As I sat across the table from a good friend who has shared his walk in Christ with me for many years, he said those words that cause me to wince on the inside: "The presence of God is what really matters to me..." To many, this idea sounds wonderful: let's do whatever we can to have the presence of God be in greater abundance in our times of meeting together. Let's be sure to do those things that bring God's presence to a greater degree and avoid those things that would cause His presence to wane.
There's only one problem with it: it isn't true. Let me explain.
The assumption behind this is that God's presence waxes and wanes; that it is strong in one place at one time, but weak in another. Furthermore, that what we do or do not do somehow effects the supply available. None of these are true.
In fact, God's Holy Spirit has been poured out on everyone. The prophet Joel foretold this outpouring and recorded it in what we now know as Joel 2:28: "Then, after doing all those things, I will pour out my Spirit upon all people." God made sure that we would understand that this had happened the moment Jesus breathed His last:
Matthew 27:51 At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.
Why? And why is Matthew so careful to give us the details? Remember that Matthew's primary audience was those of Jewish faith who would understand the depth and power of this statement. First, that curtain could have been a foot thick, making tearing of it impossible. It was also 15 feet high, making the human tearing of it impossible from the top to the bottom. God did it. Before He did, it separated the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place. Afterward, the separation was obliterated as God communicated once for all time that He cannot be confined to a time or a place. He poured Himself out on all people.
The unknown author of Hebrews makes clear the significance of this event by writing in chapter 10 starting in verse 20: "By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. 21 And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, 22 let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water."
There is something very important to notice in this passage in Hebrews: there is nothing for us to do in order to enjoy the presence of God. We can go right in. We don't have to be somewhere that He is, do certain things to please Him, avoid those things which displease Him, or anything else. We cannot effect His presence!
It's always there in full power. God is omnipresent and omnipotent.
So, you may ask, why do some God loving, God fearing people believe that God's presence is greater in some places and some times than it is in others?
The answer is actually quite straight-forward, but its incredibly important to understand. The reason is that they experience Him more in some places and times than they do in others. In fact, most of us do. For me, I have felt that I can almost touch God as I've stood on a mountain top, gazed at the ocean, and held my newborn child. There are also times when it's hard to believe He's close. Those are the times that I've learned that He is and that all I have to do is tap into the truth, step into my faith, and recognize His presence. He is there. He always is.
Given that truth, you may next wonder why it matters. If someone believes that God is more present with certain activities going on than with others, what's wrong with that?
The answer is uncomfortable, but important: it places the emphasis wrongly.
The core truth of the Gospel is grace. The reality that God loves us independently of anything we do or don't do, think or don't think. There is nothing we can do to cause Him to favor us more... or less. That is the good news; the Gospel of Jesus.
Believing that there are certain things we can do or think that will cause God's presence to show up--or disappear--belies the truth of the Gospel. In doing so, it also reduces us to rule followers trying to please God so He will show up for us. That, to put it bluntly, is endeavoring to seek God's approval (His presence) by our actions, which is the opposite of the wonder and truth of grace.
Given this, why is it that it sometimes seems that God is farther away than other times? What is the cause and how do we get back to that connection with God?
What do you think the answer is?
Faith. Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. (Hebrews 11:1) By faith you know that God is there and His presence never wavers. By faith you know that He loves you infinitely and nothing you do or do not do can ever or will ever change that.
When you're missing that connection, step into the truth that He hasn't changed. He is for you. He is fully present.
..and if singing certain songs helps you, sing them. If being in a certain place makes a difference, go there. If standing, sitting, dancing, or crying connects you, do those things, too. In spite of all that, though, recognize that these are tools that help you to step into the truth that God is fully present with you in that place and time, not that you must do anything so He will be more present.
Our Father wants to be with you all the time. Step into the awareness that He's always there in full power.
Enjoy His presence.