When I was younger, because I heard the above types of statements, I wanted to feel the presence of God or understand how someone could feel His presence. On a regular basis, other people with great confidence said that they could feel God's presence in their life. I thought I must be missing out on that, because I didn't feel it. Sometimes I prayed to God that I would feel his presence or know that His presence was in my life. After I prayed that, I looked for some kind of sign that it was true, a feeling of some kind. I started to interpret sensations as His presence, not knowing whether they were His presence or not. All of this was because others had said it was something I should expect.
Perhaps you've considered the Christian song, written in 1847 by Scottish Anglican Henry Francis Lyte, "Abide With Me," that in addition to being a prayer by Christians for God to abide with them, contains this verse:
I need Thy presence every passing hour.This is a favorite of revivalist southern gospel quartets. It exacerbates this yearning for a feeling of God's presence or a sense of His presence that is subjective and mystical. When I read through all of the verses, I don't think the contents are taught in scripture. The message of the song clashes with the teaching of scripture. God promises to abide with us, if we are saved. No man can pluck us out of His hand. We couldn't be closer to Him and we don't need to pray for His abiding or think that we could miss it.
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter's power?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.
The biography of Lyte, the author of "Abide with Me," reveals a revivalistic influence on his life that would yield such lyrics. The song has been not just a favorite of the saved, but also the unsaved, including both King George V and VI of England. It has been sung at the English Cup soccer final since 1927 by the entire crowd (story). Concerning his song, modern hymnologist Erik Routley writes in his A Panorama of Christian Hymnody (p. 45),
Perhaps the centrally 'romantic' hymn of all hymns is the intensely personal yet, as it has proved, wholly universal hymn, 'Abide with me.'"He calls it a "romantic hymn," which is a product of a period, not scripture.
In addition to the language of "sensing God's presence," I've furthermore heard men announce that they had prayed for "God to come down" or "asked God to be with us in a special way." In 1 Kings 18, fire comes from heaven in answer to Elijah's prayer that burned up the "sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench." Sometimes I've heard the prayer for God's presence is worded like "fire coming down." The Shekinah glory of the Lord came down in the newly dedicated temple of Solomon.
These occasions in the Old Testament are not normative for today. David could lose the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit was upon him in a unique "upon ministry" (not "in") of the Holy Spirit for his service as King of Israel. It was symbolized by the anointing with oil. In Ezekiel we read of the presence of God leaving Jerusalem because of an apostate nation. We don't read anything like that in the New Testament. The filling of the Spirit comes by yielding to the Holy Spirit, rather than quenching the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is already in a believer and will not leave a believer, but will not fill the believer, that is, control him, when he is not submitted to the Holy Spirit.
I don't know of one passage of scripture that says anything about sensing or feeling the presence of God. Maybe I could end this essay right there. What we do know is that God's presence is everywhere. That's called His omnipresence. He is present everywhere, but there is more to the presence of God than His omnipresence.
God is everywhere, but He is with believers in a unique way (Is 41:10). God is everywhere, but He is in a unique way not in Hell, because only sinners are there (2 Thess 1:7-9). Before the Holy Spirit came, Jesus wanted believers to pray for the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13). Once the Holy Spirit came, they didn't keep praying for Him to come, to be baptized by Him, even to be filled with Him. He's already there. You don't ask for what you already have. You just believe that you have it. That is living by faith.
Jesus is said to walk in His churches or to be with the group (Revelation 1:19-2:1, Matthew 18:18-20, 28:19-20). He is not with the Laodicean church, but not because they weren't praying for Him to stay. He wasn't there because He wasn't welcome in the church, which is to say that the entire church had turned away from Him. This is an apostate church full of apostate believers, a church full of Judases.
Further than the reality of God's presence is the sensing of God's presence or feeling of it. If God is there, how do you know He is there? It isn't through "sensing" it or "feeling" it. When people tell you they sense God's presence, it is akin to a Charismatic experience, where Charismatics attribute to the Holy Spirit certain events or activities that are unscriptural or non-scriptural. Most of those they are just making up, telling a tale. They're not true. I'm saying they're lies. It's the same with the sensing of God's Spirit.
Men will say they sense the Holy Spirit with a voice of authority or with a complete sense of conviction. They believe they have sensed the presence of God. The statement is a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. Someone wanted it, so he felt it, and then he reported it. Now it's true. It isn't true, except that he said it.
What gives credence or authority to the one saying he sensed God is others saying nothing to refute it. They don't want to, because it's offensive to the one saying it. He'll argue. He'll become angry. It's normal for Charismatics to whom I talk. They want none of it. Usually they say you're unloving, because you questioned their experience. Christians will just give up on talking to this person and that adds to the experience. He thinks he's getting advocacy now. When no one speaks up, others think it's true. It must be. This person with great credibility said it happened.
When someone says he sensed God's presence, it authenticates what he's done. What he's doing might not even be the right thing, but it is the right thing because he sensed God's presence while it was happening. That authorizes the event. Now it must be right and it can't be questioned. The authority comes from the experience.
The sensing of God's presence is also considered to be evidence of an answer to prayer. Someone prayed for the presence of God, which wasn't necessary and was faithless, but he could say that he got an answer. "God is answering his prayers." Because God is "answering his prayers," then what he is doing must be right. It becomes a means of validation.
What occurs then is that other people start looking for the experience of sensing God's presence. If they don't sense it, they think of themselves or feel like they are second class Christians. They are missing an experience that Christians are supposed to have. It's not true. They don't have to "sense the Holy Spirit or God." They don't have to feel anything like that.
What should Christians expect that would indicate they are saved people and, therefore, have the presence of God in their lives, His special presence? It is objective evidence presented by scripture. As a brief summary, the presence of God shows itself: fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23), usefulness in the church (Rom 12, 1 Cor 12), boldness in preaching (Acts 4:31), obedience to scripture (Colossians 3:16), and the right relationships (Ephesians 5:18-6:6). Furthermore, a person remains faithful to God, endures in his faith in Jesus Christ, doesn't give up on the Christian life, and depart from the church. All of these manifest his abiding in Christ and Christ's abiding in him. These are objective and measurable. Every Christian can do them. There are no spiritual have-nots.
If these of the previous paragraph are the objective witness of the presence of God in a believer's life, what is it that these other men feel or sense of the presence of God? It's very ambiguous with a lot of deniability. It's like a spiritual rorshach test. They can see whatever they want in whatever impulse or feeling. If you criticize it, they can just deny it. Was it a feeling? "Oh no!" Unless it was. At the moment of your question, no, it wasn't. They still had the sense though.
What happens in five or ten or twenty years and the whole movement falls by the wayside? What's the explanation for the sudden disappearance of the presence of God? In most of these cases, God was never there in the first place. Someone depended on these highly subjective experiences, which weren't even true.
What I've noticed is that the experiences are produced by people. They use music. They use a particular speaking voice. They create an environment that people can feel. They stay positive, their audience then feels positive, so they are happy. Their upbeat, happy disposition says, Holy Spirit's presence. These effects can be caused. Sometimes people feel guilt and they want to rid themselves of the feeling of guilt. When they don't feel guilty any more, absolved by the effects of a special service, they'll leave feeling better. It may be that nothing really happened, except for the impression that everything was now fine. It wasn't fine and it isn't, but they felt like it, so they assumed it was.
Men should stop talking about sensing or feeling the presence of God. It isn't something anyone should expect. No one should look for it. Whatever feeling someone may have could only cause deceit or confusion. Being faithful to God, actually faithful to Him, requires trusting in the presence of God, whether the feeling is there or not.