A couple of years ago I grappled with the gnawing realization that something was missing. I had been a highly committed follower of Jesus for over twenty years, yet deep inside there was something severely amiss.
Twenty years earlier I had traded falling down drunk with homemade wine for being madly in love with God (Ephesians 5:18). He became my joy, my anchor, my buddy, my Savior. I loved everything about Him. The highlight of my day was our hour-long rendezvous, when I would pour out my heart into His listening ears. His presence was my magnificent obsession. I wildly relished just being with Him.
Yet now I missed Him.
I understood that God often withdraws a sense of His presence for a time in order to help us mature in our faith. But this was more than that. This was not a dark season of the soul; it was a long, lonely rut of desert desperation.
Too busy in the ministry while raising a family, I had begun relating to God purely from my head and will, not out of the wellspring of a heart on fire. Even though I was still strong in my faith, I was appalled to catch myself going through spiritual routines and whipping out prayers by rote. I realized that the flames of my "first love" were dangerously low.
The holy hunger and desperation to know God had cooled. That aching urgency to be with God had left. I knew I had to have something more than merely going through the motions and doing the right thing--I must have God himself.
I knew that no one-time emotional experience was the answer. No. What I had to have was a deeper encounter with God in both my mind and my emotions and a greater sense of God's presence in my daily life. But I wasn't sure what to do.
Then I remembered the Immanuel Factor.
Ohio EarleyYears earlier, as a college student, I set out to read all the way through the Bible in a year. My goal was to follow the three-chapters-a-day-will-keep-the-devil-away plan.
As I opened my Bible every day I felt like a spiritual Indiana Jones--or in this case, Ohio Earley. I approached God's Word with a consuming sense of awesome anticipation. I was sure that delightful discoveries were just on the horizon. I loved the adventure of reading for myself the famous stories, popular promises, and timeless truths I had heard many times before. I also enjoyed "discovering" wonderful Bible events or insights I did not know existed.
As I read through the Old Testament I noticed something. Nestled in the defining events of almost every great Bible character was the little phrase "God was with him." This was something I could not remember hearing anyone preach on or teach about. But there it was, regularly repeated in the Scriptures. One hero after another was said to be blessed or successful because of one common denominator: "The Lord was with him."
Then I came to the New Testament book of Matthew. After wading through the genealogies, I was pleased to pop out into the Christmas story (Matthew 1:18–25). Again, I noticed something new to me. As you know, an angel told Joseph that the baby Mary was carrying was the most legit baby ever conceived. The baby even had a title. The messenger angel quoted the prophet Isaiah, "'The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel'--which means, 'God with us'" (Matthew 1:23).
I had heard and read that before, of course, but this time I saw that last phrase with fresh eyes. I slowly read the familiar words again, "They will call him 'Immanuel,' which means, 'God with us.'"
"God with us." That was the concept I had noticed throughout the Old Testament--God's blessed presence with mankind. Jesus could be referred to as Immanuel because He was to be God present with us. From that point on, I began to think of the active presence of God with us as "Immanuel" and to call the reality of experiencing the manifest presence of God "the Immanuel Factor."
As I reminisced about the early years of my spiritual walk the phrase "God with me" struck a chord. That was what I remembered. I loved that warm smile of God shining on my face and the strong hand of God guiding my life. It was flat-out fun to be with God and to know He was with me, really with me.
I missed Him. I longed for that "God is with me" experience again.
I began to read back through the Old Testament just to make sure that the Immanuel Factor was really there. Yep. Immanuel, God's presence, was frequently cited as the determining factor in the success and failure of the people of God. I noticed that it was not indiscriminately given, though. There were prerequisites for experiencing the manifest presence of God and conditions that would lead to the noticeable decrease of His presence as well.
As this came together in my mind a fire began to build in my heart. My pulse pounded with the same adrenaline that must have raced through the veins of Christopher Columbus when he stood on the shores of the New World, or in Lewis and Clark when they saw the Pacific Ocean. I was on to something. I really was Ohio Earley. I had stumbled onto an ancient treasure. In the Immanuel Factor I had discovered a forgotten secret of spiritual success. I held a key that could unlock the door to a deeper encounter with God and gain access to the vast storehouse of spiritual riches.
Then I began to rummage through some biographies of great men and women of God. If this is real, I figured, they must have seen it too--and applied it to their lives. The first few books I yanked down from my shelves were the stories of Corrie ten Boom, Amy Carmichael, John Wesley, D. L. Moody, Charles Spurgeon, and Charles Finney. Bing! Bang! Bong! Boom! Every one of them evidenced the Immanuel Factor! This could be big.
