Is it somehow wrong or unspiritual to want to experience the presence of God?
All sorts of arguments rage over this question. And especially in relation to worship.
Are churches too experiential? Or not experiential enough? People are leaving churches today for both reasons, so it’s a significant question that demands an answer.
Let’s establish one fact first. The presence of God is not an experience to be sought or argued about. It is a theological and Biblical fact.
And a fact with several aspects or levels to it.
First of all, God is omnipresent. He is everywhere. That doesn’t mean he’s in everything, just that his presence as Creator of the universe cannot be limited to one place. He is capable of being present anywhere at any time. He is present, for instance, in every Christian by the person of his Spirit. In this sense, you don’t have to seek his presence. You have his presence.
Second, God is very often present in an intensified way when we pray and seek him, or when we are gathered together corporately in worship. How often have we felt his peace or his joy in personal or corporate worship? The Bible says he dwells in the praises of his people.
Third, God is sometimes present in a manifest sense. These are times when the awareness of his presence can touch or even overwhelm our physical senses. Think of Moses or Elijah in the cleft of the rock on Mount Sinai. Think of the priests unable to stand at the opening of Solomon’s temple. Think of Ezekiel “lifted up by the Spirit between earth and heaven.” Think of the soldiers thrown to the ground as they came to arrest Jesus. Think of the believers at Pentecost, appearing outwardly drunk due to the power of the Spirit. Think of Paul thrown off his horse by the presence of God. Think of Philip transported miraculously from one place to another. Think of the building in Jerusalem shaking when the believers were praying, or the jail bonds burst asunder by the earthquake at Philippi. Think of Paul caught up to the third heaven.
And think of the congregations addressed by John Wesley and Jonathan Edwards, where men and women were reduced to tears and crying out to God in repentance. Think of the Scottish highlanders on Lewis and Harris, sprawled in the fields in intense conviction of sin. Every revival has similar stories, differing only in detail.
Why then do we argue over whether it is unspiritual to seek the presence of God? When I first met my wife, I wanted to be in her presence. I felt something tangible. It was (and is!) special. Why on earth would I not want to be in God’s presence? God’s presence is nothing more nor less than God himself. Do we not want to seek God?
I think the whole argument against seeking experiences is based on a misconception. The misconception is that those people seeking the presence of God in a tangible way are looking for an emotional experience. Our faith is based on Biblical truth, not emotion, the argument goes (and so far quite rightly), so we should not need those kind of experiences, and certainly should not depend on them. And it is true that we should not be seeking God for emotional experiences.
But here’s the mistake. We do not encounter the presence of God with our emotions. But we do encounter the presence of God in a way that affects our emotions.
We encounter God’s presence when the Holy Spirit invades our spirit with his power and reality. Our spirit is the deepest part of us, that place where his Spirit comes to dwell, from which he begins to establish lordship over our emotions, our intellect and our body.
God is always present in our spirit by his Spirit: that is his omnipresence. His presence is often felt in a tangible way when it is intensified in prayer and worship. And his presence may be felt in a manifest way in times of special power and revival.
God is present: that’s a fact. And that’s what our faith is built on. But if he chooses to come in an intensified or even manifest form, it is for a kingdom purpose. It’s not so that you can be emotionally overcome, but that you can be spiritually empowered.
I advise you to seek as much of God’s presence in your life as you feel you need to do his will.
And as for me... I’ll take as much as I can get. Because his call on my life requires it.
And his call on your life requires it too.