God or Good Vibes? The Truth About Recognizing God’s Presence
I experienced the presence of God as my wife, with eyes full of tears and her nails in my arms, brought our first child into the world.
We strolled into the old yellow house a few hours before this moment; my wife’s contractions still manageable, the pain not too bad. The on-call midwife brought us to a room and explained that we had the whole place to ourselves. For a short time, it was quiet, peaceful even.
We reflected on the massive change we would soon encounter, trying to take in every last moment as a family of two while eagerly awaiting our new addition. Love filled the room.
I recognized God’s presence in that quiet, normal moment, too.
“Is this really God?”
At some point in the not-too-distant past, I would have questioned whether or not these were true encounters with the triune God.
Could it not just have been the emotions? The lack of sleep? The excitement? Do I need to hyper-spiritualize the moment by labeling it “God’s presence”?
I grew up on the summer diet of evangelical youth camps—chorus-laden guitars, the bandleader calling everyone to the front, hands in the air. The preacher would hype up the crowd from the stage, reassuring us that the Spirit of God was here.
And my friends and I would all nod in agreement.
But as years went by, many of those friends walked away from God.
I started to doubt whether the Spirit ever truly arrived in those summer camps in North Texas. If he had shown up, if my friends truly did encounter him, then how could they leave the faith?
I built protective walls around labeling divine encounters, determined never again to mistake God’s presence for good vibes.
In some ways, this was a good move. The weirdly spiritual yet post-Christian world we occupy often puts the divine in places he doesn’t belong. I’ve heard plenty of people – some of the same ones who worshiped alongside me at camp – speak of meeting God while on mushrooms.
My wall was an attempt to shield against such irreverent views of God. Especially those that contradicted what I knew to be true through his clearest revelation: his word.
But that wall also constrained God in ways I never intended it to, even to the point of ignoring parts of scripture.
I overlooked passages like James 1:17, where the author declares that “every good gift and every perfect gift comes from above.” I missed how often Jesus met people in their daily routines. Or the nuances of his teaching. Jesus used small, mundane things to make his message clear. Mustard seeds and runaway sons are nothing special. They’re as normal as morning coffee, good conversations, or childbirth.
Why could God not be present in those as well?
The truth about God’s presence.
I thought that the Spirit of God had to be more complicated than that. It had to feel grand and exciting.
But is he not Immanuel, God with us?
Those of us who walk in step with the Spirit have access to his presence in everyday occurrences. He makes his dwelling place in “the muddy corner of your garage,” as the poet Tania Runyan has said. We can recognize him in the small moments of our daily life—even in the delivery room at the Allen Birthing Center.
God’s presence can be hard to see in these moments. The corner of the garage becomes muddy because no one ever looks there.
We’re distracted and busy. We carry tiny computers in our pockets with the power to take one’s mind anywhere else. Noise and activity constantly beckon us away from the present moment.
Perhaps that’s why we rarely see God in the little things.
Christians for generations have confessed in song that we are “prone to wander.” Even at my child’s birth, I found my focus drifting as the labor dragged on. Frustration with the staff set in. Fear about the future. General exhaustion from the late night.
I had to remind myself of the miracle, or else – like the Israelites with the manna from heaven – I risked getting so distracted that I missed it.
Seeing the presence of God in day-to-day life comes down to resisting this urge to wander. Fighting to stay aware, instead.
You’ll see God most when you look for him. Reading his word immerses you in his story. Prayer reorients your hearts towards him. These practices counter the natural tendency we have to drift toward a different end.
How to recognize God’s presence
This is nothing new. Israel kept their eyes on God by incorporating the story of salvation into their daily routines, too.
Deuteronomy 6 tells the people to repeat the great commandment to themselves and their children in all their comings and goings. Like us, they were on the verge of missing God’s presence. “Take care lest you forget the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” Normality breeds forgetfulness.
Childbirth, as strange as it seemed to a first-timer like me, is normal too. Babies are born every day, but this doesn’t lessen the opportunity for a divine encounter.
I recognized God’s presence in that room, and not just because something incredible was happening. His presence was in my feelings for my wife, in her sacrifice, in the new capacity for love we both experienced as we held our baby girl.
These small pieces of God’s natural revelation are confirmed in his word.
The Apostle John declares that God is love. Jesus repeatedly demonstrates his sacrificial heart. The disciples followed in his feet-washing footsteps.
For years, I was constrained by a fear of blasphemy that kept me from recognizing God’s presence all around me. But in reality, that fear and insecurity could have been alleviated had I just opened my bible.
Scripture reveals a God who cherishes normality and regularly reveals himself through it.
I’m still not sure why my friends left the church after those summer camp experiences. I also don’t know if they encountered God there. But I know that I did. (And it had nothing to do with the guitars, the speaker, or the good vibes.)
God was present to his people because we looked for his presence among us. He is where his people are – in every exciting moment and in the ordinary ones, too.
All we have to do is look.
Are you looking for more ways to experience God’s presence throughout your week? Tune into A Bigger Life with Dave Cover and let guided prayer through God’s word help you become more aware of his presence in your life.
About the Author
Joseph Honescko writes about art, faith, and culture from his home in McKinney, Texas where he lives with his wife, Ginny, and their baby girl, Louella. He’s interested in the connection between cultural narratives and daily habits. In addition to writing, Joseph teaches High School English and Apologetics. He hates social media but looks for alternative ways to connect with readers at josephrhonescko.com.