He is Here

The Presence of God and Christian Worship

What makes our worship different as Christians? What does it mean to actually experience God’s presence? Is it when my eyes are closed, and I feel something special while music is being played/sung? Is God’s presence equated with a particular emotional atmosphere that we create using music and other art?

I think it may be that the way we understand corporate worship today is very much based on a subconscious sense of individualism that has crept into facets of modern Christianity. The climactic moment in worship is usually where, with our eyes closed and hands extended, we feel God’s presence. We are often encouraged to “get to that place where it’s just you and God” and to “not be distracted by anyone around you”. We are then made vulnerable to this emotional atmosphere where suddenly we imagine God “wrapping us in His arms”; a surge of euphoria and bliss fills us. We often equate this with the presence of God, or more specifically the active power of the Holy Spirit.

Now I know the way I’ve phrased this experience may either make you uncomfortable or cause you to disregard me as a religious cynic. However, my intent was rather to distinguish our physical and emotional experiences from the spiritual (actual) presence of God and/or the work of the Holy Spirit. Is there a difference? Well let’s ponder this for a second. If there isn’t a difference, then you may just as easily attribute the manifested presence of God to the goose bumps you feel during a Bieber concert or the shivers that go down your spine when your crush texts you back (after you’ve stared at your phone for hours wondering when it would happen). I think we can safely say that music is a rich form of human expression that is capable of evoking intense emotional experiences that are distinct from solely implying God’s localized presence.

So if the presence of God is “distinct” from merely being an emotional experience in response to some item (musical, oratory, etc.) in the service, what role does worship then have in relation to our God’s presence among us? God is omnipresent; meaning that there is nowhere in creation where He is not immanent (Psalm 139:7–12). Yet there is a distinct sense in which a corporate awareness and declaration of our God’s unique nature and works distinguishes us from any other group of people on the planet.

This unique expression of worship is intrinsically latched to the person and work of Jesus Christ. This is what makes our expression of worship distinctly Christian, especially in an age of pluralistic relativism. We gather to remember and rejoice in the Father that has sent His Son in an unfathomable act of love to save us from our hopeless sinful condition. We could not approach this infinitely holy God had it not been for the work of Christ, taking our punishment on Himself that we might be seen righteous in God’s sight. This is why our worship must always be cross-centred, gospel-centred, Christ-centred; we must never forget that our relationship with this eternal God is utterly and perpetually contingent on Christ alone.

Coming around full-circle, this is what sets us apart as Christians when we gather and sing songs. It’s not primarily the feelings and responses that result from perceiving artistic expressions that determine whether “God has come in the room”. It’s rather the integrity, the truthfulness of the gospel within our words, thoughts and heart that allow God to be truly recognized by those gathered. I am by no means demonizing emotions, music, or any form of experience that occurs within the setting of worship; for each of those are indeed gifts from God. However, they must be qualified within their rightful context or we risk leading a culture of Christian worshippers into an idolatrous ‘worship of worship’.