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Image by Milad Fakurian
  • Writer's pictureSteven Chapman

Storms & Stillness: Is It Us Or Is God’s Presence Confusing?

I have to admit, it confuses me? What is it that confuses me? God’s presence, or is it our recognition of His presence?

You have probably heard yourself, or maybe even made the statement – “The Spirit was present today in worship!” Usually, I hear that statement from those who tend toward a more expressive demonstration of worship … the music was energizing and inspirational, the prayers were moving shouts and cries to God, or the preacher was much more excitable and expressive than usual. Hands get clapping. Feet start moving. Voices raise.

What bothers me with the statement, “The Spirit was present today in worship!”, is not what is said, but what remains unsaid. You see the emphasis is – God’s presence visited that particular worship service because some, or all, of the conditions were met. Here is where the problem arises. Let me phrase it as a question: Does that mean that God must be visiting some other church on Sundays when the energy level is sagging, when the excitement is missing, or when the music, prayers and message seem to fall flat?

Here is the problem with that observation – it can cut both ways. People inclined toward a more conservative expression of worship, might feel God just blessed the gathering with His presence at precisely the point when others feel “God has left the building”. They are accustomed to God revealing His presence in the songs that inspire through soft meditative melodies, a thought-provoking word from the speaker, the solemnness of partaking of Communion, or a simple softly-spoken prayer … no tears, no cheers – just God quietly working on their hearts.

While some people recognize God’s presence when the energy of worship is high, others may feel like God’s presence evacuates the premises because the music, prayers, or preaching get too loud. Screams and shouts, driving drums and shredding the guitar, not to mention yelling preachers, may interrupt their worship and leave them feeling like they missed their time with God.

This is what gets me so confused. Do you see the problem? Both feelings can’t be right. They are mutually exclusive. What about when others feel His presence and I don’t – are one of us wrong? The problem can quickly devolve into accusations that the expressive worshipers are just showing off, and the reserved worshipers are not even worshiping.

In 1 Kings 19, Elijah had just experienced the most exhilarating time with God. God answered His simple prayer to make His presence known during the showdown at the Mt. Carmel corral. Four hundred and fifty of the nastiest hombres on this side of the Jordan faced down “the lone prophet”, and when the smoke cleared one man of God was left standing.

The thrill of victory soon gave way to the agony of defeat. Once Jezebel heard the goin’s on, it didn’t take her long to print up a slew of wanted posters – “Prophet Elijah wanted dead or alive, preferably dead.” Needless to say, Elijah high-tailed it from them there parts liken a hog after slop.

When Elijah held up in cave, God came a callin’. God told Elijah to go out and stand at the mouth of the cave because He would soon be passin’ by. First, a cyclone came by a bustin’ up rocks, but God couldn’t be found there. An earthquake a got to rattlin’; and finally, the prairie was set ablaze. Yet God wasn’t to be found in them either. But then Elijah picked up on the voice of God in the whisper of a gentle breeze.

Does God’s Spirit only show up when I am feeling it? Is His presence there only when He arrives in the manner that I assume He should?

I fear that sometimes we attempt to put God into a box, expecting that the Spirit should operate in the way we dictate … that God is somehow confined by the silliness of our expectations of how and when and why he should act. But the story of Elijah tells us that sometimes God will surprise us, and show up in the most unexpected ways and places.

Here he was kicked off the mountaintop high that he had just been on, licking his wounds, feeling sorry for himself. He expected that God was going to show Himself in a mighty way. The King of the universe was going to put his power and majesty on full display. God’s going to show who’s boss. But God wanted to be heard, so He whispered.

God is not subject to my feelings. He doesn’t have to work by my rules. He is not confined by my expectations. So what does this have to do with Worship services?

God is not there sometimes and absent on others. God is speaking through various voices and various times, and I need to learn to hear him in the gale of the storm and in the gentle touch of the breeze. When I wrap myself too tightly in a certain manner of worship, be it expressive or reserved, I just might miss what a tremendous opportunity to see what God is doing, and to celebrate Him in it. If I am listening for God’s voice to be heard only in the manner to which I have become accustomed, I might miss out on the message He has for me. Is it possible that God most wants me to hear Him in what I would most likely miss His voice?

But it is also that God is calling me to sensitivity and understanding of those whose worship manner is different from my own. You see, when we talk about ministry, we recognize that God has wired each of us differently, with differing personalities, emotional makeups, experiences, etc. Yet, when we talk of worship we often seem to forget to allow for these differences.

Expressives shouldn’t cast aspersions on authenticity of the conservative worshiper because what God is doing in their heart is not being shown in a demonstrative manner. Join them in that time of solice, quietness, and peace, letting them hear God’s gentle whisper. As an expressive, you might just hear from Him yourself.

But the more conservative worshipers need to understand that an expressive might be experiencing a unique touch of God that is setting them free and renewing their hope in ways that they might not realize. Unless you have taken the time to walk in their shoes, you may never understand what victory God is shaping in them, so take the time to battle for them and celebrate with them.

So, I guess it is not God’s presence that it is the problem. It just might be us. But we can learn to appreciate the manner in which the other encounters God without, intentionally or unintentionally, expressing that the other’s worship is unacceptable to God. And as we do, we might feel God’s presence as He shouts to us in the storm, or experience He is there through His gentle whisper in ways that would otherwise surprise us!

— Pastor Steve


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