The Still Small Voice

Encounter His Presence - Face to face

 Chapter Three, Part One


Listen to my words:

When a prophet of the Lord is among you,
I reveal myself to him in visions,
I speak to him in dreams.


But this is not true of My servant Moses:
he is faithful in all My house.


With him I speak face to face,
clearly and not in riddles;
he sees the form of the Lord.


Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?
(Numbers 12:6-8)

Encounter His Presence

Keen lovers of C.S. Lewis’ children’s stories might be tempted to lament the reference to there being ‘few connecting doors left’ between our world and the magical land of Narnia.

The door that really matters between heaven and earth in no way closed when the Lord Jesus ascended back to His Father. Although He would no longer be able to walk and talk with His disciples in quite the same way, He promised that He would continue to communicate with them by His Spirit.

Thousands or years before the Spirit was poured out on all flesh, the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud in the wilderness to rebuke Aaron and Miriam for their critical attitude. The passage quoted above shows how highly the Lord rated Moses. In the process it also reveals at least three different levels of communication. First come face-to-face encounters, then visions and dreams, and finally riddles.[1]

We could perhaps liken these ‘direct’ and ‘indirect’ means of communication to soccer referees awarding direct and indirect free kicks. In the case of direct free kicks, players have the change to drive the ball through the defensive wall and into the net. If the free kick is an indirect one, the ball has to be passed to someone else before a shot can be attempted.

I love reading accounts of people who have had ‘face-to-face’ encounters. Extraordinary things always seem to happen to them. Even better if we are able to spend time with them – we are more than likely to ‘catch’ something of their anointing and authority!

My mind goes back to the godly Building Society manager the Lord told us to approach for our first mortgage application. He turned out to be a man who walked so closely to the Lord that you could feel the presence of heaven all around as he prayed.

The Lord told him to go ahead with a transaction that many another manager would have balked at: to trust a person who lived ‘by faith’ to meet his monthly repayments. When we consider all that has developed as the direct result of owning our first property, we can only marvel at how significant that word proved to be.

Many years ago, Ros and I spent a few hours with John and Paula Sandford, whose books are making such a profound impact on many. As we prayed together, we could feel the Lord’s presence ‘layers deep’ in the room, even before they brought a powerful word that launched us into another phase of our ministry.

Face to face

Show me Your face, let me hear Your voice; for Your voice is sweet, and Your face is lovely.
(Song of Songs 2:14)

The veil between heaven and earth is very thin. One evening in Paris in the mid 1970’s, I returned home to my lodgings from a midweek Bible study feeling unusually deflated.

For reasons I can no longer recall, my contributions had not been well received. I flopped down onto my knees and poured out my heart to God. Suddenly, I found myself praying an outrageous prayer: that I might be allowed to go to heaven that night. It was not so much that I went to heaven as that heaven came to me. My prayer was abundantly answered as the presence of the Lord flooded into the room. I was utterly known in a totally different way to anything I had ever experienced before.

We conversed together in all for three hours. First of all, He called me to be His witness. In the warmth of the Lord’s immediate presence, it is easy to hear ‘hard’ truths. Amongst many pointers to the future, He told me that He did not want me to marry the girl I was engaged to. I had been feeling uneasy about the relationship for some time, but had been reluctant to make the break. Now the Lord was insisting on it.

He also stressed that I should not become a vicar – something that kept me from confusion when people made inevitable suggestions that I ‘do it properly and get ordained!’

Towards the end of our time together, the Lord told me that although I would not meet Him again in quite such a dramatic way this side of heaven, His presence would always be with me. When I asked Him how I could be sure in the future that I had not imagined this face-to-face encounter He instructed me to read a passage from Deuteronomy 5:24: ‘This day we have seen that a man can live, even if God speaks with him.’

The Lord eased the pain of losing this intense awareness of heaven by pouring out His Spirit on me, and giving me a gift I had been praying for: the ability to speak in tongues. For several more weeks His presence remained close, allowing me to remain as it were on the heavenward side. This was my ‘Mount of Transfiguration’ experience, that equipped and strengthened me for all that lay ahead.

