We are called to know the One in the cloud. We are not following the sign or symbol of God, but we are following God Himself. God incarnates in symbols. We see this in the symbol of the Bible itself. For, we are not following the Bible, we are following the One in the Bible. We meet The Word through the word. But we do not worship and revere the symbolic container God uses; we worship Him alone. This was typified by the changing shapes of his tabernacle in the Old Testament. Eventually, it became a temple building which was also torn down, until Christ Himself became that living Temple. Jesus was saying something in doing this. He was saying do not worship my signs, worship Me. He was also particularly telling them, what was once in that Temple is now standing before you in a new form. Wake up! Feel the Father’s Presence as you would in the temple building. My true house is not made with human hands, He also blurted out one day!
This is also why we do not worship Paul, or any of the apostles. Paul said I am merely the vessel of God’s Presence. I’m sure many wanted to worship the vessel itself; just as many people throughout scriptures fell down and started worshiping angels when they would show up. But in each case, the righteous servants always pointed to God Himself, and got themselves out of the way.
Sometimes God will ask us to meet Him in a new form, so that we remember that it is ultimately about knowing and being intimate with Him not just the mediums through which we met Him yesterday. He may meet us in a new tabernacle today! He may, as in the Torah, shift His meeting place from cloud to pillar of fire. The gift of discernment is about knowing where His Presence actually is, regardless of the shape or container of encounter.
Daniel, the prophet, had an intense gift of discernment. He could see the line between witchcraft and true power and wisdom and headship which was God appointed. He could tell when the sorcerers were practicing false prophecy; and could tell when God was revealing things to them. Another way of saying this is He could discern between the two trees in the garden–the tree of Life (rooted in the being of Christ); and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which bore fruit which looked identical, but was not planted in God. He could tell which tree had God’s Presence, though the two symbolic trees must have looked similar.The nature or spirit was different. He could discern between where God was, and where He was not, in the areas given to him to discern. He could sense God’s True Presence in each situation. When God was speaking to the king in his dreams, Daniel could tell it was God in that dream, speaking to the king. He could tell which was which; distinguishing the spirit or nature of each. This required tremendous discernment at the level of government he was serving in. His discernment illuminated things in the Light of God’s Presence, so they could be clearly seen and separated. That is the essence of the gift of discernment.
This same gift was very active in the personal spirituality of Elijah the prophet. There was a reason God showed Elijah, a storm, a whirlwind etc–but was not “in them”–He was sharpening Elijah’s discernment to see and sense where God’s Presence was. It was not in the obvious signs, but in the whisper. The passage is not saying God always whispers. It is about God teaching Elijah to discern His Presence. Knowing God’s Presence, is the foundation of all spiritual discernment. In fact, typically God would probably have show up in the “power sign” to Elijah. He was a powerful man, and moved in might–that was part of his personal spirituality with God. It was typically how God spoke to him, through dramatic operatic events. But this time, a whisper! And it returned his discernment. For to discern spiritually is to look at each situation to find His Presence, and then to interpret all the elements of that situation in the light of His Presence. His Presence is like the magnifying glass behind the situation, which shows everything in its true light. Discerning His Presence is the beginning of understanding any situation in life.
Is God’s presence in the art making today, or in the conversation with friends, or in study; or in going to see your mother, or in playing with your kids in the park, or in drinking a ridiculously good cafe latte etc. We are trying to discern the One “in” the cloud, not just following the cloud, but following His Presence. Sometimes, God is in a human holiday,or tradition, and sometimes not; or only in a part of it. It is our job to discern Him,to find that place of meeting, to seek Him alone, and distinguish His Spirit from the world’s. Going daily to where God actually is, is the overarching practice of true spirituality.
Jesus was upset with the teachers for knowing the letter of the law, but not knowing God. They could not discern His Presence, even through scripture. They had lost awareness of who God is, and so even in studying His word had lost vision of The Word, which happened to be standing right in front of them, somewhat ironically.
God will often change the places and mediums through which we are meeting Him, just to keep us after Him instead of our own spiritual practices. We are in a dynamic relationship with a Living God, so we cannot meet Him always today, through the means we met Him yesterday. This keeps us awake to Him Himself rather than the things we have built to know Him through. You see this in the church as well; often God will change the wineskin so that we drink the actual Wine again of His Life. The outer form may change so we can be followers of God not our forms. It makes the soul insecure, but the spirit knows and is glad God is alive and not standing still. The church needs to discern His Presence, and follow Him, and meet Him where He is going. To hunger after God Himself again. That brings revival and new life and transforms the world into His place of meeting. His Garden of encounter. The City of His Being. The Well of His Presence–or whichever other symbols He meets us in today!