By Nate Green, Worship Pastor
Let me begin by saying that I don’t fully understand God’s presence (obviously!), so this isn’t comprehensive, but what I write here are things that we know are true about God’s presence from His revealed Word to us. God’s Word is living and active, His presence isn’t something to just know about, we should experience His presence. God’s manifest presence and work are sometimes hard to understand, but that’s one of the beautiful things about our God. I resonate with Paul when he wrote the following:
“How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’ For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:33-36)
So I’ll focus on what we know to be true about God’s presence. Three things I know to be true about God’s presence as revealed through His Word are:
- He is the initiator of our relationship, His presence is a gift and those who seek Him find Him.
- God is holy and desires fellowship with us. Sin is a barrier to our having fellowship with God. God provided the remedy for the barrier of our sin to be torn down and removed through the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
- His presence is revealed in the person of Jesus Christ (John 1, Entire book of Hebrews and New Testament for that matter : )
- His presence dwells within the believer through God the Holy Spirit.
I also want to address some confusion surrounding the topic of God’s Presence and the Worship gathering.
I am deeply concerned about a “worship” culture that could mislead us into seeking an experience or feeling instead of seeking God Himself.
Energy in worship is not the gauge of whether God is present or not!!
“We all like to feel good, but feeling good is not the plumb line of true worship and obedience to Christ. Obedience does not always feel good, and feeling good is not our motivation. Love for God should motivate our obedience. If we love Him, we will obey Him” (John 14:15).
Can you imagine hearing the following words from Jesus:
“You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!” (Mark 7:9).
Yikes, that gets my attention. We need to be careful to make sure we aren’t just following traditions of men in regard to worship and His presence. Our current American church worship culture would like us to believe that all we need for an excellent worship service (and to draw God’s presence), is a high energy experience with pumping sound, amazing lights, gifted musicians and a dynamic worship leader that knows how to get a crowd moving.
Sadly, these experiences can take place with or without honoring God’s presence. The components listed above don’t make up true worship that is pleasing to the Lord (in fact these components don’t make up any of the New Testament requirements for worship). As a worship pastor I swallow hard to think I could be getting off course if I follow the traditions of men rather than God’s Word and Spirit in these areas! Thankfully God’s Word guides us on what to do!
Jesus says in Mark 7:6-7, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” In Mark 7, Jesus makes it crystal clear that He is not looking for an outward spectacle or display of worship He is looking for obedience, humility and a transformed heart resulting in worship that comes from the inside out. He is seeking worshipers that will worship Him in Spirit and Truth (John 4:24).
There’s nothing wrong with lights, amazing sound systems, and great musicians. But, it would be wrong to depend on these things in order to experience God’s presence. None of these things draw God’s presence – His grace, our faith, obedience, repentance and humility draw His presence and allow us to have fellowship with Him (see Revelation chapters 2 and 3).
A few years ago I read a book by Daniel Henderson titled “Transforming Presence”. I strongly recommend it. The following is a synopsis of his book as described on the back cover:
Why did Jesus say it would be better for Him to go?
He said the coming of the Helper—the Holy Spirit—was that important. And that the Spirit who so powerfully turned bumbling disciples into unstoppable world changers is alive in us. But misunderstandings, confusion, and contention are keeping us from the abundant, satisfying life God has for us in Him.
Transforming Presence teaches you what Scripture actually says about the indwelling Spirit of God who wants to revive us from the inside-out. It walks you through ten vital practices that will help you have a new experience of the Holy Spirit and shows you how to think, speak, (and sing) rightly about Him.
But be careful, when you approach the Holy Spirit like this—on His own terms—nothing in your life will ever be the same
Henderson writes extensively about human attempts to produce a Holy Spirit type atmosphere within church worship. As if the Holy Spirit was a force out there that needs to be drawn in through external means. The Bible teaches us that the Holy Spirit dwells with in us. He is working from the inside out in our lives.
Daniel Henderson quotes the following from Andrew Murray in his book:
“To everyone who honestly desires to know that he has the Spirit and to know Him in his person as a personal possession and teacher, we say: Study the teaching of the word in regard to the Spirit. Be not content with the teaching of the church or of men about the Spirit but go to the word… Be determined to accept nothing but what the word teaches, but also to accept heartily all that it teaches.”
As a church we’ve been going through the book of Haggai this summer in a series titled “Building God’s House”. There have been some helpful insights and reminders regarding God’s presence. In the Old Testament, under the Old Covenant, God’s presence was sought through the building of the Temple and through following the Old Testament laws of worship and sacrifice. God gave specific requirements for how the temple structure was to be built as well as instructions for worship within the temple. God’s presence was conditional to the keeping of the covenant between Him and His people, Israel. When the Old Testament temple was complete God appeared to Solomon (the king tasked with its construction) in a dream and said the following:
As soon as Solomon had finished building the house of the LORD and the king’s house and all that Solomon desired to build, the LORD appeared to Solomon a second time, as he had appeared to him at Gibeon. And the LORD said to him, “I have heard your prayer and your plea, which you have made before me. I have consecrated this house that you have built, by putting my name there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time. And as for you, if you will walk before me, as David your father walked, with integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you, and keeping my statutes and my rules, then I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’ But if you turn aside from following me, you or your children, and do not keep my commandments and my statutes that I have set before you, but go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land that I have given them, and the house that I have consecrated for my name I will cast out of my sight, and Israel will become a proverb and a byword among all peoples. And this house will become a heap of ruins. Everyone passing by it will be astonished and will hiss, and they will say, ‘Why has the LORD done thus to this land and to this house?’ Then they will say, ‘Because they abandoned the LORD their God who brought their fathers out of the land of Egypt and laid hold on other gods and worshiped them and served them. Therefore the LORD has brought all this disaster on them.’” (1 Kings 9:1-9)
God is always faithful and keeps His promises, but unfortunately Israel did not keep their covenant with God and God’s presence departed the Old Testament temple. One sure way of knowing that we are in God’s presence is when we are keenly aware of our sin in light of His Holiness. Just as Isaiah became aware of his sin in God’s presence (see Isaiah 6), the same is true of us today.
God’s presence brings conviction of sin:
God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.(1 John 1:5-10 and 2:1-6)
We can’t have fellowship with God and fellowship with sin at the same time. God is Holy and sin disrupts our fellowship with Him.
The Good News about God’s Presence Today:
The good news is that the Old Covenant is now obsolete (Hebrews 8:13). We don’t have to visit the temple in Jerusalem to “find” God’s presence, because that is not where His presence dwells anymore. Instead, we are now under the New Covenant that Jesus has provided for us. It’s a covenant through His blood given for us (see Luke 22:20). Jesus offered Himself, one time, on the cross as the perfect sacrifice made available for all (Hebrews 7:27). The Temple where God dwells is no longer a structure built by men, but is now our body where the Holy Spirit dwells.
“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
We are the Temple and the Holy Spirit dwells inside of us!! Wow!!
I’m so thankful that God’s presence doesn’t depend on my energy level. In fact it’s the opposite, we fully depend on Him. Remember, “We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7), our bodies are broken temples that house the glory of God. We depend on His presence constantly. “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). “Whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies – in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 4:11)
God’s presence is with us. And thankfully His presence doesn’t depend on our feelings, but on His Covenant with us.
Let’s abide in Him and maintain fellowship with Him.