Entering the Presence of God

Holy-of-Holies_FotorMy friend, West, left a question on another post. He was asking about comments I’ve made to the effect that it isn’t a worship leader’s responsibility to lead people into God’s presence. Only Jesus can do that. West wrote:

Heb. 9 through Heb. 10:1-22 call us to enter the Most Holy Place confidently. John Frame says “The Most Holy Place was opened to us at the death of Christ, when the veil of the temple was torn in two” (In Spirit and Truth, 27). If God is enthroned on and abides in the praises of his people, and if he is wherever 2 or 3 are gathered in his name, then it seems that there is an actual, spiritual experience of “entering into” the holy of holies when we gather and praise him.  That being said, it seems that we as leaders in corporate worship have a kind of priestly duty to bring God’s people into his presence, his Most Holy Place, like the Israelite musicians of old. I don’t know.  Am I just way off on this?

I don’t think anyone is “way off” to ask a question like this. Part of the reason there’s so much confusion about worship and the presence of God is that we so often experience a new awareness of God’s presence when we sing his praises. We often feel like we have “entered God’s presence.” What’s going on?

First, in the Old Testament, the high priest entered the holy of holies once a year on behalf of Israel (Heb. 9:6-7). Jesus has now “entered once for all into the holy places.” We shouldn’t think of ourselves as “entering” them again because Jesus has entered them for us. Hebrews exhorts us to draw near to God with full assurance because we have entered the holy of holies through our union with Christ. In Christ, we are always in the heavenly places and are exhorted to “draw near.” Of course, we can do that at any time, although there is a particular significance when we gather as the church to express our faith in the Gospel.

Second, the issue is how we enter God’s presence. The writer of Hebrews encourages his readers to put their faith in Christ’s finished work, not to try to duplicate it. David Peterson, in Engaging with God, says, “Fundamentally, then, drawing near to God means believing the gospel and making ‘personal appropriation of salvation.'” (240). In one sense we have the “priestly duty” of reminding people of what God has said and done (Neh. 8:8). But we are not leading them into the Most Holy Place. Jesus has done that for us. Through faith in his finished work we now have the privilege of confidently drawing near to God.

D.A. Carson shares some very helpful thoughts in this topic. He’s commenting on the thought that “worship leads us into the presence of God.”

“Objectively, what brings us into the presence of God is the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. If we ascribe to worship (meaning, in this context, our corporate praise and adoration) something of this power, it will not be long before we think of such worship as being meritorious, or efficacious, or the like. The small corner of truth that such expressions hide (though this truth is poorly worded) is that when we come together and engage in the activities of corporate worship (including not only prayer and praise but the Lord’s Supper and attentive listening to the Word…), we encourage one another, we edify one another, and so we often feel encouraged and edified. As a result, we are renewed in our awareness of God’s love and God’s truth, and we are encouraged to respond with adoration and action” (Worship by the Book, 50-51).

So as I’m standing in front of the church, leading them in songs, Scripture reading, and prayer, my goal is not to “lead them into God’s presence,” but to help them remember and celebrate what Christ has accomplished for them through his righteous life, atoning death, and glorious resurrection. As they place their faith and trust in the perfect high priest, they will most likely experience a fresh awareness of God’s nearness. Their position in Christ hasn’t changed. Their appreciation of it has. The church will be built up and God will be glorified.

Understanding this area really brings freedom to me as a worship leader. I don’t have to try to pull off an impossible task. I don’t have to be anxious about whether or not people will “make it.” I simply have to present what Christ has done in a clear and compelling way to encourage people’s faith. The Holy Spirit takes care of the rest.

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32 Responses to Entering the Presence of God

  1. Kyle July 7, 2007 at 10:26 PM #

    This is a helpful post. I recently held a retreat for members of our church’s praise team, and a woman from the group shared that she sensed God’s presence in a special way when the gathered church was singing, and she cited a verse in the Bible (which I honestly don’t know where to find) that says something like “God inhabits the praise of his people.” She took that to mean that God is present when we sing in a way he is not when we aren’t singing.

    I wasn’t altogether comfortable with her comment, but wasn’t sure how to respond. This post is a step in the right direction for me. How would you respond to the “God inhabits the praise” thing?

    • Brian Watson May 31, 2014 at 2:20 PM #

      Kyle, might this be the verse?

      Yet you are holy,
      enthroned on the praises of Israel.
      (Psalm 22:3 ESV)

      I think it’s true that we are more aware of God’s presence when we are gathered in corporate worship. There is a special sense of his presence at these times. But, when we say we are “coming into God’s presence” when we are in corporate worship, the clear implication is that during the week we have been away from his presence!

