One of the unique distinctions of Christianity is the presence of the Lord. Wherever the Israelites went, the presence of God was with them. Jesus was also clear on this … the presence of God is always in the midst of two or three who are gathered in His name. The presence of God is a critical component of our faith in God.
During the days of the exile from Jerusalem, God told the Prophet Ezekiel that the exiles who were far away in Babylon would not be without His presence (Ezekiel Chapter 11). Jews believed that God’s presence was always in the Temple in Jerusalem, and not with the people wherever they were. God told the Prophet to tell the exiles, “My presence will be with you even in exile,” and that He was not contained to a building in Jerusalem. God’s presence was meaningful to those exiles and His presence reminded them of God’s promise of one day returning home. The Psalmist tells us that joy is found in the presence of the Lord:
Psalm 16:11 You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever.
The presence of the Lord is critical to the believer and God has always been with His people. One of the ways we invite His presence is to worship Him. In worship we are essentially inviting God to be with us, to hear our praises to His name, and to know our desire is to be in His presence. Prayer also can work this way when we invite Him to hear our hearts and listen to our needs. God is not stationary where He is only found in churches or places of worship. It isn’t our location that is important … it is the condition of our heart that invites God’s presence.
One of the other messages God told Ezekiel was that when He brought the exiles home, He would give them a soft heart to know Him and to obey Him. The Scriptures called this a heart of flesh. It was in this new heart that God would make His presence known. However, there was a word to those who were self-determined to be their own person without God. The privileged elite in the city of Jerusalem was telling people that their city was a safeguard against the attacks of their enemies. These leaders were the wealthy and the powerful, whose self-made individualism was influencing the people to believe they were the ones they needed to trust … not God. We are successful people, so we know how things get done, and how to become successful because we have proven that by our personal success. That is the same attitude we get from those who govern our country today. The elite, knowing they know better than the rest of us, and the people are incapable to govern ourselves so we need their help to show us the way. There are some things that never change in human behavior. They taught the customs and the cultural norms from the nations around them … not the laws and commands of God. The idol of independence and knowledge seems to plague man’s existence, whether it was 2,500 years ago or today … we love our freedom from God.
It is this freedom from God that will destroy and remove God’s presence. My wife and I have noticed as we attend different churches, that the sound of the worship and the message from the pastor all sound and feel the same. We sense something is missing from all the activity in the sanctuary. I’m not saying that the performance of those in the sanctuary is sub-par in their abilities, but it seems they are not invoking the presence of God. It could be simply explained as losing the awe of God’s presence. We perform the music and the message every week, but the awe of inviting God is somehow lost in getting ready to play the music and speak the word.
God wants sincerity from our worship and a heartfelt need for Him. We are determined to pursue Him until His presence fills us with the joy that comes from being with Him. Our worship should be our invitation for God to come and dwell in our midst and heal our lives. The Prophets have told us that standing in God’s presence without a heart of gratitude, a heart of repentance, and a heart of obedience is not an invitation for God’s presence to be manifested. Our stubbornness to live without God’s direction and oversight is a direct indication to Him that we are not concerned about Him as much as we are about ourselves. This is how the presence lifts just the narrative that is found in Ezekiel Chapters 9-11.
Jeremiah 7 10and then come here and stand before me in my Temple and chant, “We are safe!”—only to go right back to all those evils again? 11Don’t you yourselves admit that this Temple, which bears my name, has become a den of thieves? Surely I see all the evil going on there. I, the Lord, have spoken!
His presence will not be found where we ignore that the way we are living our lives is not pleasing to Him. There is a direct correlation between our behavior and the favor of God’s presence among us. That is why some liturgical churches will have an opening confession of sin before every service, to remind us we need to come clean before the Lord, and our repentance and His forgiveness will be an invitation to come to us.
God is everywhere, right? So, He doesn’t abandon us completely, but His Spirit will not operate to influence us in an environment where we only want God for an hour on Sunday, and we are free to be ourselves the rest of the week. God is not just for show. His purpose is to transform us into the likeness of His Son. That takes a commitment on our part all the time. God is looking for changed people or people whose hearts want Him more than anything else on earth. That is what the First Commandment says … No other gods before Me. Get rid of the gods, the foul language, the evil practices, and the lying, and come believe in Me. God says He loves us always, but if we love Him back we get to experience the blessing of His presence. Don’t risk the lifting of His presence because we are not willing to give up the things that displease God.
Challenging the Culture with Truth … Larry Kutzler