God’s presence in Scripture
God has always been purposeful in dwelling with His people.
Adam and Eve in the Garden (Genesis 3:8)
The Israelites (Ex. 29:45)
Jesus, the Incarnate Word of God (John 1)
Jesus High Priestly Prayer (John 17:24)
The indwelling Holy Spirit in individuals (1 Corinthians 6:19)
The church (Ephesians 2:21-22)
Heaven (Revelation 21:3)
God’s presence is a distinguishing mark of being His people (Exodus 33:14-15)
God’s presence was forfeited at the Fall (Genesis 3:23-24), renewed at the tabernacle and temple (Exodus 40:34-35; 2 Chronicles 5:14; 1 Kings 8:27), forfeited with the fall of Israel and the temple, and restored in the New Covenant through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit
God’s New Covenant Presence
In the New Covenant, God’s presence is not limited to a particular dwelling place (John 4:20)
Because of the work of Christ, we now have access to God (Hebrews 10:19-22; Hebrews 4:14-16)
Although God is omnipresent (Psalm 139:7-8; Acts 17:28), He is uniquely present at specific places and times as well.
Individual believers (1 Corinthians 6:19l Matthew 28:20)
As believers gather (Ephesians 2:21-22; Matthew 18:20; 1 Corinthians 5:4)
As the Word is preached (1 Corinthians 2:4)
In the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:27-32)
The role of worship in the gathering of believers
Worship is the primary reason God has called us into the assembly of the Church, thus the entire meeting is worship.
Edmund Clowney – “God had demanded of Pharaoh, ‘Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the desert’ (Ex. 7:16) ... God brings them out that he might bring them in, into his assembly, to the great company of those who stand before his face---God’s assembly at Sinai is therefore the immediate goal of the exodus. God brings his people into his presence that they might hear his voice and worship him.”
How is God’s presence manifested in our gatherings?
He is present in such a way as can be sensed by unbelievers (1 Corinthians 14:23-25)
His presence is an event and a lifestyle, renewed again and again in fulfillment of his promise to be with his church. He’s with us everything (Matthew 28:20), yet uniquely when the church gathers (Matthew 18:20).
The great redemptive events of the past are spiritually present (Deuteronomy 5:2-3)
We worship in the presence of angels in the heavenly Zion (Hebrews 12:22-24; 1 Corinthians 11:10)
Edmund Clowney – “In our worship in Christ’s church we approach the throne of God the judge of all. We enter the festive assembly of the saints and the angels. We gather in spirit with the spirits of just men made perfect. We enter the assembly of glory through Christ our mediator, and the blood of his atoning death. Reverent corporate worship, then, is not optional for the church of God...Rather, it brings the expression of the very being of the church. It manifests on earth the reality of the heavenly assembly.”
Wayne Grudem – “This is the reality of new covenant worship: it actually is worship in the presence of God, though we do not now see him with our physical eyes, nor do we see the angels gathered around his throne or the spirits of believers who have gone before and are now worshiping in God’s presence...And if we believe the Scriptures to be true, then we must also believe it to be actually true that we ourselves come to that place and join our voices with those already worshiping in heaven whenever we come to God in worship.”
We as believers are spiritually seated with Christ (Ephesians 2:6)
Christ is present to the church on earth (Matthew 18:20; Matthew 28:20) and the church is present to Christ in heaven (Ephesians 2:6; Hebrews 12:22-24)
We are gathering in the name of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 5:4)
In the spirit, the church is being transformed by beholding God’s glory in the face of Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:18)
Air Force One example – the location is special by virtue of who is present.
Common misconceptions regarding our gatherings and God’s presence:
We don’t “make” God appear nor do we “bring” or “usher” in His presence. We trust that He has promised to be with us.
Harold Best – “Christian musicians must be particularly cautious. They can create the impression that God is more present when music is being made than when it is not; that worship is more possible with music than without it; and that God might possibly depend on its presence before appearing.”
Worship is not the means to achieve God’s presence; Worship is the ends of being in God’s presence.
Worship is the response of being in God’s presence (Isaiah 6). Our access to God’s presence is not through our worship but through the substitutionary work of Jesus on the cross which grants us access (Hebrews 10:19-22).
We need to be cautious against functionally believing that worship grants us access to God’s presence (this can be done by thinking certain songs, certain atmospheres, certain feelings, certain music makes God’s presence more known, thus believing that our personal worship grants us the experiential and actual presence of God).
God’s presence is objective not subjective.
We need to be cautious about sensing God’s presence through emotions. Certainly emotions can be felt during the gathering with God, however it should be viewed through eyes of faith rather than eyes of feelings. Emotions are rather a response to God’s presence though not always an indicator of God’s presence.
We need to be cautious in our minds and hearts going from the invisible God who’s the central Person in our gatherings to visible preachers and praise leaders who are leading events on stage, to our own subjective feelings and desires.
Freedom in God’s presence is not about individual expressiveness.
Freedom in God’s presence is granted through Jesus work on the cross.
God has determined the means of corporate worship (such as singing, praying, preaching, observance of the Lord’s supper) and even the heart attitudes of approaching him (with joy, in reverence, in awe, etc.)
Implications of God’s presence in our gatherings
God has graciously given us momentary, imperfect glimpses and foretastes of heaven as we see Jesus in our gatherings through word and deed (singing, preaching, communion, prayer, etc.) and we respond. This is perhaps the closet to heavenly worship that we can get.
We should have this mindset whenever we gather: I know that the living God is here and ready to meet with us and as one of His redeemed children, I am here to glorify him, and enjoy being in his presence.”
We don’t partake in word and deed RELATED to God but actually TOWARD God who is in our midst.
John Piper – “But not just God centered in that everything in worship RELATED to God, but also God centered in that everything in worship is done TOWARD God – in the presence of God, with a view to God’s hearing it and seeing it, with a desire that God receive it into his hearing with approval and delight – oftentimes God seems to be a bystander in service rather than a partaker.
God is the one who calls unto in worship of Him in His presence both individually and as a corporate body.
“The elements of worship are seen in a different light when God is central. We see it not as a human planned meeting but a meeting called by God. God is speaking through spirit led human worship leaders and preachers, calling us to fix our mind and heart on the unseen God and yield to Him our attention.”
“Do we really hear God’s call saying I am really here among you? Will anyone acknowledge my presence and enter in communion with me?”