  2. Robin July 7, 2007 at 11:01 PM #

    I believe that, as, we as worship leaders stand before the congregations around the world, we are “Magnifying” the Lord and as we take our attention off of all of the things life throws at us, He is enlarged in our hearts. Worship Leaders have responsibilities just as Pastors do. Just as pastors have the responsibility to get before the Lord to “hear” the Word he is to bring to his congregation, so too, the Worship Leader has to get before the Lord to spend time so that on Sunday morning there is an overflow of the Spirit and people are able to “enter in” or “Magnify” (make larger than life) the Lord.

    I hope this makes sense. This is the only way I can step out in front and lead corporate worship whether in the choir or as part of the Worship Team.

    God bless!
    Oh, MAGNIFY the Lord with me and let us exalt his name together.

    Robin

  3. James Palmer July 8, 2007 at 1:16 PM #

    Well Psalm 22.3 (in the Hebrew 22:4, in the LXX 21:3… welcome to the wierd world of psalm verse numbers in the ancient versions) says (according to KJV) “But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.” This is actually a reasonable translation (and is followed in most English, Spanish, French and German versions). the Septuagint didn´t like this or thought it made more sense to translate the phrase as “But you, (that is the Praise of Israel), dwell in a sanctuary” which is a lot clearer and more straighforward theologically, but goes against the accentuation of the MT (which has an athnak on the word “holy”: “you are holy”, that is the one who inhabits the praises of Israel) as well as the syntax of the Hebrew.

    NIV is rather optimistic and translates “Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel” which is nice, but nothing to do with what the text says (and it basically admits this in the footnote alternative “Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel”)

    Well that was fun… I think basically the answer is that verse is not a doctrinal statement on the location of the presence of God, and it´s worth asking exactly WHAT lives in the singing? The Holy Spirit? Is He attracted by singing in a way that he is not by spoken praise? Does he dwell in a said communion service? If you think about what you are actually saying if you claim God is especially present during singing it gets a bit complex.

    Loved the post.

    J

  4. Jon Althoff July 9, 2007 at 12:37 PM #

    I really appreciate your comments on this. Recently I’ve been working on a worship page for our church website. In researching other church websites I’ve come across several purpose statements that include phrases that the purpose of the worship ministries is to help the congregation “enter into God’s presence” etc. I found myself wrestling with that because if we believe that God is omnipresent then how is it that we can go “into” His presence which would suggest that we were somehow “out of” it at some point. I think the concept of “remembering” or “reminding” people that we are always in His presence when we gather in order to worship Him corporately makes more sense and might help people to foster the truth that worship is a whole-life response to God.

    • Marie September 3, 2014 at 8:05 PM #

      Acordingly to my understanding, the Eden refers to a place of God’s presence. So God gave Adam His nature and then put him in His presence. Adam broke that fellowship when he disobeyed the principles of God and when principles of God are broken it produce destruction. And being spiritually dead is the destruction.

  5. Stephen July 9, 2007 at 2:54 PM #

    Hi Bob,
    Love this post.

    I have a question that you might wish to answer on your blog: How do you audition your musicians? Do you have any resources you can share? What kind of questions do you ask? How do you audition your guitarists?

    I am in the middle of this process currently and would love to hear your input. Thanks!

  6. Bob Kauflin July 9, 2007 at 5:23 PM #

    Stephen,

    Thanks for stopping by. I did a post on auditions on Oct. 20, 2006. It’s at:

    http://worshipmatters.blogs.com/bobkauflin/2006/10/qa_fridays_audi.html

  7. Sam July 9, 2007 at 6:16 PM #

    GOLD Bob. I am so thankful for guys like you are well thought out in theology of worship and do it so well! We are really looking forward to trying some of your songs at our church.

  8. Rhea July 9, 2007 at 6:59 PM #

    What a joyous truth–Jesus has now “entered once for all into the holy places.”

    What ‘relief’ it is when I come to worship on Sunday mornings musing over how unworthy and sinful I am, then to realize that I can come boldly and approach the Lord’s throne with confidence because of Christ’s finished work! And this is for every single Sunday!

    Thank you for this reminder, Bob!

