Pursuing God’s Active Presence

In 1971, the great 20th century preacher, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, brought these remarks to an annual Minister’s conference:

“We must not be content until we have had some manifestation of the activity of God. We must concentrate on this. This is my plea, that we concentrate on this, because it is the great message of the Bible, so substantiated by the lessons of history. That is obviously today the only thing that gives us any hope as we face the future. And God seems to be saying that to us. ‘Prove Me now. Try Me. Risk your everything on Me. Be fools for My sake. Cast yourselves utterly upon this belief.’ Let us put it like this: Do we really believe that God can still act? That is the question; that is the ultimate challenge. Or have we, for theological or some other reasons, excluded the very possibility? Here is the crucial matter. Do we individually and personally really believe that God still acts, can act and will act – in individuals, in groups of individuals, in churches, localities, perhaps even in countries? Do we believe that He is as capable of doing that today as He was in ancient times – the Old Testament, the New Testament times, the book of Acts, Protestant Reformation, Puritans, Methodist Awakening, 1859, 1904-5? Do we really believe that He can still do it? You see, it is ultimately what you believe about God. If He is the great Jehovah – I am that I am, I am that I shall be, unchanged, unchanging, unchangeable, the everlasting and eternal God – well, He can still do it.” (I originally found this quote on Adrian Warnock’s site, but you can read the full sermon here.)

What does a manifestation of the activity of God look like? How do we know God is present to act? The most significant evidence of God’s activity is conversion, when a defiant rebel is miraculously transformed into a forgiven lover of God through the Gospel and the power of the Spirit. Lavish generosity and humble servanthood can also be evidences of God’s activity. People who no longer live for their own glory but for the glory of the Savior display God’s power at work. I’m among those who believe that the gifts of the Spirit described in various New Testament passages (1 Cor. 12, 14, Eph. 4, etc.), such as prophetic impressions and healing, continue to this day. They, too, are a sign that God is active in our midst.

However, I’m sobered and challenged by Lloyd-Jones’ question: “Do we really believe that God can still act?” He is asking if we have faith for God to move among us in clear, distinct, and powerful ways. He is asking us to consider if we are settling for an "appearance of godliness, but denying its power?" (2 Tim. 3:5) At the end of the day are we placing more trust in God’s activity or ours? I find that I can still approach congregational meetings in a way that expecting God’s active presence is almost an afterthought. Maybe you’ve had the same experience.

Scripture explains God’s presence in different ways. Psalm 139 and other passages teach that He is present everywhere at the same time. Quite a feat. But, there are many Scriptural examples of God making his presence known in a unique way. Some of these are expected, as when we gather to share the Lord’s supper or sing His praise (1 Cor. 11:23-32; Eph. 5:18-20). Other times, God reveals his presence and activity in ways that are startling and affecting. In 1 Cor. 14:23-25 Paul seems to assume that will be a regular occurrence in our meetings if we are responding to the Spirit’s leading. Unbelievers will fall down and proclaim, “God is really among you!”

How do we respond to Lloyd-Jones’ penetrating question – “Do we really believe that God can still act?” – without falling into emotionalism or idolizing experience? How do we maintain a balance between celebrating God’s presence among us and expectantly looking for his active presence? In our experience-saturated but God-deprived culture, it’s an important question. That topic is the theme of the main session messages at Sovereign Grace’s WorshipGod06 conference, “The Glory of His Presence.” It will be held August 9-12, 2006, here in Gaithersburg, Maryland. I’ve asked my good friend Jeff Purswell to start the conference with a message on a biblical theology of the presence of God, tracing what God has to say from Genesis to Revelation. I’ll be speaking on Pursuing God’s Presence, and have invited author Randy Alcorn to speak on Anticipating God’s Presence. My prayer is that everyone who attends the conference will leave more confident of God’s constant activity in their lives, and more committed to pursuing a greater experience of that activity. I’d love to see you there. You can find out more about the conference here.

What about you? Where do you need to grow in faith for God’s activity in your life and your church? How have you maintained a balance between celebrating God’s promised presence through ordinary means and an expectation for his supernatural activity in unexpected ways? I’d be interested in your comments.


6 Responses to Pursuing God’s Active Presence

  1. Janelle Leach May 17, 2006 at 3:44 PM #


    I think I could write you a “thank you” book for the way you’ve allowed the Lord to use you– I was at Metro Life last May for the Worship Conference…The way the Lord used you that weekend was profound. I’ve also benefited immensely from this blog- I moved back home from Orlando in August, and my dad and I have had several disagreements on the topic of worship and when I get frustrated not knowing how to explain my thoughts/beliefs, I have numerous times found the words my heart believes on this blog- whether they’re your words, or a quote. It’s made for much more calm discussions as I’m not stumbling over words so much. Thank you.

