"Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified."
On Sunday, Patrick Lafferty preached on Haggai 1 and so helpfully emphasized the difference between believing in God as an idea versus experiencing the impact of God’s holy presence. If someone has “presence” like a famous actress or powerful politician, the moment they enter a room, the air becomes electric. Their “presence” affects those around them, and the Lord’s presence does the same to us, even more so.
So, how do we truly meet with God and experience His presence?
In Haggai, the prophet says Israel will find Him in the temple. And once they build it, God will manifest His presence not only to them but also to the world. “My Spirit remains in your midst,” God says in 2:8, so build the temple and the nations will visibly see God’s glory. Again, the people are to work — to build a second temple — and once they get their priorities straight, meaning repent and make God’s house the priority and work hard, He will be in their midst.
When Jesus comes to earth more than 500 years later, he says something new. Instead of commanding the disciples to build Him a house, which is basically what Peter offers on the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus says His Father is building their house (John 15). After the cross, Jesus returns to His Father to prepare a place for us, so anyone who believes in Him will be in their house forever.
As there’s a house being built in heaven, back on earth the glory of God’s presence is manifested to the world in a new way. God is not housed in a building made with wood and stones. He’s in you, me, and all the saints who have gone before, plus those who will come after as we make disciples of all nations. “You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:3).
When we hunger for God, one of the things we’re doing is hungering for His presence—hungering for home. And God has given us the church, His people, to be a home away from home. We get to seek Him and experience Him as we come together to hear His Word, worship, gather for communion, as we individually and corporately meditate on His Word, and as we pray.
In one sense, seeking God is no longer hard work. We don’t have to travel up to Jerusalem carrying animals to sacrifice or buy them once we get there. We also don’t have to find a way to reach heaven and bring God down. Jesus came from heaven, descended into hell, and rose again. Now that we have His Word, He is near, “in your mouth and in your heart,” (Romans 10:7-8). Preparing to experience God’s presence is not tangible work like building a temple. It’s faith — believing in the One whom He has sent (John 6:29). Faith and union with Christ is His gift laid on our very doorstep and is a portal to heaven’s throne room, where we are in God’s presence with just a breath of prayer or a word of scripture.
But even with this new “age of ease” — the age of Christ’s resurrected Spirit — doing the work for us, it is still a night that ravages the soul when we can’t sense the presence of God. We do all the right things, read all the right scripture, repent, work hard and get our priorities straight, and still God’s nearness does not seem good. It doesn’t even seem like He is there.
And faith becomes very hard work.
This is something Jesus knows. It was His cry on the cross — forsakenness and the abandonment of His Father’s presence — and He gives us His very life to see us through. He sends us His resurrected Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing that He’ll get us home.
Abram Kuyper, Dutch journalist, theologian, and statesman from the nineteenth century, knew what it was like to be a person with “presence.” But he also knew that being in God’s presence is what every heart cries for. “Not after a Creed regarding God, not after an idea of God, not after a remembrance of God…but after God Himself, after God in His holy outpouring of strength and grace, Who…in holy exhibition of love reveals Himself to you and in you as the living God. It is not your idea, not your understanding, not your thinking, not your reasoning, not even your profession of faith, that here can quench the thirst. The homesickness goes out after God Himself. It is not the Name of God but God Himself Whom your soul desires and cannot live without,” (To Be Near Unto God, 671–675).
If you are homesick, maybe you could pray even now, “Father, bring me to you.”