An insightful article on the presence of God in worship from our friend Tom Kraeuter over at Training Resources.
Not long ago, someone asked the question, “Why do people talk about God ‘showing up’ when He is, in fact, everywhere? He can’t show up. He’s already there.”
On one hand, the questioner makes a good point. God is, indeed, everywhere. The theological term is that He is omnipresent; He is present in all places, all the time.
David said this well in Psalm 139:
Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me (Psalm 139:7-10).
God is everywhere. There can be no question about this point. You cannot go to a place where God is not already present. Yet, to stop with only that understanding would be to miss the more complete picture.
Way back in the Old Testament, God told Joshua, “I will be with you. I will not leave you…” (Joshua 1:5). Let’s be honest. That seems kind of obvious, doesn’t it? I mean, for a God who is omnipresent to say that He will be with you and won’t leave you is, well, repetitively redundant, don’t you think? In reality, even though the Lord was everywhere, He was somehow more “with” the people of Israel than the people of other nations.
Even earlier, in the opening chapters of the Bible, we already see this truth depicted. “Then Cain went away from the presence of the LORD and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden” (Genesis 4:16). Jonah did the same thing, fleeing “away from the presence of the LORD” (Jonah 1:3). How could Cain or Jonah escape the presence of an omnipresent God?
Also in the Old Testament, God gave directions about the construction of the Tabernacle and the various pieces of furniture that were to be in it. After giving the instructions about a special table for the Holy Place, as well as the implements that were to go on the table, the Lord declared, “you shall set the bread of the Presence on the table before me regularly” (Exodus 25:30). The bread was called the “bread of the Presence” and God said to set it “before me.” Apparently, the Lord’s presence was there in a different way or different dimension than it was elsewhere.
At the dedication of Solomon’s temple, something extraordinary happened. “And when the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord” (1 Kings 8:10-11). The God who is everywhere showed up in a special way in that place that day.There are other verses that need to be reckoned with in this context. “The LORD said , ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by'” (1 Kings 19:11). Moses had a similar experience earlier. “The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and… the Lord passed before him…” (Exodus 34:5-6). How can the God who is everywhere at all times “pass by”? Is it possible that we have only a limited understanding of God’s presence?
Let’s jump ahead to the New Testament era. In the book of Luke, Zechariah had a conversation with an angel. “And the angel answered him, ‘I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God…'” (Luke 1:19). Clearly the implication of this statement is that there are those who don’t stand in the presence of God, at least in the same dimension of the presence of God as Gabriel does.
James tells us to “Draw near to God…” (James 4:8). How can one draw near — the NLT says, “Come close to God” — when He is everywhere? The writer of Hebrews uses this same “draw near to God” phrasing three times (Hebrews 7:19, 25; 11:26).
And He will draw near to you ….
Before you go too far in trying to figure that one out, there is another, even deeper, issue to ponder. James continues in that same verse, “…and he will draw near to you.” If we draw near to God, He will draw near to us. Yet, if God is everywhere — right next to you and even inside you — how can He draw near to you? He’s already there, isn’t He?
Jesus promised, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20). That’s a great promise, but note what Jesus didn’t say. He didn’t say He would be among two or three gathering for a party, or to watch a movie. Now, we should recognize that since He is omnipresent, He is in those places, also. However, what He was promising was a greater dimension, a more complete manifestation of His presence. He promised to be among those who gather in His name.
Acts 3:20 talks about refreshing coming “from the presence of the Lord.” If God’s omnipresent presence was all there is (I shudder to even write such words since any form of the presence of God should be treated reverently), then such refreshing should be everywhere, all the time. Yet, it isn’t.
2 Thessalonians 1:9 talks about those who do not know God. It says, “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord.” Yet, earlier we saw that David said, “If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” (Psalm 139:). The Hebrew word, Sheol, literally means, “Hades or the world of the dead.” God’s omnipresence is apparently even there. Yet, the Apostle Paul says the people who go there will be “away from the presence of the Lord.”
There are many, many references to the presence of the Lord in Scripture. Although it would take far too long to look at all of them in this brief article, it is obvious that each of those references is talking about something more than the general, God-is-everywhere presence.
Although God is indeed everywhere, there are apparently times and places where He makes His presence known in a greater, more profound, more tangible, or more personal way. As strange as it may seem to our finite minds, apparently God really can “show up.”
Reprinted by permission of Training Resources, Inc., 65 Shepherd’s Way, Hillsboro, MO 63050, www.training-resources.org . Look for Tom’s new book, Mentoring Worship Leaders, available March 2015.