In The Presence of God

In his article ‘Travel with Jesus’ (Leadership, spring 2006), Gordon MacDonald give us “[a] record of God’s mounting presence in one leader’s life.”1 From his spiritual journey experience, MacDonald is trying to tell us, “Never (ever!) Assume that the answers and ways of spirituality I have today about how to stand in the presence of God are the final solution.

We find here that standing in the presence of God is the answers and ways of spirituality. But what is spirituality? Chris Hartono2 wrote that the word came from a Latin: spiritus and has a broad sense of meaning. At least there are five meaning of it: (1). Blast of wind; (2). Breath; (3). Life-sustaining principle; soul; (4). Spirit; seat of emotion; and (5). Attitude, consciousness, feeling, courageous. In short, it is not just talking about “one aspect of human life,” but broader than that. MacDonald then wrote that a spiritual journey is a metaphorical reference to one’s consciousness of God’s place in one’s life. Its outcomes were apparent in one’s life-direction, inner serenity, worship, and service.

MacDonald then gave us stories about God’s presence through experiences. He told about his childhood, times when he committed his whole life to Jesus, until at last he concluded about “how to stand in the presence of God” is a question that no Christian can stop to be concerned with. However, from MacDonald experiences, we to have been warning about the possibility for Christians to miss understand their own life’s experiences.

What someone thinks as a spiritual experience, may often be just a manifestation of a psychological experience. As Yakub Susabda3 has wrote in one of his book, “pengalaman-pengalaman rohani tidak sama dengan pengalaman-pengalaman jiwani” (Spiritual experiences are not equal with psychological experiences).4 Armand Larive writes too:

Spirituality has to do with spiritual issues. But (however) what is a spiritual issue? It is different from physical issues such as breaking an arm, the ability to jump vertically, or sweating in hot weather. It is also different from psychological issues, such as compulsive hand washing, nervous ticks, or kleptomania. But (however) the spiritual can influence the physical and the psychological because of its foundational nature. Regrettably, however, therapists often don’t recognize spiritual issues or tend to reduce them to psychological issues.5

Regrettably, many Christians do the same mistakes that of those therapist’s. Actually, we must be able to distinguish the differences, and not to see those two things as equal.

We must be careful then. Susabda writes that some Christians think that they have already lived in God’s presence just because they have received some insights while they read the bible or listened to a sermon. They felt God’s personal presence when their minds were stimulated with new ideas through God’s Words. They failed to realize that it was just a manifestation of their –as many psychologist said– verbal-rational personality type.

Meanwhile, the other Christians with social-relational personality type think that God is present in their lives when they try to help –for example- the victims of Tsunami in Aceh, for them, people who confess that God’s presence is in their lives, must give visible proof through social actions or godly lifestyle. A Christian with this type of personality should learn more that God’s presence is not the same as Godly Presence.

Besides those two personality types, there are also affective-emotional personality type (a person who feels God’s presence in the midst of worship service that protrude people emotion) and transcendental personality type (a person who feels God’s presence through mystical experience and Christian symbols). One thing to remember is, what someone thinks as God’s presence, could be just an appearance of a personality type.

I myself then am seeing a similarity between my experiences and that of MacDonald‟s. I was born again through a charismatic renewal movement and was challenge to live out ‘a high standard’ of Christian living. In addition, I did. I did practice a long hours of prayer daily; read bible diligently; evangelized all people I met; and with all that…I felt that God was in me and the presence of God was all around me. In spite of those facts, as a young charismatic sympathizer I was ready to ‘attack’ other Christians who were not charismatic. I thought that I lived in God’s presence, while the others Christians were not, and I was preventing myself from what I called as ‘theology’, ‘doctrines’, moreover non-charismatic pastors.

Life goes on. I knew then about Reformed Theology. This encountering has brought me to learn Christian Theology deeper. I read then many theological books. I came to seminars eagerly and feed my mind with many wonderful concepts I never learned before. However, slowly I began to neglectful my devotional living. I do not think that the problem is in the theology I learned, but rather because a problem of my stubbornness and my disappointed-ness while I was dealing with things that happen in my lives. I spend many times only for my academic studies in theology, but no more meditated on God’s word; prayer less; and no more proclaiming the good news. I walking through the valley of shadow and try to leaved God. Only by His grace then I can said, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” (Psalm 139:7. NIV), cause He raised me.

In Reformed tradition I learned then, the goal of that spirituality is ‘a spiritual maturity.’ Luder G. Whitlock, Jr. wrote, “There are two principal indices of spiritual maturity: the fruit of the Spirit as described by Paul in Galatians 5:22-23 and conformity to the image of God (Romans 8:29; Ephesians 4:23-24).”6 This –then– became the goal of my spiritual journey. However, there is one thing I learned: (As MacDonald wrote) “Never (ever!) Assume that the answers and ways of spirituality I have today about how to stand in the presence of God are the final solution.”

Do I have a goal in my spiritual journey? Yes! Nevertheless, I must be very careful regarding my understanding of God’s presence in my life. God must be present at every aspect of my life: in my mind, my emotion, my social behavior, and in my transcendental experiences. Moreover, when times are good or when times are bad, we should know that we can sings together with The Psalmist, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me; your right hand will hold me fast.” (Psalm 139:7-10. NIV)

(Oleh NT. Prasetyo, S.Sos. untuk memenuhi tugas matakuliah Masalah Kepribadian dalam Pelayanan yang diampu oleh Dr. Paulus Kurnia, STTRI, 2004)

1 Gordon MacDonald, “Travel with Jesus,” Leadership, spring 2006, 102-107.
2 Chris Hartono, “Spiritualitas Gerakan Reformasi: Tradisi-tradisi Lutheran, Calvinis dan Anabaptis,” PENUNTUN Vol. 3, No.12 (Juli 1997): 465-478. Hartono was Lecturer in Church History at Duta Wacana Christian University, Jogjakarta, Indonesia.
3 Yakub Susabda is the Dean of Evangelical Reformed Theological Seminary, Jakarta, Indonesia. He is a graduate of Jakarta Theological Seminary (B.A.), Union Theological Seminary, Richmond, Virginia (in Pastoral Counseling Studies), Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, Missisippi (Master in Christian Education), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois (Th. M. in Psychology and Counseling), and Biola University, La Mirada, California (Ph.D.). Together, Rev. Yakub Susabda, Ph.D., Rev. Dr. (HC) Stephen Tong and Rev. Caleb Tong, were founding Indonesia Evangelical Reformed Organization.
4 Susabda wrote about four types of personality in his book Mengenal dan Bergaul dengan Allah (Batam Center: Gospel Press, 2002), p. 31-2. Susabda has authored books in Church Administration, Pastoral Counseling, Modern Theology, The Evangelical, Reformed History, and few others.
5 Armand Larive, After Sunday: A Theology of Work (New York: Continuum. 2004), 32. Armand E. Larive is an Episcopal priest who combines parish ministry with teaching philosophy at Washington State University. He is now enjoying a second career as a carpenter in Bellingham, Washington, near Puget Sound.
6 Luder G. Whitlock, Jr., “Spiritual Direction in the Reformed Tradition,” Journal of Psychology and Theology, Vol. 30, No.4 (2002): 314-322.


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