Q. How can we know that God’s presence is with us?
I think we essentially know that God is present with us by sensing God’s presence. It is the presence of an actual person, although that person is invisible and spiritual, not visible and physical. But I realize that this only changes the question to, “How can we learn to sense God’s presence?”
I believe this is indeed something that needs to be learned. The Bible tells us that when the future prophet and judge Samuel was a young boy, God called him at night, but he thought that the high priest Eli, who was raising him, was calling him instead. The Bible explains, “Samuel did not yet know the Lord.” And so he could not recognize his voice. I think this is a good analogy for sensing God’s presence. We may need to come to know God better in order to recognize his presence when it is with us. Or we may simply need to understand that we can sense God’s presence, just as young Samuel needed to be told that God might be calling him with his voice.
I would suggest that if we diligently practice the things that attract God’s presence, we will notice a difference from what things were like before we started to do that, and also a difference when (unfortunately) we fail in some of those ways and grieve God’s Spirit and drive away his presence.
Here are the disciplines I have in mind. For one thing, holiness attracts God’s presence. If we willingly forsake anything that we know is displeasing to God, particularly things that God has convicted our hearts about, that should attract God’s presence, and we should sense it. For another thing, if we genuinely and sincerely promise God that we will unconditionally obey whatever he asks us to do, that should also attract God’s presence, and we should sense it. Further things we can and should do are to forgive freely anyone we have been holding a grudge against, and resolve to seek reconciliation with anyone we have become estranged from, to the extent that that is safe and will not simply give them the opportunity to wrong us again. If we choose not to worry but instead trust God for the future, that will bring peace to our hearts and attract God’s presence as well. And so forth.
In short, we should put into practice all of the things that the Bible already encourages us to do that will bring love, peace, and joy into our hearts, and that will make those hearts a welcoming place for God’s presence. As I said, we should then notice a difference from the way things were before, and we should discern that that difference is the presence of God. Particularly if, unfortunately, we disobey, or sin, or break a relationship, we should then notice another kind of difference—the absence of a presence we had grown accustomed to and come to cherish. We will then be eager to do what is necessary to welcome God’s presence back into our lives.
I have told many people that one of the scariest statements in the Bible for me is the one that is made about Samson after he breaks his vow of dedication to God: “He did not know that the Lord had left him.” The results were disastrous. May we all cultivate the disciplines that attract God’s presence, and may we all learn to sense God’s presence, so that something like that never happens to us.