Yesterday, I posted thoughts on attempts to manufacture and market the presence of God, both wrong responses to God’s experienced presence. One person commented that what I wrote seemed to “create hesitancy about pursing His presence” and encouraged me to “stir people’s faith to encounter God and His presence.'” Today, I want to do just that by addressing a third way we can approach thinking about God’s presence wrongly.
3. We don’t want to minimize God’s active presence.
God has always intended to dwell with his people. We see this with Adam and Eve in the garden, in God’s command to the Israelites to build a tabernacle so that he might dwell among them (Ex. 25:8, 29:46), in Moses’ plea that God’s presence go with them (Ex. 33:15-16), in the building of the temple (2 Chron. 6:2), in the incarnation of Christ (Mt. 1:23), and in the final chapters of Revelation (Rev. 21:3-4).
It’s a cause for continual wonder and amazement that the transcendent Creator of the universe would want to dwell among with those he created. God’s presence continues to be one of the distinguishing marks of the people of God.
But does that make any difference in real life? Time after time we meet together expecting nothing unusual, nothing out of the ordinary, as though it was just us, as though we were attending a Rotary Club meeting. We’re satisfied if we simply execute our plans well and avoid train wrecks. We act as though the Holy Spirit only suggests thoughts for a meeting beforehand and never during. We’d be shocked if anyone in our meetings ever lifted their hands in wonder, shed tears of conviction, laughed for joy, or knelt down in awe. We just don’t expect that kind of thing in church.
We should. When the church gathers, God himself is present with us to bless, to guide, to speak, to convict, to strengthen, to illumine, and to build up, all that we might more profoundly and consistently glorify Jesus Christ. We worship a risen Savior, not a dead historical figure.
Sundays are never “business as usual” because God is among us.
We are never merely “singing songs.” We are proclaiming and meditating on life-transforming realities that God uses to change our perspective, fill us with fresh faith, and open our eyes to his immeasurable power. We are joining in with the myriads of saints and angels around the throne who unceasingly praise the Lamb and the one who sits on the throne (Heb. 12:22-24; Rev. 5:11-14).
We are never merely “hearing a sermon.” God himself is speaking to us as his Word is faithfully, carefully, thoughtfully, and persuasively proclaimed. The Spirit of God is seeking to soften hearts, open eyes, reveal sin, and impart faith. God is present and working in our hearts.
We are never merely meeting with each other. We meet with God in the presence of God at his invitation to celebrate the gospel, enjoy the miracle of being his adopted children through Jesus Christ, and to be changed.
How do we anticipate experiencing God’s presence without getting derailed? I’ll share some thoughts on that in my next post.