Fire, wind, and an earthquake happened because of God’s presence but God was not in them (1 Kings 19:11-12). Manifestations or experiential hallmarks of God’s presence are not God.
Signs follow those who believe but signs are not God (Mark 16:17). Jesus healed many people but healing is not Jesus. Jesus is healing. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, but resurrection is not Jesus. Rather, Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).
We shouldn’t confuse the effects of Jesus’s presence with Jesus Himself. These effects are points of contact with Jesus, and we may know Him through them at times. But we must go beyond the ways He ministers to us, beyond supernatural manifestations, and beyond experiences. We must know Him as He is. If we don’t, we won’t truly understand His ministries or manifestations.
The wind blows where it wants; you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going (John 3:8).
If we don’t go beyond the experiential effects of God then we hear God and feel the blowing of His Spirit but don’t know where He comes from or where He’s going. We know God as an atmospheric disturbance of sorts. He rustles leaves and moves things around. But as to His nature and thinking we are basically ignorant. God is something we know of and experience but, like the wind, He is baffling. Take this exchange between Obadiah and Elijah—“But when I leave you, the Spirit of the Lord may carry you off to some place I don’t know. Then when I go report to Ahab and he doesn’t find you, he will kill me. But I, your servant, have feared the Lord from my youth” (1 Kings 18:12).
Obadiah served the Lord but wasn’t knowing Him by the Spirit. Elijah knew God and moved with His Spirit. Similarly, Jesus said to His disciples, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15).
John’s gospel says that Jesus knew He had come from God and was returning to God. (John 13:3). Jesus said that those born of the Spirit are like the wind. They know where they come from and where they are going, just like Jesus. Rather than knowing the wind only by its touch and sound as it blows, God wants us to live in Him—where the wind is coming from and going to.
It is possible to experience God, feel His touch, hear His voice, and feel His presence but not know His Spirit. The scriptures are replete with examples. King Saul prophesied and hung around Samuel, a man of God. Saul was anointed and functioned as king. But he did not keep God’s word or know God. Despite all his experiences of God, Saul remained a fearful, grasping, murderous man at heart.
Matthew says there are those that will say to the Lord, “did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” While they experienced many manifestations of God, Jesus will say, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matt. 7:21-23).
Friends know their Master’s business (John 15:15). Just before saying this Jesus explained what that business is—“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:12-14). Those in whom Christ’s death and life are working, who are participating in His cross, are knowing God and are His friends. They have come from God, are returning to God, and move with the wind of His Spirit.