Jim Cymbala

B. Childress
Aug 04 2013

Sometimes I wonder what it must have been like for the Israelites to have the presence of God in their midst – dwelling
among them and guiding them as they traveled from Egypt to the Promised Land.  Though Moses was the only one who
got to talk directly to God, all of the Israelites could see a manifestation of God’s presence – the pillar of cloud by day
and the pillar of fire by night.

The pillars first appeared as the Hebrews were nearing the Red Sea.  Later Moses received the Ten Commandments
from God on Mount Sinai.  Along with the moral instructions, he also received detailed instructions on how the Israelites
should worship God.  Using the plans Moses brought back, the Israelites built a tabernacle.  This tabernacle was a
portable temple or temporary structure that could be packed up and taken with them as they moved around the desert.  
Then whenever they stopped, the tabernacle served as the focal point for priestly worship and sacrifices offered up to

Behind the Holy Place, where only the priests ministered daily, was a place called the Holy of Holies, a special room that
only the high priest could enter and only once a year on the Day of Atonement.  In that room resided the ark of the
covenant, a sacred, gold-covered trunk also built to the specifications that God gave Moses.  The cover was solid gold
and called the mercy seat.  Inside the ark were the stone tablets, on which were written the Ten Commandments.

After the tabernacle was set up for the first time, an awesome event happened.  “[A] cloud covered the tent of meeting,
and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle” (Exodus 40:34).  But that cloud covering was anything but ordinary – it
was literally God’s presence in some mysterious form.  The God of Israel had come to settle among his people above the
ark of the covenant.  This was such an extraordinary moment that “Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because
the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle” (Exodus 40:35).  But God did more than
come into their midst; he used his presence as a way to guide them.  When the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle
and moved forward, the Israelites packed up camp and followed.  God didn’t tell them to “go.”  He went first and told
them to “follow.”  When the cloud stopped, so did the Israelites.

“In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; but if the
cloud did not lift, they did not set out…So the cloud of the LORD was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the
cloud by night, in the sight of all the Israelites during all their travels” (Exodus 40:36-38).

Think of how marvelous this must have been!  God had given them moral commandments reflecting his holiness; he had
given them a sacrificial system of offerings for sin; but now he had given them
his actual presence.

The cloud must have greatly reassured the Israelites.  It reminded them that God was there – that he was guiding and
protecting them.  They were not like the Philistines, Amorites, or other Canaanite peoples.  They were the chosen
people of the true and living God, whose presence dwelt among them.  Imagine how horror-stricken they would have
been if one day they woke up and didn’t see the cloud.  Imagine the chaos and panic that would have ensued if the
cloud of glory, the very presence of God, was no longer with them.

But that’s exactly what happened.  One day, in fact, the cloud was no longer there.  We don’t know when the cloud went
away or why there was no longer a visible sign of God’s presence.  The Bible doesn’t tell us any of those details.  I can’t
help but wonder what happened.  Did God leave because they turned away from obeying him?  Did people even notice
the cloud was missing?  If they did, did they care?  Did they do anything to get him back?

Missing in Action

In this book, we have studied the activity, power, and presence of the Holy Spirit in the early Christian church.  When we
consider the movement of the Spirit and the great work accomplished for Christ in the early church and compare it to our
lives and congregations today, it’s hard not to wonder what happened.  Why have we settled for anemic Christian living
and lifeless church routines when the living Spirit of God is available for the asking?

A strong word of rebuke from God to his own people is found in the writings of Jeremiah.  Could it still apply to many of
us today?

Hear the word of the LORD, you descendants of Jacob,

    all you clans of Israel.

This is what the LORD says:

“What fault did your ancestors find in me,

    that they strayed so far from me?

They followed worthless idols

    and became worthless themselves.

They did not ask, ‘
Where is the LORD,

    who brought us up out of Egypt

And led us through the barren wilderness,

    through a land of deserts and ravines,

A land of drought and utter darkness,

    a land where no one travels and no one lives?’”

Jeremiah 2:4-6, emphasis added

Israel had lost the blessing and presence of their God, and amazingly, no one seemed to care.  Despite God’s powerful
work on their behalf in the past, no one had the spiritual courage and discernment to ask, “Where is the Lord?”  Their
idolatry and other sins had grieved and then forfeited God’s presence, but the real tragedy was that no one missed him.  
Temple worship continued and animal sacrifices were offered exactly as Moses commanded, but the Spirit of God had
long since gone.

Could that be happening today?  Hymns and praise choruses are sung; a sound doctrinal sermon is preached; our
church services are timed and orchestrated perfectly.  Too often, however, there is little of the presence of God that
produces awe, conviction of sin, overflowing joy, and life-transforming ministry.  We can easily settle for “church” instead
of God.  And every succeeding generation shaped in that mold makes it harder for anyone to dare ask, “Where is the

But there’s another prophetic passage that brings hope to all of us who hunger for a spiritual breakthrough in our lives,
churches, and nation:

Then his people recalled the days of old,

    the days of Moses and his people –

where is he who brought them through the sea,

    with the shepherd of his flock?

Where is he who

    set his Holy Spirit among them?