  9. David Wells July 10, 2007 at 1:09 AM #

    As usual Bob, you’re right on with this one. One of pastors frequently prays “Lord, we come into your presence …”… I’d argue that not only is saying that wrong theologically, it also perpetuates the notion that we can only worship God in the church “sanctuary.” It’s much more helpful to remind people in our prayers, in our songs and in our comments that God is here! Let’s be aware of that fact and draw near.
    PS: I saw an ad for a worship position stating that they were looking for someone that can “sense God’s presence.” (there He is! Behind row 10 — nope, He’s moved to the left side of the church now — wait a minute; rats, lost Him).

  10. jscottkill July 10, 2007 at 2:10 PM #

    Dave

    hmmm…I feel that you are being a bit pedantic on the point you mentioned about the pastor. I doubt that the pastor mentioned in the above comment really expects the worship leader to be able to find God in the crowded sanctuary. I’m pretty sure he’s looking for a leader who is mature enough to hear and listen to the Spirit’s leading.

    I hate the semantics that this pastor used, but when you attack language, that’s all you’re attacking. This pastor obviously meant something else.

  11. Julie July 11, 2007 at 8:20 AM #

    I completely agree that in Christ we have entered into the Holy of Holies, God’s presence. But do you think there is still a distinction between God’s omnipresence and his manifest presence? You didn’t mention the idea that God manifests himself in tangible (and dare I say experiential) ways as we gather together, whether in large groups or just 2 or 3. This seems to me to go beyond our ability to make ourselves aware of his omnipresence.

  12. Julia Byrd July 12, 2007 at 7:46 PM #

    Hello,
    I would like to tell you that this website has encouraged me greatly and that God has used it to inspire me and enhance my worldview pertaining to worship music.
    A little while ago I felt led to write a study on worship music. I have several questions I’d like to ask you but will try not to bombard you : )
    1. Is it important for worship (and, consequently, worship music) to be both spontaneous and deliberate? Can it be?
    2. Should physical expressions always be the overflow of what we feel inside or can we motivate ourselves to worship by raising our hands, clapping, kneeling, etc.?

  13. Kyle July 20, 2007 at 10:54 AM #

    I check here every day to see if there’s a new post. Of course you’re busy and have much going on – just know that your thoughts and comments are greatly appreciated, and there are many who would love to hear from you again!

    Grace with you,

    Kyle

  14. Dan July 25, 2007 at 5:41 AM #

    I have to agree with Julie who left a comment a few up. While the objective truths of the Gospel and the omnipresence of God are sure and fast – and we rejoice in that – if we really believe that the Bible is our final authority then surely we have to accept that there is a distinction between the omnipresence of God and the manifest glory of God which IS to be experienced and encountered?

    Here’s a few examples from Scripture that came to me;

    Exodus 33:3, 14, 18 – God said to Moses that He wouldn’t go up with them to the land of Israel but send an angel instead. Was God still omnipresent? Of course He was! But did the promise of His Presence make a difference to Moses? Clearly – else why else would he have interceded so much?

    Ezekiel 10:4, 18, 23 and 43:2- the glory of God was seen departing from the temple in stages and then returning at the end of the book with the sound of rushing waters. Was God still omnipresent? Of course. But did Jerusalem suffer in God’s absence? Absolutely. And what happened when the people heeded His commands and repented? The glory of God or His manifest Presence returned.

    Acts 2:2- the Day of Pentecost! Was God omnipresent? Of course. Well if He was equally present everywhere then why did people come running TO where the disciples were receiving this encounter with God?

    Acts 4:31 – the place was shaken! Was God omnipresent? Of course! But was the place shaking everywhere across the city? It doesn’t say so.

    1 Corinthians 14:24-25 – If God is ominpresent everywhere in such power then why aren’t unbelievers everywhere falling down and saying ‘God is truly among you?’. It seems to me that what made the unbelievers fall down and say this was the manifestation of prophecy in their midst.

    Let’s not allow our experience (the lack of His Presence) to shape our theology and settle for less than what He intended – Ephesians 2:20 “The dwelling place of God in the Spirit”.

  15. Peter Day July 25, 2007 at 10:04 AM #

    I was sent the link to this post by a friend of mine today. It is a very interesting article and says a lot to encourage worship leaders. It is very liberating that the responsibility of bringing people into God’s presence isn’t mine, but the Holy Spirit’s. It is so good that all has been done for us by Him! That He has gone into “the Most Holy Place one for all, having obtained eternal redemption.” (Heb 9v11).

    However, isn’t there also a sense in which we are responsible to pursue that which the Lord has done for us? That happens in other areas of the Christian life. We have been declared righteous, but we are still responsible for living righteously.

