.”

Psalm 43:3 MSG  

Growing up I remember an iconic movie that my parents took me to see, which planted a seed in my life and attracted me to spirituality: “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.”  

The thought that there is a “force” out there was intriguing. Although you may not be able to see it or touch it, it was all around us. The idea that through training your mind and body you could feel it and tap into its power was fascinating.

I vividly remember one scene in the swamp where Yoda is teaching Luke Skywalker what the force is and the mind-bending possibilities of it: 

“You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes.”

Yoda “Empire Strikes Back”

As a Christian, I can find myself relating to young Luke Skywalker.  In some moments I feel attuned to and aware of God’s presence as if he is right there speaking to me and riveted on my words as I pray.

Yet in other moments it feels like when I’m praying, I’m talking to the air or to myself. It’s in these moments where I read the Bible and nothing seems to stick. I could just as well be reading astrophysics and would have retained the same amount of information. 

When I’m in these spots in my relationship with God, it can feel frustrating. There is no sense of God nor his power or presence, but more self-talk and an academic grasp to obtain something from the Bible.

I can make the mistake of thinking that I have to prove my righteousness in order for God to accept and allow me in his presence. However, the truth in scriptures teaches us that God isn’t fickle that way. In fact, he’s faithful. He’s always present. 

The Eternal is compassionate and merciful. When we cross all the lines, He is patient with us. When we struggle against Him, He lovingly stays with us— changing, convicting, prodding; 

Psalm 103:8 Voice

God’s presence is always accessible. Much like the “force” was with Luke. However, it’s my faith and heart condition that determines each morning when I spend time praying and reading my Bible whether I enter the presence of God or enter the realm of religiosity.  

What is the condition of my conscience?    

I praise the LORD, because he guides me, and in the night my conscience warns me. [8] I am always aware of the LORD’s presence; he is near, and nothing can shake me.

Psalm 16:7-8 GNT

The Bible teaches us that our conscience affects our faith (1 Timothy 1:19) and from the scripture above we also know that our conscience affects our awareness of God’s presence.  We cannot ignore the condition of our conscience.  

If I don’t daily make efforts to keep my conscience clear I won’t have the faith that God allows me in his presence despite my sins. 

Our conscience can be in different states (religious, silenced, corrupted, and seared). It’s important that you identify the condition of your conscience and address this every morning. The power of sins lasting impact is mitigated when it’s identified and confessed.  

Reflection questions

  • Do you make daily effort to identify and clear your conscience?  
  • Can you identify the state of your conscience (religious, silenced, corrupted, or seared)? 
  • What can you do today to clear your conscience?

Where is my heart? 

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart— put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

Matthew 5:8 MSG

The condition of our hearts when we spend time with God is a huge factor in our ability to be in His presence. When I first became a Christian, I easily slipped into focusing on the behaviors of change, but not the heart of change.

This still affects me today. I can neglect my heart which makes my times with God simply intellectual exercises in learning about God rather than spending time with God.  

In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “ ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. [15] For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’

Matthew 13:14-15 NIV

I’ve had the good fortune of having some spiritual friends in my life who teach me how to transform my relationship with God. One of the things I am learning is how to daily deal with my heart. 

Emotions aren’t something that you just harden to, but something you allow God to help you work through.

Emotions: connecting or cutting-off?  

Do the emotions in your life lead you to make connections in relationships or do your emotions cause you to cut off others because the consuming nature of your emotions makes you unavailable to everyone?   

“We have been very open in speaking to you Corinthians. We have a place for you in our hearts. [12] We haven’t cut you off. Your own emotions have cut you off from us.”

2 Corinthians 6:11-12 GWT 

Our emotions will either cause us to seek relationships and connect or they will put walls in our relationships. If you choose to do the latter when you enter your time with God, you won’t be present to sense his presence because you’re “emotionally preoccupied.” 

A great illustration of this is in the dinner table scene of the movie “The Incredibles” where the husband Bob is so preoccupied that he isn’t emotionally present to be in relationship with his family:

I’ve been guilty of this on more occasions than I’d care to admit. I realize what I don’t do with God is what I also don’t do in my marriage or my other relationships.  

Reflection questions

  • What do emotions do to you? Connect in relationships or cut off in relationships?  
  • What are the emotions that preoccupy you that make you unavailable?  

Once we identify the condition of our conscience and take action to clear it there are 3-steps to dealing with the emotions of our heart that we must allow God to help us work through in order to discover God’s presence.

Emotional awareness (the courage to look inside)

“Explore me, O God, and know the real me. Dig deeply and discover who I am. Put me to the test and watch how I handle the strain.” 

