Scriptural Metaphors Used to Describe Experiencing God’s Presence (Part 2)

I had good intentions. I wrote Part 1 of this series in July 2018. I intended on getting back to it sooner than I did. Part 2 ended up on the back burner for over three years. It’s time to put this article to bed.

In my last post, I highlighted the main metaphor that was used in the OT to describe how believers could remain close to God in their daily lives, by walking with God. In this article, I want to look at two corresponding images found in the NT – abiding in Christ and being filled with the Holy Spirit.

Abiding in Christ

This word picture that describes how we relate with the second person of the Trinity is probably quite familiar to most Christians. In John 15:1-7, Jesus presents another metaphor that describes who He is. In addition to being the light of the world, the bread of life, etc., Jesus states that He is the vine.

Jesus is not talking about some kind of clinging vine that you sometimes see climbing up a tree or spread out over the side of an old house. A grapevine is more or less equivalent to the trunk of a tree.

Jesus said in verse 5 that He was the vine and that we are the branches. He said that if we abide or remain connected to Him, we will bear fruit: we would grow healthy grapes to the glory of the Gardener. There would be something tangible that others could see that would naturally flow from this supernatural connection to Jesus by faith. (Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit in Gal. 5:22-23.)

For me, throughout my day, I am often reminded to draw near to God’s presence by abiding in Christ. I do this by humbly expressing my dependence on Him. I read, meditate, trust, and obey God’s word and I pray in Jesus’ name through constant adoration and praise, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication.

Being filled with the Spirit

In Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, he describes how Christians are to rest in their union with Christ, to walk in unity with believers and in light among unbelievers, and to stand strong against spiritual opposition. One of the keys to this walk of faith is to be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18).

Paul contrasts being controlled by God’s Spirit with being drunk. Alcohol can overtake a person’s natural tendencies and can lead them to say and do unprofitable and unloving things. When we give God’s Holy Spirit control, He overcomes our fleshly bent and empower us to do Christlike things.

I have used a great illustration for many years to explain how the Holy Spirit changes a Christian from the inside out and how being filled with the Spirit is distinct from being indwelt by the Spirit.

Imagine a glass of milk. Plain 2% milk. It looks like every other glass of milk. Next to it, I have a jar of Hershey’s Syrup. Putting the jar right next to the glass does nothing for the milk. The milk has to accept the chocolatey goodness. When we pour it in and stir it a bit with a spoon, the very nature of the milk changes to resemble the Hershey’s Syrup. It is not like the other glasses of milk. It has been transformed into something better. Guess what? We can’t make it go back to the way it once was. 

The Hershey’s Syrup has now taken up residence in the milk. But if we just let it sit for a while, perhaps the syrup might start to separate from the milk and sink down to the bottom of the glass. It hasn’t left the milk, but the milk has begun to lose it distinctive chocolatiness. What do we need to do? I think we need to get a spoon and give it a vigorous stirring. Then it will look as good as new.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we have been indwelt by God’s Holy Spirit. He will never leave us if we are true believers. (See Eph. 1:13-14.) We just need to allow Him to fill us up with His presence.

How can we consistently walk, abide, and remain filled?

Christians are to live out their faith by intentionally relating to all three members of the Trinity as it is described in Scripture. I make an effort to walk with God the Father, abide in Christ, and be filled with the Spirit. The more I do that, the more I am empowered by God to remain in His presence.

There are many times I fail on a daily basis. Something called sin always seems to get in the way.

So, how do I deal with that? The answer is simple. I confess and forsake my sin when I need to (1 John 1:9). The Holy Spirit convicts me. I know when I have unconfessed sin, as David described in Ps. 32:3-4: “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.” (I invite you to read an article I wrote about losing and regaining our sense of God’s presence.)

Let me add a personal note here. There have been many times over the past several years when I sensed the presence of God at work. It occurred to me one day that it was not my efforts that drew me close to God. It was Jesus’ work on the cross that paid the penalty for my sin, allowing me to recognize and enjoy His presence at work, at home, at church, or wherever I happen to be. I recalled a key verse that exhorts us to maintain our walk with God by faith: “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). It’s all about grace. God’s merciful, abundant, and amazing grace.

I hope that you will be more mindful to walk, abide, and be filled at church, at home, and at work.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 41 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of the bookImmanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He served 20 years on active duty. Russ works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written 175 articles on faith and work topics. Eighty of these have been published over 160 times on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, and The Gospel Coalition. (See published articles on Linktree.)

Reflection on Rocket Scientists

You have probably heard it said many times, “It’s not rocket science!”

This common phrase which can be used on many occasions comes with the understanding that rocket science is a technologically complicated field. It is something that only true rocket scientists can fully understand and master. They must have a superior intellect and years of higher education to do it.

I have had an interesting take on this phrase that I have said quite often.  Here it is: Rocket science is not rocket science to a rocket scientist. 

