The Presence of God
by Lois E. Gibson
The following writing was prompted by someone who had written on a Yahoo Group and shared their frustration in trying out a different church after having left the UPC. They left the service after just a few minutes, sharing they couldn't feel anything (meaning that God's presence was not there). She felt sad for the people at the church, thinking they would go every week and not feel anything. My response, found below, has been edited.
An often difficult area for those leaving apostolic churches is the thought that so many church services are "dead". It is a big adjustment to go from the often emotional and physically demonstrative apostolic church services to a service where they may just sing and clap their hands. Some will think, "Where is God's presence in this?" This article is meant to provoke some thought in this area.
Are all non-Pentecostal type church services "dead"? Do physical demonstrations in services indicate the presence and approval of God and does the lack thereof mean God isn't there and ichabod is written over the church door? I think many have an erroneous view in this area because of the over-emphasis on emotions and feelings and outward demonstrations (shouting, clapping, running, jumping, etc.). How does this view line up with what we see in the Bible?
Is what we learned to associate as God's presence really always God's presence? Stop and think about this. This question isn't meant to say that one cannot or will never feel the presence of God. It isn't saying people will never show their emotions in a service.
What I wish to share is meant to provoke some thought in this area and there are some things we can consider in the process.
First, there are biblical facts and there are feelings. Our feelings must not interpret Scripture, but rather Scripture should be the interpreter of our feelings and emotions. If we think we feel something but it's not really lining up with Scripture, then we need to pause and consider that our interpretation of those emotions may be incorrect. It doesn't negate the emotions; it just places them in their proper place.
Here's a biblical fact: Each believer carries God's Spirit inside him or her. So, wherever they go, God is there, too.
Eph 1:13-14 "In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory."
Joh 14:16-18 "And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you."
Here's another biblical fact: Where two or three are gathered together in His name, He will be in their midst.
Mat 18:15-20 "Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."
These two Scriptural truths are unchanging. Location, situations, etc. cannot change these truths. We must use these truths to shine light on our thoughts in this area.
I've been there when it comes to this struggle. I do understand what people mean who express the thought that they cannot feel God's presence in a service. But over time I've come to see some things very differently from what I was taught while in the UPC. My sharing is not to take from anyone's experiences, nor to criticize, but rather as food for thought.
Considering the above-mentioned truths, how can we say God's presence was not at a gathering of believers? Can we see into the hearts of all those people present and know what was going on between them and God right then in those fleeting few minutes where we judged the service? I'll bet you'd have a hard time convincing ones there that God wasn't in their midst.
Remember Elijah? Do you recall when God spoke to him at one point in his life? Let me share the account from the KJV:
1Ki 19:9-13 "And he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah? And he said, I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away. And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?"
Notice that God wasn't found in all those big, easily seen things which many of us would expect. There was a fiercely strong wind, yet God was not in the wind. The earth shook, but God wasn't in that either. Then there was a fire. Surely now God is in the fire. No, He wasn't in that. Where was He found? He was found in a still, small voice. In the quiet. Not in the visible things we would have anticipated. He waited for the quietness and stillness before speaking to Elijah.
I shared that to illustrate that sometimes we want, watch for, encourage and even manipulate outward things- sights/sounds/movements- in order to bring about what we believe to be God's presence. Ever hear about praying down His Spirit? Why, when He lives and resides in us?
Yes, the feelings you can get in an emotionally charged service are great. But they are feelings. They are our response. This is not a very reliable indicator of God's presence.
So, consider this- how could you not have God's presence in that service? He lives in you. He promised to be in our midst when we gather together. Remember- biblical truths need to interpret feelings and emotions. Perhaps- just perhaps- what you think you didn't feel there that caused you to believe God wasn't among His people isn't a very good indicator of His presence.
In the UPC many of us were taught well to get high off the emotions. We'd think the really great service was the one where the preacher didn't get to preach. We'd often come crashing down a day or two after a "power-packed" service when the emotional high left us. These things are fleeting and they are not lasting.
Let's not be so quick to declare that God is not among a gathering of believers. It may not be what you are used to having in a service, but must that translate to mean God is not there? We must stand on biblical truths. Our emotions and feelings should never be allowed to override what the Word declares as truth. Think about it.
You may write Lois at the email address displayed in the image. No correspondence that seeks to debate will be answered as I have no desire to debate. Understand that due to the volume of mail, not every email may be acknowledged.
Posted March 16, 2006
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August 23, 1997
Copyright © 1997-2012 by Lois E. Gibson
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