Practicing the Wrong Presence
By glenn packiam
October 13, 2009
Ask many worship leaders what the focus of their worship service is and they will invariably say something about the presence of God.
“We just want God to show up.”
“We want to make room for God to move.”
“We want to experience the presence of God.”
It sounds so good, so spiritual, so other-worldy that we don’t easily recognize how misguided it is.Think about it: Is there any doubt that God will be present?
We know from Psalm 139 that God is omnipresent. Moreover, through the promise Jesus gave in Matthew 18:20, we know that whenever believers gather—whenever, not just when they sing—God will be there.
The focus of the Baal-worshipers at Mt. Carmel was to get Baal to do something, to act on their behalf. The Baal worshipers danced, chanted, cut themselves, cried out in loud voices, all to coax their god to make his presence felt. The scary thing is, if you take away the whole cutting bit, it sounds like a good revival service! Contrast that scene to the one that follows with Elijah, the prophet of Yahweh. He simply speaks the word of God.
Of course, there are other accounts of Yahweh worship that include singing, music, dancing and other elements of a very multi-sensory experience. And it’s not just in the Old Testament. The Book of Revelation paints a vivid worship scene with a tapestry of colors and a symphony of sounds. But the goal of Yahweh worship is never to make God more present.
So, why do we sing and dance? Not to coax God into acting. Not to make ourselves feel His presence. We sing and dance—and all the other physical activities that make our worship “multi-sensory”—to make ourselves more present to God, to engage God with our whole being. In a sense, the focus of the worship is not on whether God is present, but whether we are.
Are we really present to God? Our minds, our thoughts, our plans, our desires, our fears—are all those things hidden and withheld from Him, or laid bare before Him?
In Romans 12:1, Paul writes, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.” The word Paul chose here for “worship” is latreia. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, that is the word chosen to describe the priestly functions of worship…and it’s the word Paul used earlier in his letter describing Jewish Temple worship. Paul is saying that for New Testament believers, our worship is the presenting of our selves before God.
So, the next time you’re in a worship service, stop worrying about whether God will show up or not. He will. God is present whether we feel Him or not. The only question that remains is whether we will be present to Him.