For Reflection and Prayer

We do not have to search far in the Bible to find examples of face-to-face encounters, from the Lord calling Abraham and directing Moses, right through to the Lord Jesus speaking to John on the island of Patmos, where He bequeathed the Church with important insights and end-time scenarios.

Most commonly, the Lord grants these experiences in order to heal, guide, reassure or warn. Ponder examples of face-to-face encounters that you have read about or come across. Pray for God to meet with more and more people in such ways – as in the story below.

God speaks a Healing Centre into being

A certain unbeliever was sitting in his office in Cornwall doing his tax returns when he suddenly found himself writing across the form, ‘You shall know my thoughts!’ The man, a down to earth Cockney, was pondering what this could mean when an angel appeared in the bay window in a pillar of light.

The angel told him that the Lord wanted to use his house as a Christian healing centre. As a result of this encounter, the man began attending the local church, and asked the Lord Jesus into his life. His house, Hephzibah, became a healing centre, and he himself went on to exercise such a powerful healing ministry that the Church of England commissioned him into the ministry of healing.

A woman saw an advertisement for the work of this ministry at a time when her son had severe health problems. When introduced, this man was miraculously healed, and later went on to acquire the property when the original owner died. The ministry and vision of Hephzibah continue to this day in Cornwall.[2]

Of such tales there is no end. It is no part of our brief to try to second-guess God’s sovereign workings. ‘Why were these men chosen for such miraculous experiences?’ is not the sort of question that will aid our seeking. What will help is the willingness to turn all our energies – our hopes, our dreams, into a fervent quest to love and serve the Lord.

Back in the thirteenth century, the stunningly beautiful Margaret of Cortona spent nine years as the mistress of an Italian ‘cavalier.’ Outwardly she put on a brazen face, but inwardly she was filled with much disquiet. Her world fell apart altogether when her lover was suddenly assassinated. Distraught beyond words, and laying the blame for this tragic event on herself for having transgressed God’s command, she resolved to live henceforth only for the glory of the Lord.

As prodigals are ever wont to do, her first impulse was to return to the perceived security of her family home. She was unable to find the space and grace there, however, that she so desperately needed. (Her father and profoundly uncaring stepmother showed her firmly to the door.) What followed is an illustration of the Biblical promise that ‘Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.’ [3]

Sitting beneath a fig tree in total desolation, a host of demons flocked around Margaret, eager to reassure her that she would have no difficulty in finding suitable men to care for her, because she was so beautiful. Above and beyond the deluge of temptation, the Still Small Voice spoke, bidding her to put herself under the care of the Franciscan friars.

Margaret found with the friars the ‘parental’ support that was so sorely wanting in her natural home. She went on to live a life of exemplary humility. The example may appear extreme, but in our own way many of us can identify with the call to repentance and humility that Margaret lived out, and that Suzanne Pillans spoke of in the opening chapter.

As we have seen, these are the qualities that enable us to withstand the flood tide of Satan’s condemnation, and to make an impact for the Lord, without allowing any trace of the attendant glory to lodge in our soul.

Such people, and only such as have yielded themselves completely to the Lord, often experience a special sense of sweetness in their soul as the Spirit draws them near to the One they love. His presence compensates for the troubles they almost invariably also go through, just as His power removes the obstacles in their path.

For Reflection and Prayer

‘How can you believe if you accept praise from one another,
yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?’
(Jesus in John 5:44)

Souls are tested by praise they receive – but they are tested still more stringently when the light of Christ in them is misconstrued by others. Just as many well-intentioned people doubted the Lord Jesus, so there will always be those who misunderstand both our methods and our motives. What a temptation we feel at such times to try to vindicate ourselves.

It is often the most godly who agonize longest over their motivation. The less scrupulous are far too convinced of their own rightness to entertain such hesitations.

We are wise to consider carefully the possibility that we may be mistaken – yet we must not hold back when God has spoken. Since we offer the devil unlimited landing strips for fear and doubt, we should pray the following prayer as often as we need to.

Free us, Lord from the fear of man!
Make us resolute and incisive when You have spoken,
For this leaves so much less room for the Doubter to work.

1 Although no one can see the Lord’s face, He promised that He would cause His goodness to pass in front of Moses. (Exodus 33:19-20)
3 Psalm 27:10