Understanding the Distinction in the Presence of God: Culture of Prayer [Part 4]

[fa icon="calendar"] November 1, 2019 / by Ray Van Gilst

rays of sunlight shining through clouds in blue sky - shutterstock_597876260The greatest revolution taking place today in the church around the world is an awakening and rediscovery of the distinction between the omnipresence of God and His manifest presence.

God’s omnipresence, or His everywhere presence, is a wonderful reality taught throughout the Bible. It’s comforting to know that no matter where we are, we cannot escape from God’s everywhere presence. We must understand, however, that God’s omnipresence is not what separates the church from the sports bar or fitness center down the street.

God’s everywhere presence is just as much in the Islamic mosque or Hindu temple as it is in our local church. What distinguishes the church from everywhere else on earth, however, is God’s manifest presence. It’s His manifest presence that convicts of sin, leads in repentance, empowers us for obedience, and transforms us to become image bearers of Christ.

  1. W. Tozer, in his classic book The Pursuit of God, carefully distinguishes between God’s omnipresence and His manifest presence:

“The Presence and the manifestation of the Presence are not the same. There can be the one without the other. God is here when we are wholly unaware of it. He is manifest only when and as we are aware of His Presence. On our part there must be surrender to the Spirit of God, for His work it is to show us the Father and the Son. If we co-operate with Him in loving obedience God will manifest Himself to us, and that manifestation will be the difference between a nominal Christian life and a life radiant with the light of His face.”

In the book God on Fire, is a thoughtful distinction comparing and contrasting God’s omnipresence from His manifest presence.

Omnipresence Manifest Presence
Biblical Biblical
Real Real
True to God's nature True to God's nature
God is everywhere God is tangibly perceived
Generally theoretical Generally transformational
Available to all Normally for God's people
Universal Selective
Absolutely no prayer required Normally prayer required
Generally personal Highly personal
Abstract Specific
Obedience rare Obedience required

John 16:7–8 says, “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you . . . and he will convict the world.”

The two operative words in this verse have tragically been the two most overlooked words— “to you.” Let’s read Jesus’ statement again with emphasis on these two critical words:

“I will send him to you, and . . . he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.”

These two words are so obvious we could trip over them, yet they are nevertheless the two words that are often overlooked. They explain the strategic sequence of heaven. God sends His Holy Spirit not to the world; He sends His Spirit to you, that is, to the church. It’s only after the church has received the Holy Spirit that the Holy Spirit can then convict the world of sin. It is utterly inappropriate for us to ask the Holy Spirit to convict the world of sin by leapfrogging over us in the church. This is yet another reason the upper room is the key to reaching the nations. The nations will never feel the convicting impact of the Holy Spirit until the church first receives the Holy Spirit. This is what Armin Gesswein called God’s Law of Revival.

When Christians repent of their sins, unbelievers will repent of their sins.

When Christians cry out to God for sinners to be saved, sinners will cry out to God for salvation.

When revival is strong in the church, evangelism will be strong in the world. 

When Christians feel a deeper need for the Holy Spirit, non-Christians will feel their need for Christ.

When Christians wake up (revival), non-Christians will also wake up (evangelism).


Parts of this article have been developed with permission using material from Author and Rev. Fred Hartley, International College of Prayer.

Topics: Culture of Prayer