Isaiah 63:11, emphasis added

That passage speaks of a day when God’s people will remember the past.  They will remember how the Lord intervened
on their behalf and his presence was glorious among them.  Inspired by those memories, they will cry out, “Where is he
who set his Holy Spirit among us?”  Then even stronger petitions will go up to the Lord, “Oh, that you would rend the
heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you!” (Isaiah 64:1).

This desperate prayer has marked every spiritual revival God ever granted.  Believers sense their loss and can’t settle
any longer for merely going to church.  They must have God
himself filling their lives.

Before Israel settled in Canaan, Moses got to the heart of the matter when he pleaded with God for more help to lead
the people.  “The LORD replied, ‘My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’  Then Moses said to him, “If your
Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.  How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and
with your people unless you go with us?  What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the
face of the earth?” (Exodus 33:14-16).

How astounding is Moses’ prayer!   Especially when compared to our satisfaction with far less than the best God has to
offer.  Moses told the Lord not even to send them toward the Promised Land unless he was with them.  How else would
others know God’s approval of Moses and Israel if there was no glorious presence?

This distinguishing mark made the Hebrews different from all other peoples on the earth – not their weapons, victory
songs, or past experiences.   The presence of the Lord set them apart as God’s covenant nation.  In the same way, the
early church not only rejoiced in the fact that the Spirit was given, but they also coveted the manifestation of his
presence among them.  Their goal was to see unbelievers visiting their services and leaving filled with awe and
declaring, “God is really among you” (I Corinthians 14:24-25).

Without the Spirit, Christianity is reduced to head knowledge
about God, empty traditions, and a social club mentality.   
We need to ask God to give us a fresh revelation of what
his church was meant to look like.  Without that proper
foundation, we’ll end up building on sand.  But with it we will see seasons of spiritual renewal from the Holy Spirit that
produce amazingly fruitful evangelism and a growing atmosphere of love among believers.

How to Get There from Here

Where do we go from here, and how do we get there?  We must start where miracles almost always begin: with
acknowledgment and confession.  If we are far from God and how he wants things to be, we can’t live in denial or with
pride-serving rationalizations.  Whether for us personally or our congregations, we must ask Jesus for an accurate
reading of our spiritual temperature.   Do we have a lukewarm faith?  Long ago Christ gave a temperature reading to
seven churches (Revelation 2-3), and he will also be faithful in love to show us where we have failed him.  No matter how
far we have drifted or fallen, he will bring us back to wholeness and spiritual vitality if we permit him.  But it must start with
our sincere, humble acknowledgment that we need help from the Holy Spirit.  We must confess that openly to the Lord.

We must also give ourselves to fellowship with God in prayer and serious study of his word.  The Bible will help us pray
in faith, and prayer will help us understand the words of Scripture.  As we trust God, he will help us manage our time and
grant us self-discipline.  Then, as new light dawns in our souls, we will be compelled to confess and forsake every sin
and ungodly habit.  True repentance will turn us away from selfish indulgence and toward God.  We will come broken
and weak before him, but the important fact is, we will come.

Will God reject our requests for his help because we’re still flawed and immature in some ways?  Not if we desire to live
right before God and experience more of the Holy Spirit.  Humility and a sincere desire to please him will always gain a
hearing at the throne of grace.  We must not keep on looking inward at our faults and moral failures.  Let’s just sincerely
confess everything the Spirit shows us and then move on to better things, like always keeping our eyes on Jesus
(Hebrews 12:2).  He is the one who promised the Holy Spirit to men who had recently deserted him at a critical time.  It
wasn’t their track record or righteousness that earned the promise; it was his love and their desperate need.

Does the Spirit want to do everything we have read about or not?  If he doesn’t, then the Bible is a very misleading
book.  If he does, then our seeking his help, strength, love, wisdom, and direction is not in vain.  Each time the Holy Spirit
prompts us to move in a new direction, let’s obey immediately.  This will help us develop a deeper sensitivity to his voice.

And as we must wait for fresh visitations from the Spirit, let us remain patient.  As sure as morning follows night, the Holy
will move in new ways among us.  Let’s leave the timing and manifestation of those things to God, whose ways are
not like ours.  But while we wait, let us keep working for Christ and serving others in his name.  Spiritual revival is not
reserved for hermits hidden away in a desert, but for believers living in the real world.  With God the best is always yet to

The Spirit has moved in the past and accomplished extraordinary things that glorified Jesus and extended his kingdom.  
But the world has never been darker, more violent, or hungrier for something that satisfies the soul.  Jesus is the
answer, and we are the Master’s messengers on a mission.  He knew what our needs would be and sent the Holy Spirit
to help us over every mountain and through every difficult valley.  The Holy Spirit cannot be contained in a box; he works
like the wind.  He blows where he wants to, and he manifests himself through people in ways of his own choosing.

When the Spirit works through surrendered, faith-filled people like you and me, Christ will be glorified.  The church will be
built up.  The Word of God will be honored.  The kingdom of God will be extended.

For that is why he came.


SPIRIT RISING, by Jim Cymbala with Jennifer Schuuchmann, Copyright 2012, Zondervan.