    Legally we have access into the presence of God at all times and in all places. Christ has gone in on our behalf having obtained eternal redemption. Through that completed offering, the curtain is open. But then we are responsible for entering in. Not on the basis of any perceived “merit” coming from our worship, but on the basis of His finished work.

    He entered in for redemption (fulfilling the Day of Atonement). We now must chose to enter in for fellowship. It is not automatic. If it were, why do we have exhortation “let us draw near…” (Heb 10v22)? Also, James 4v8 says “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” This is something that we must do.

    Furthermore, as new covenant saints, surely we can cry “show us Your glory” and hunger and thirst for a tangible manifestation of the presence of God. Of course we know by faith He is ever-present. We know He inhabits our praises, but surely we must long to experience – to feel – more and more the taste of His glory in our meetings.

  16. Kathy August 14, 2007 at 12:22 PM #

    I’m very hungry to be where God is more real than anything else. I love and serve Him to the best of my ability but I long to see real manifestations of His spirit. Why don’t we see the signs that are supposed to follow them that believe? Christians who are being persecuted in other countries are seeing them. I won’t stop until I am satisfied by His Glory.

  17. bkauflin August 23, 2007 at 6:34 PM #

    Julie, Dan, Peter, and Kathy –

    You all bring up a great point. We can understand the presence of God in different ways. God is omnipresent, he has promised his presence when we gather, he can be actively present, and one day we will see him in his unveiled presence. My point in this post was to more clearly define “entering God’s presence.” The fact that Jesus has brought us into the Father’s presence in reality should make us eager to experience his active, revealed, or manifest presence. But we shouldn’t think at that moment that we’ve actually “entered” God’s presence. He’s been with us the whole time. We need to keep a healthy tension between celebrating his promised presence and eagerly anticipating and crying out for his active presence.

  18. Larry May 9, 2008 at 6:56 PM #

    I was searching this website and came across this thread. I recently have been studying Exodus along with Ryken’s excellent commentary on Exodus. What is amazingly clear is that, for Israel, God’s presence was directly associated with the tabernacle. His Shekina Glory was over the tabernacle. Ryken says that the tabernacle helps us to understanding what it means for God to dwell with us. Later Jesus came and dwelt (tabernacled) among us (John 1). Now we, both individually and as a church, are the temple of God. Individually, God dwells in us, and God has promised never to take His Spirit away. Finally, someday we will be in heaven in His direct presence.

    For hundreds of years the church has used Ps 100 as a call to worship. Yet Ps 100 was obviously written with the thought of approaching the tabernacle and the tabernacle courts and gates where the physical manifestation of God resided. There was one place for worship, unlike today (John 4). There was one place where God’s manifested presence resided.

    So based on your comments and that of D. A. Carson, in what sense is it proper for us to use Ps. 100 as a call to worship as a church? How do you understand the encouragement to “come into His presence” or “enter His gates…and..courts” In other words, how would you explain the direct use of this OT passage for the church?

    I’m also curious as to what passages of Scripture support the statement that we should be ”eager to experience His active, revealed, or manifest presence.”

  19. Brandon Godwin September 9, 2010 at 11:29 AM #

    Bob,

    Great post/answer. I’m a little suspicious of seeing the worship leader in a “priestly” type role, since, as you mentioned, we are all in a priestly position before God, based solely on the merits of Christ’s substitutionary work.

    I would see the worship leader as nothing more than a facilitator and pastor/shepherd who is leading the corporate worship of the people.

    Do you see it as a potential problem that the Worship Leader position is possibly becoming more glorified than it should be? Should men be going to school to “become a worship leader?” I’m just a little curious a to your thoughts there.

    • Bob Kauflin September 9, 2010 at 3:40 PM #

      Brandon, in general, I think the role of the “worship leader” has been given too much prominence in recent years, leading to people sometimes seeing a musician serving as a priest who is able to bring the presence of God while we sing.

  20. Graham Buck September 9, 2010 at 11:49 AM #

    While I find myself nodding in agreement to this post (especially to Dr. Frame, one of my favorite profs from seminary) my question is, in what sense is our activity during corporate worship different than any other time of the week? Perhaps it’s right to say that qualitatively there is no difference and if so then I would agree with your statements. However if there is more than just a quantitative difference, that is more than just there are a lot of us together in one room doing the same thing together, then what is the job of the “worship leader”?

    Does God show up in a different way as we meet on the Lord’s day? I think there is biblical merit to that Or,if you would rather, does God show up in a different way whenever we gather together as a community of faith to hear from Him and bless Him through our words and actions?