Next, I worked back through the New Testament to see if, and how, the Immanuel Factor applies today under the new covenant. I found the Immanuel Factor to be central in the new covenant. The principles sketched in the lives of the Old Testament saints were fleshed out and applied by the Spirit-filled life described in the New Testament.
While available to everyone at salvation, the Immanuel Factor is not realized or applied by every Christian because there are choices that need to be made and conditions that need to be met. This book is a study of those key requirements that release the manifest presence of God in our lives.
The Immanuel Factor can produce anything (or everything) that could be expected by keeping close company with God. God's manifest presence may result in evident blessing, inner transformation, even outright miracles--but it will not necessarily do so.
Ironically, as I write this book, I am in a season of affliction. My friends jokingly call me "Job." Even though I am not feeling much of the presence of God, I can still see Him very actively at work in the midst of my adversity. I know that in a few years I will see His fingerprints all over this season of sorrow.
The recipients of the Immanuel Factor are usually keenly aware of it, but that's not always the case. There are times when we only see the presence of God through the lens of hindsight. Looking back, it becomes abundantly clear that He was very close to us and highly active on our behalf.
Immanuel Means "God With Us"As we have seen, Immanuel is a Hebrew word that means "God with us" (Matthew 1:23). Those three words serve as the foundation, core, and climax of the Immanuel Factor. Each word is crammed full of meaning. Let's look at each of them in turn.
Immanuel means "God with us." The Immanuel Factor is living with a heightened experience and awareness of the manifest presence of God. The beauty of the Immanuel Factor is that it is not primarily about us. It is about God. Maybe you wanted to read this book because you were looking for something that seemed to be missing from your daily life. That something is Someone--God! What you really crave is found by experiencing more of Him--more often, more deeply, more intimately, and more powerfully--than you imagined possible.
Immanuel means "God with us." The Immanuel Factor is living with a heightened experience and awareness of the manifest presence of God. The Immanuel Factor is God's presence with us in a tangible, potent way.
You may be thinking, "But isn't God with us all the time anyway?" The answer is yes and no. We need to distinguish the difference between the four levels of the presence of God. The first level is what theologians call omnipresence. It means that God is everywhere present and present everywhere. He is infinite; therefore, He is present in all places at the same time. The omnipresence of God touches everyone and everything in the universe.
It is kind of like air. It is always there, but we pay little attention to it--unless for some reason it is suddenly removed.
The second level of God's presence could be called the abiding presence of God. The Bible describes the abiding presence of God when it says, "'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you'" (Hebrews 13:5). It is a promise believers enjoy because it gives us such sweet comfort. It only touches the followers of God.
It is like the sun. Prior to meeting God through faith in Christ, our souls only knew darkness or night. But after meeting God, our eyes were opened to the delights of the day and the sweet sensations of the sun. We are glad that God's abiding presence is always with us and are comforted by enjoying its warmth and light. After a while, though, we tend to take it for granted.
There is also a third level of God's presence. We could call it the heavenly presence of God. It affects those who are in heaven, where God's presence is revealed in an unlimited way. God's presence is unhindered and unrestricted there. Heaven is all God, all the time. That is what makes it so heavenly!
Because God is light (1 John 1:5), heaven is full of light (Revelation 21:23–25; 22:5). As God is creative, excellent, loving, joyful, encouraging, faithful, true, good, and holy, so is heaven a marvelously holy place, overflowing with all that is beautiful and truly excellent, running over with love, joy, encouragement, truth, and peace. Heaven is the sphere where the heavenly presence of God is unleashed.
So there is the omnipresence of God, the abiding presence of God, and the heavenly presence of God. But none of these are what we call the Immanuel Factor.
The Immanuel Factor is about experiencing the manifest presence of God. It is God's personality made obvious, tangible, and visible in us, around us, and for us. It is like walking in the sunshine, yet much more. It is God's creative, excellent, living, loving, joyful, encouraging, faithful, true, good, and holy presence flowing around and within us. It is having a distinctive aura of God punctuating and permeating everything about us. It is God at work in our lives.
Immanuel means "God with us." God is not a distant deity. He can become a close companion and an accessible ally. His presence is not something that is only offered to someone else. It is available to us--to me and to you.
The challenge of the Immanuel Factor is that choices we make can affect how much of the presence of God we enjoy. We can go through life blind to God, apprehending little of Him as His omnipresence goes largely unnoticed. We can become His children through faith in Jesus Christ and be comforted by His abiding presence, ultimately reveling in His heavenly presence.
But if we want to experience some measure of heaven on earth and we are willing to meet the conditions prescribed in the Word of God, then we can experience the manifest presence of God. God is available to all of us, but how much of God we experience and apprehend is up to us.