There is an expression used in relation to Christian worship which may raise questions and even leave believers confused. That expression is ‘the presence of God’. When we engage in spiritual activities such as reading and meditating on scripture, public and private prayer, corporate hymn singing and listening to sermons, we come into ‘the presence of God’. If that is the case, in what sense is it the case?
There are those occasions in the Bible where the presence of God is obvious. God appeared to Moses in the burning bush. He later appeared to Moses and Moses’ face shone. By way of vision Isaiah was taken into the throne room of heaven and fell down before the presence of the Lord. These are unusual supernatural experiences commonly known as Theophanies or Christophanies. They occur at specific times, to specific people, for specific reasons. I doubt anything like this happens to us when we worship – nor should we expect it to. Further to this, the incarnate Son of God came into the world and graced humanity with the divine presence. None of us however, are in the physical presence of Jesus Christ and won’t be until we go to be with Him. We could add that God is omnipresent – He is everywhere at once. We are in the presence of God every minute of every day irrespective of where we are or what we do. We should also note that believers are the temple of the Holy Spirit whose presence is always with us.
What then, are we to make of the idea that we come into ‘the presence of God’ when we worship? The first thing to note is that the concept is Biblical.
* Psalm 95:1-2, “Oh come, let us sing to the LORD! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. (2) Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.”
* Acts 3:19, “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord”
Other passages may not mention the presence of God specifically yet express the great blessing of corporate worship and the longing we should have to meet with God in that context.
* Psalm 42:1-4, “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God. (2) My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? (3) My tears have been my food day and night, while they continually say to me, “Where is your God?” (4) When I remember these things, I pour out my soul within me. For I used to go with the multitude; I went with them to the house of God, With the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept a pilgrim feast.”
* Psalm 84: 1-2, “How lovely is Your tabernacle, O LORD of hosts! (2) My soul longs, yes, even faints for the courts of the LORD; My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.”
* Micah 6:6, “With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the High God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, With calves a year old?”
The presence of God can be understood to mean that realm in which we engage with Him as we meditate, pray and sing. We draw close to Him and He draws close to us (James 4:8). Our presence in His presence means fellowship. He is present to receive our praises and our requests and our confessions. He communicates His Son to us. He imparts understanding and wisdom. He gives assurance and comfort. He brings conviction of sin. He strengthens the downcast and the weary. We may not be transported to heaven’s throne as Isaiah was, yet we are built up and blessed in spirit.
Worship is not a one-sided activity. It is not simply about what we do, but how God meets with us. Let us long for, pray for and rejoice in the presence of God as we come before Him.