The term “rocket science” as it is used in this context, refers to complicated projects or ideas that are extremely difficult to execute or comprehend. For those who have formal training and advanced degrees in the field of astrophysics, engineering, or some related field, doing what they do is not something extremely difficult for them to think about or do. They have all the tools they need.

However, I imagine that there are a host of other things, like sports, auto mechanics, teaching, or construction that might be a major challenge for them. These skills are “rocket science” to them.

I would like to explore this topic from a biblical and theological perspective. I am hoping that what I share in this brief article may be of some help to the vast majority of us who are not rocket scientists, as well as those who are.

God’s brilliant plan to create humans in His image to function as His coworkers

To begin this discussion, we must start at the beginning. “In the beginning, God created” (Gen. 1:1).

What God made was absolutely perfect. However, it was incomplete. God’s creation needed help. In Gen. 1:26-28, we read what is commonly known as the creation or cultural mandate. It is both a command and a blessing. God created human beings who were gifted with His own creativity. He called them to be His coworkers so that they could maintain, sustain, and expand what He had made.

In Gen. 2:5, we learn that God made the rain but needed man to work the ground. This illustrates that God’s original intent was for humans to be His coworkers. I call this connection Immanuel labor.

God equipped men and women will the skills necessary to sustain His creation

God created male and female so that they could “be fruitful and multiply.” Humans were not clueless. Their bodies and minds were designed to know what to do in order for that to happen. I believe that when their babies were born, they inherently knew how to care for them, as do most parents today.

After God created the Garden of Eden. Adam was charged “to work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). He and Eve suddenly became gardeners. Since God created trees, there would be a need at some point for lumberjacks and carpenters. There was gold and precious stones in the ground (Gen. 2:11-12), so there would be a need for goldsmiths and jewelers, some of whom would later build a tabernacle in the wilderness. Later, in Gen. 4:17, we see that Cain built a city. In Gen. 4:20-22, we read that Cain’s descendants became those who took care of livestock, played music, and forged instruments of bronze and iron.

Daniel Doriani, in his book Work: Its Purpose, Dignity, and Transformation, shares this insight: “In this description of the very earliest stages of human history, we find God’s creativity and expanding blessings being expressed in the diverse professions and vocations of his people. . . All these different professions are being established as the means by which society is advancing under God’s plan – a plan honoring every vocation that furthers God’s purposes.”

How did these unique individuals develop the skills and talents needed to do this work? Likely, it was a process, similar to how young people today figure out what they want to do when they grow up.

It may have begun with interest. “What is that shiny rock in the ground?” This led to involvement. “I wonder if I can make something useful with this pliable piece of metal.” As involvement continued, it became experience. Perhaps they received some training and education from others who were also involved. Eventually, they developed marketable skills that God could use to accomplish His work.

Over time, God sovereignly equipped a wide variety of ordinary workers to do what He needed done in the world. Economies and civilizations were built at the hands of these talented men and women. God equipped those who were made in His image with innate abilities to learn, grow, develop, create, and become everything that He needed them to be in order to meet the wide range of human needs.

How do you see your own intellect, talents, and strengths?

Let me attempt to tie it all together now.

I have observed that many people see all jobs on some kind of continuum. Some jobs are simply beneath them; others, like rocket science, are too hard or out of reach. Their job falls somewhere in there.

Recall that God initially made people in His image who developed the interests, skills, and expertise needed to sustain and expand His creation. I believe He still does that today. Therefore, all jobs have value and contribute to what God wants done in this world to meet the needs of those He loves. It is not biblical or helpful to look down on some jobs and hold other jobs in high esteem. All are of value.

I believe God created some people with the ability to do rocket science. (I will address that shortly.) He created many others for different kinds of work.

Take a quick inventory of the many talents, aptitudes, gifts, skills, and abilities that God has entrusted to you to use in your sphere of influence, among your family, church, and community to glorify Him. I believe you are smarter than you realize. You might even do things that rocket scientists can’t do.

In 2017, I saw a movie that moved me deeply. Hidden Figures tells the story of a team of Black female mathematicians in the early 1960’s who worked brilliantly and diligently behind the scenes at NASA, amidst a hostile environment. In spite of many challenges, their work contributed significantly to the success of the first manned space flight. This film demonstrated how God put the right people with the right skill sets at the right time and place to do a good work that had an enduring impact on society for the common good.

I invite you to take a minute or two to praise God for leading you on your career journey, even if you did not realize it at the time. He has graciously provided all of the talents and skills you needed to do the work that He called you to do over a lifetime. Thank Him for what He has given and also for what He has not given you. You were designed for a purpose. Go out and fulfill it with excellence and joy.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 41 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of the bookImmanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He served 20 years on active duty. Russ works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written 175 articles on faith and work topics. Eighty of these have been published over 160 times on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, and The Gospel Coalition. (See published articles on Linktree.)