    Thinking of it that way, we are in a sense leading a procession of God’s people into his throneroom to be blessed and to bless, and to be fed (read: communion) by him.

    Just some thoughts from a mobile-device mind.

  21. Steve September 9, 2010 at 12:08 PM #

    Love this post Bob and have been battling with this idea for years. In some ways, the idea that I should be leading people into the ‘manifest’ presence of God each Sunday (or each time I lead) lead me to become quite disillusioned with contemporary worship – and it’s purpose.

    I think the reason behind this is that if we don’t experience the manifest presence in our services – have we then ‘failed’ in our worship? I myself would give that an emphatic ‘No’.

    The aim of the worship leader – as Bob suggests – is to enable people to focus on the truth of what is already theirs which will hopefully grow appreciation and overflow into praise and adoration of Jesus.

    If the Holy Spirit chooses to manifest himself in our services and we see healings, prophecy, miracles etc – then that’s a fantastic thing, and we should eagerly desire more of it. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE when he turns up, but to put the responsibility of that stuff happening on ourselves as worship leaders or to see that as the purpose of we do is a bit dangerous in my opinion.

    This could show up my lack of biblical knowledge, but the only time in the new testament where I see the manifest presence and musical worship connected is Acts 16:25-26. A great piece of scripture but I think it gets a wee bit abused as a basis for the manifest presence of God being a ‘result’ of musical worship.

  22. Peter Giglio September 10, 2010 at 4:35 PM #

    I love sunday worship but I’ve often wondered if we place more importance on it then they did in the early church.
    But that’s not to say that the early church is a perfect model.

  23. Diana September 13, 2010 at 11:35 PM #

    Going to send this site to our Praise leader.

  24. Ben Valentine May 31, 2014 at 9:09 AM #

    How lovely is your dwelling place,
    O Lord of hosts!
    2 My soul longs, yes, faints
    forthe courts of the Lord;
    my heart and flesh sing for joy
    to the living God.
    3 Eventhe sparrow finds a home,
    andthe swallow a nest for herself,
    whereshe may lay her young,
    at your altars, O Lord of hosts,
    myKing and my God.
    4 Blessed are those who dwell in yourhouse,
    ever singing your praise!
    Psalm 84:1-4

    7 Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall Iflee from your presence?
    8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed inSheol, you are there!
    9 If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in theuttermost parts of the sea,
    10 even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right handshall hold me.
    Psalm139:7-10

    The psalmists saw the manifest (localized) presence of God as something to besought and longed after. At the same time however, there was a heartfelt sense of fear and awe that came from constant awareness as to the omnipresence of God.
    Could it be possible that do a degree, we’ve put too much emphasis on manifest presence in our worship to the point that we actually put God down? I honestly wonder what corporate worship would look like in churches wherein a high view of God’s attributes – specifically his omnipresence – was taught and affirmed.

  25. Pablo Perez July 5, 2014 at 6:13 PM #

    Very revealing Bob… I specially like what you wrote:

    “So as I’m standing in front of the church, leading them in songs, Scripture reading, and prayer, my goal is not to “lead them into God’s presence,” but to help them remember and celebrate what Christ has accomplished for them through his righteous life, atoning death, and glorious resurrection”

    I agree, we use (myself included) a lot of “cliches” and recycled semantics that are not necessarily totally biblical.

  26. insideoutlife August 5, 2015 at 1:20 AM #

    Yes this is great – I love Eugene Petersons quote about worship helping us to ‘attend to’ the presence of God. I try to use language around the idea that God is already present because his Holy Spirit lives in those of us that know Christ, but by deliberately creating space to be attentive, through song, word, prayer, communion etc we do become more aware of his ‘tangible’ presence at work. We create space in our hearts to ‘hear’ His voice. Bob, wondering if you can comment then also on the dynamic of what happens when we see God’s spirit move quite dynamically and ‘supernaturally’ for want of a better word in worship (messages of tongues, manifestiatons, deep emotion – albeit genuine) ?

  27. Jane Love March 22, 2017 at 7:40 PM #

    I must admit. This is a very interesting article. However, does one “enter” into God’s presence? According to Luke 17: 21 (which states that “neither shall they say look here nor look there. For indeed the kingdom of Heaven is within you”) and others, we can see that we are always in the presence of God.

    Worship make us MORE AWARE of his presence but not necessarily into His presence. I mean, when did you leave it in the first place?

  28. grantnorsworthy September 11, 2017 at 11:02 AM #

    Good stuff Bob. Amen. Thanks.

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