Suddenly the air was filled with strange and sweet perfume
Light that came from everywhere drove shadows from the room
Jesus stood before me with His arms held open wide
I fell down on my knees and I just clung to Him and cried
He raised me to my feet and as I looked into His eyes
Love was shining out from Him like sunlight from the skies
My guilt and my confusion disappeared in sweet release
And every fear I’d ever had just melted into peace…
(from He’s Alive by Don Francisco)
Not all space is the same. And the feelings produced in that space can change for good or ill. Most spaces are rather neutral, but some have the aroma of life while others smell of death. Once upon a time I had to move from a beautiful warm log cabin into a prefab cold modern house. I was very frustrated by it. One of my friends summed it up well. He said the log house breathed “Welcome home!” and hugged you, while my new place proclaimed “Go away. I’m busy.” Was it the place alone? Or was it me? Or was it a combination of the two?
Places or systems or gatherings – things of all sorts – have a ‘spirit.’ We speak of the spirit of a ball team, a business, an event, etc. What is that? It has to do with the invisible but real dynamics working behind and because of what makes the place or thing what it is. Which comes first? The thing, or the spirit behind the thing? Is the oppressive darkness in some homes what makes the home deathly, or is a sinful heart attitude inviting an invisible yet tangible force to feed off of and feed back into that death? Is it symbiotic? The point is there are atmospheres that affirm there is more happening than mere human energy.
Anyone with a prayer life understands how atmospheres can be either helpful or harmful, and how they come and go. Things can be pretty normal until I set myself to enter into prayer. But at times, the air around me seems to change. A sense of urgency suddenly arises that says I need to take care of all sorts of items that five seconds before, were of no importance at all. Why have they suddenly become urgent? Or some silly or sad or meaningless memory demands my full attention – now! Or it may be no specific focus at all. Just an atmosphere. Gloom; sadness; frustration; loneliness; boredom; anxiety. Anxiety over what? Anxious because I suddenly feel anxious? The list is long and familiar. It is as if the devil is rubbing his hands together in devious glee, trying first one feeling and then another, to see which one will stick and smother out prayer in me.
I have come to believe these atmospheres are often the presence of spirits. Like a skunk produces stink, or like Pigpen’s dust cloud, this spiritual stink is the atmosphere that automatically comes with that spirit. Why would such stinky spirits be in my house? I don’t know how it works, but I believe God allows these encounters as testing ground for purifying our faith. Faith is the substance, the stuff, of the good we hope for, and the evidence of the unseen, unfelt good we were made for. (See Hebrews 11:1.) We can either sink into the stink, or we can blow it away. We have to exert our will against such atmospheres. We CAN transform our atmosphere! It just depends on where you turn your focus. It is when you don’t FEEL like praising God that you most need to. Say out loud, “With the high praises of God in my mouth and a two-edged sword in my hand, I bind these evil spirits with chains and their rulers with fetters of iron. I have this honor with all His saints. Praise the Lord!” (See Psalm 149.)
He is with you all the time. He said He would be, so He is. That wonderful atmosphere described above in Don Francisco’s classic song is the normal realm of Reality, maybe out of conscious reach, but never out of accessible reach by faith. It is what we live in, whether we can feel it or not. Feeling or no feeling has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that He is with you and that His love is constant. His arms are always open wide. The less you feel while offering words of praise and worship, the stronger your heart becomes in faith. So it is His love and wisdom that seemingly hides Himself from your senses while allowing the stinky spirits access to you, so as to give you an opponent of your faith. This gives your faith something to work out against. He’s not playing games or being purposefully withdrawn. He is helping you grow in faith. You can press into Him and in doing so, defeat the stinky spirits. An airplane cannot fly without resistance.
CHOOSE. The dark atmosphere you feel is never a defining reality. It is only an offer you can take or reject. It is the choice you make that will determine how substantial that spirit finally becomes in your world. For if it is tolerated as a visitor, it will remain as a resident. This is also true in the other realm. If you long for the holy, the holy will become your regular atmosphere.
But what about when it is more than just a lying atmosphere? What about when it is the result of real events that have brought real pain? Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace. That’s not just a pretty song lyric. Moses endured real agony by seeing Him who is invisible. Paul prayed for us that the eyes of our hearts would be flooded with light so we might comprehend the height, the depth, the length, the breadth, to know the love of God that surpasses mere human knowledge. If you then are risen with Christ, set your imagination on Him. (See Ephesians 3 and Colossians 3.) That’s not poetic vapid language. That is practical instruction in how to live in Reality. Bad times and events do not change ultimate Reality. The gospel is the GOOD NEWS of redemption story, including your own.
I tried to read the book of Job straight through one time when I was in great pain. I expected the reading to be a long litany of human trouble with a happy ending. When I didn’t find my happy ending according to my expectations, I literally (I don’t recommend this) threw my bible across the room in raging frustration. But I had just read the answer I was seeking: the happy ending answer. Job explained it clearly. I have heard of you with my ears, but now my eyes see you, and as a result, I repent in dust and ashes. Yes. THAT is the happy ending! Job’s questions in the face of such loss and pain were valid honest understandable questions. God was sympathetic to Job and angry at his easy-answer religious friends. Yet, when Job enters the atmosphere where God is manifesting Reality on a level that does not seem to answer Job, Job is more than satisfied! You see the exact same dynamic in Psalm 73, where Asaph is grieving the evils of his day and can find no comfort until he enters the place of revelation in the Presence of God.
I would have to live another few decades of periodic, mostly self-induced pain, before I learned by my own personal Job-and-Asaph experience how to find my happy ending. I could not merely read their story. I had to live my own. I had to learn to see God in His true character, and not allow stinky atmospheres to seduce me. I had to choose – over and over – to live by faith, not by whatever I might be feeling. Does the atmosphere you are feeling now point you to Him? If not, get up from where you are and begin to push into the Real. Whether He meets you with a feeling of transformed atmosphere or not, you will find that you are rising above the fog. You are being strengthened in faith as you press past that veil into Reality.
…the moment one turns to the Lord with an open heart,
the veil is lifted and they see!
Now, the Lord is the Holy Spirit,
and wherever He is Lord, there is freedom.
We can all draw close to Him with the veil removed…
And with no veil we all become like mirrors
who brightly reflect the glory of the Lord Jesus.
We are being transfigured into His very image
as we move from one brighter level of glory to another.
And this glorious transfiguration comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
2 Corinthians 3:16-18 (Passion version)