    Now in regard to your interest for comments: In struggling with a lot of the words we sing at my local church, and witnessing what I would describe as “romanticized Christianity” my friend and I have been challenging each other with the idea that when we’re frustrated, we’re self-sufficient and aren’t actively believing that God can change and control hearts. We ask each other the question, “Do you believe God can change their heart?” It provokes me to pray instead of being frustrated. If God has changed my hard, cold, stubborn heart to love Him…He can change ANYONE’S heart! When I lose sight of that, and become self-righteous thinking that “my way” or even “Sovereign Grace’s way” is better, I lose grip on grace- for others, and then in turn, for myself. I become legalistic and not loving. I become the very thing I get frustrated by- I don’t understand the importance of Christ’s sacrifice in MY life, because I’m too busy looking at others. God knows hearts better than I ever could. Just this past week I’ve been singing the song I learned as a kid, “My God is so GREAT! So strong and so mighty there’s nothing my God cannot do!” Boy, I want to live like I believe that.

    Thanks again for allowing God to use you.

  2. Thomas Clay May 18, 2006 at 11:32 AM #

    Bro. Bob
    In transitioning as a worship leader from an A/G background to a Southern Baptist church (that teaches the doctrines of grace) I have found that most Baptists who have solid theology firmly trust that God will act in creating the greatest miracle of all–that of regeneration. However, they struggle with the idea that God also does act in other ways, i.e., the gifts of the Spirit. Most are, to borrow Sam Storms’ term, “practical cessationists”–they will tell you that God still heals or raises the dead, but would be very uncomfortable in participating in a service where their elders followed the pattern in James 5. I’m sure much of this has to do with abuses and un-biblical practices surrounding those gifts in other churches (which I also reject!). I also see it as a barrier to dynamic, charismatic worship because many evangelical congregations (who actually teach the doctrines of grace) are afraid that they might “cross over the line” into other characteristics seen in pentecostal or charismatics congregations, creating a real boundary in a worship service. I don’t see how the scriptures forbid God to act in many supernatural ways with, of course, the only purpose of those ways being to glorify God and His Son, Jesus Christ.

  3. jon May 18, 2006 at 11:45 AM #


    Thanks for this challenging post. Can’t wait for the Worship God conference! How have you cultivated an anticipation of God’s active presence and power during the meetings of the church? It seems easy for me and others (even those of us who serve week in and week out leading corporate singing) to become familiar with the context and the songs…with little expectation of God moving unusually in a particular meeting.

  4. Alex Leung May 19, 2006 at 10:21 AM #

    Thank you, Bob, for the timely reminder. It seems God’s Spirit is really working in my life, as your humble reminders have been all coming at just the right time when I need to hear God speak to me.

    I’m just about to leave for a 4day student ministry conference called “CAMPUS CHALLENGE” purposed for students in or looking to be serving in campus ministry. I’m the Worship Coordinator/Advisor, mainly overseeing the worship team’s adherence to Biblical worship in spirit and in truth.

    It’s the 2nd year in a row I have done this, though last year was more onstage lead singing also. This year, I’ve followed your blog series on “What does a Worship Leader Do” for our devotional times before practices, and it’s been a wonderful time being honest and truthful to ourselves about what we are really doing.

    I am getting more nervous by the minute here, because we have planned and practiced so much, seeking to magnify His worth & works, and yet, it feels like so much has yet to be done, or isn’t organized as best as I’d prefer. I know God can work wonders during our times of singing, and also the rest the conference time… but I must admit I have struggled with the question, whether I really believe that God can still act.

    Starting tonight (Fri) until Monday afternoon, the conference will unite over 170 university students from all across Southern Ontario, mostly asians, but from various church & denominational backgrounds. I thank God for how your reformed and Charismatic foundations are confirming my Biblical understanding of worship. Please pray for the conference, the musical worship ministry, and my leadership.

    More details: http://www.campus-challenge.com

    -Alex Leung

  5. Arthur May 22, 2006 at 6:29 AM #

    I don’t know if this falls on the comment that you want to hear but when I read your post, I wandered back to my post about knowing God and believing in Him, knowing His attributes and experiencing them. Sometimes, especially when we are young, we tend to attribute ‘relationship’ with God by knowing a lot about Him, getting along with the knowledge without the real connection to God. Until you get to believe more on yourself and the reliance to God is just in the mind. You thought you have that connection but the fact is you just thought about it. Which is so sad. I heard a lot of people say that children are so blessed if at a young age they are able to know God. But the crucial thing about it is when something gets wrong along the way (i.e. wrong assumptions, wrong interpretations, loss of focus), it is so hard to get back on track. It is still my constant prayer that I will be able to get out of the mere knowledge and start experiencing, feeling, allowing His presence to move in my life.

    ‘Prove Me now. Try Me. Risk your everything on Me. Be fools for My sake. Cast yourselves utterly upon this belief.’

  6. herdina domorozo August 5, 2010 at 11:52 AM #

    i really thank God that i read this very challenging messages,,,thats gives us physical and spiritual strength in our life,,,and for the growth of our christianity,,,Godbless:”)

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