Psalm 139:23 VOICE

Looking at king David’s life I’ve come to realize that the courage it took to become aware of his heart enabled him to have courage out on the battlefield. As I apply this to my own life, courage starts with looking inside and manifests itself outside.

Although I dislike emotions of “weakness” – insecurity, guilt, sadness, unbelief, or discouragement – I can’t be afraid to see these. 

I’m learning I need to change how I see the truth, not as a foe to be feared but as a freedom to be embraced. That means changing how I read the Bible and allowing the “truth” of the Bible show me what’s inside my heart (James 1:23).

I have to be willing to spend time reflecting in my relationship with God and asking questions of not only “what” am I feeling, but “why” am I feeling?  

Reflection questions

  • What are the top 2-3 emotions that you are reluctant or resistant to seeing in your life? 
  • Do you allow God to help you to discover what emotions may be lurking inside of you?  

Emotional honesty (the humility to be vulnerable)

“O my God, shine Your light and truth to help me see clearly, To lead me to Your holy mountain, to Your home. [4] Then I will go to God’s altar with nothing to hide. I will go to God, my rapture; I will sing praises to You and play my strings, unloading my cares, unleashing my joys, to You, God, my God. [5] O my soul, why are you so overwrought? Why are you so disturbed? Why can’t I just hope in God? Despite all my emotions, I will hope in God again. I will believe and praise the One who saves me and is my life, My Savior and my God.”

Psalm 43:1-5 VOICE

I admire David’s humility in vulnerability. Though he was king and a mighty warrior, he had no hesitation to be weak with God. David shows us that the second step to dealing with your heart to discover the presence of God requires the humility to be vulnerable and share honestly with Him. 

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Emotional awareness just becomes emotional indulgence if we don’t allow God to help us dig deeper past the surface of our emotions to identify the sins at the roots.

It is not enough to have emotional awareness. Otherwise those emotions will just stick with you, occupying prime real estate in your heart, rendering you unavailable. 

I’m learning that emotional awareness just becomes emotional indulgence if we don’t allow God to help us dig deeper past the surface of our emotions to identify the sins at the roots. It’s at this stage that emotional honesty helps us get there.  

Reflection questions

  • Do you have a difficult time being emotionally vulnerable with God? 
  • What is the depth of your emotional vocabulary? How many emotions are you able to identify and articulate?    
  • In your relationship with God, do you get past your emotions to identify the root causes?   

Emotional availability (the love to be present)

“During Christ’s days on earth he pleaded with God, praying with passion and with tearful agony that God would spare him from death. And because of his perfect devotion his prayer was answered and he was delivered. [8] But even though he was a wonderful Son, he learned to listen and obey through all his sufferings.”

Hebrews 5:7-8 TPT

One of the remarkable things about Jesus is how he emptied himself in prayer. Not only did this happen when he prayed to make the ultimate sacrifice at the cross, but when you read the Gospels you see that Jesus did this daily in his relationship with God.

His willingness to find the courage to be emotionally aware and the humility to be emotionally honest gave him the ability to be emotionally available.  

This availability is what allows us to sense the presence of God. It is that spiritual sweet spot where you are connected to God and his presence energizes and flows through you. When you are here you’ve transcended beyond the mechanics of reading your Bible and praying. You are walking with God just as a Jedi is at one with the “force.”

“Whenever the people of Israel set up camp, Moses would take the sacred Tent and put it up some distance outside the camp. It was called the Tent of the LORD’s presence, and anyone who wanted to consult the LORD would go out to it. [11]The LORD would speak with Moses face-to-face, just as someone speaks with a friend…

[15-16] Moses replied, “If you do not go with us, don’t make us leave this place. [16] How will anyone know that you are pleased with your people and with me if you do not go with us? Your presence with us will distinguish us from any other people on earth.!” 

Exodus 33:7, 11, 15-16 GNT

Reflection questions

  • Are you aware of the condition of your conscience?  
  • Which of these three stages (Emotional Awareness, Honest, Vulnerability) would lead to transformative change in your relationship with God?  
  • What will it take to change this area of your relationship with God?  
  • How will changing this area of your relationship with God lead to impact in the lives of those around you? 
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Brian was a world-class judo competitor from San Jose State University. His experiences as a fighter and as a counselor have given him a unique perspective that he brings to his contributions to Deep Spirituality.

Discovering God's Presence 8

Brian was a world-class judo competitor from San Jose State University. His experiences as a fighter and as a counselor have given him a unique perspective that he brings to his contributions to Deep Spirituality.

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