THE ABSENCE OF PRESENCE
THE PRESENCE OF ABSENCE
And there came a time where God was no longer needed…only His description. And in these days Christianity has become religious history, and His Spirit is no longer sought nor needed.
The western church has lost the hunger for God’s authentic presence. I am not speaking of mysticism or superstition. I am not speaking of some séance like experience where people look and listen for voices or bells or banging. I am speaking of the presence of God through the power of the Spirit. And His presence has been replaced by organization, scripted services, information, ceremony, music, and enticing words of men’s wisdom. The entire construct of the Sunday morning “worship service” is fashioned after the western culture and not a gathering of Spirit filled worshipers who have prayed all week long and have gotten up early to prepare their hearts to meet the Risen Christ. No, this is a religious observance.
The entire spectacle is an astonishing and insidious deception which has been perpetrated upon the visible church. And Sunday after Sunday millions of people pour into chairs and pews, spend their allotted time there, and leave feeling anywhere from upbeat to just about how they felt as they arrived. And the restaurants become filled, and the televisions resurrect, and all things were as they were on Saturday and will be until the next mini-series segment called “Sunday Morning Worship”. Mind you, these gatherings are supposed to be the company of believers who have come to corporately meet Christ, pray, hear His Word, and be changed. And after meeting the Creator and Redeemer, this company would often show some remarkable effects as they left, would they not? I mean let’s be honest without getting spooky. If what we contend is true, then how can we explain the redundant mini-pilgrimage displayed with such weekly consistency with significantly less impact than an exciting high school basketball game? People leave feeling better about themselves and uplifted by the event rather than meeting the Risen Lord.
But this is what has come to be expected, embraced, and even enjoyed. This, my friends, is “church” in the western colloquial sense. It is, in essence, people coming to meet each other with a little delightful music interspersed. Some man with a measure of eloquence is invited to share some innocuous soliloquy to be enjoyed by one and all. And after the last amen the gatherers return to their mundane existence, unremarkable in the midst of others, and without impact within the darkness. And if perchance you may visit one of these gatherings you can hear and see and feel the absence of presence as well as the presence of absence; that is if you have ever actually experienced the presence of the Creator God.
Gen.3: 7 And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.8 And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden.
When Adam and Eve sinned they ran from the presence of the Lord. And a sinful people today will do the same thing. The church will supplant God’s presence with all kinds of excitement and entertainment and visuals. Eventually the mixed multitude that attends the Sunday morning gatherings will become attached to almost anything but God’s presence. I realize that God is everywhere, but when we say God’s presence we mean an atmosphere that invites and allows the Spirit of God to minister unhindered among God’s people. Make no mistake, though, seeking God’s presence is no easy pursuit. It costs dearly. But since the church has all but ignored prayer and fasting as well as repentance, the presence of the Lord has long since fled.
So now the church services in most evangelical gatherings are planned and well oiled events which produce the desired effects. People leave feeling better and having experienced a sense of community. And they have had their self esteem stroked and their dreams encouraged and their hearts warmed. But have we abandoned even the concept, to say nothing of the reality, of God’s presence? How is it that people can converse about all kinds of things and then when the curtain goes up everyone begins to sing on cue and go through the motions of worship? And many times the volume of the worship rises and falls as the worship leader directs. The entire scene is as planned as a school play, and regardless of the atmosphere there remains a time limit. Worship must end and the rest of the service must take place. And the service itself must end at a reasonable hour lest people grow weary and leave, and worse yet, go somewhere else next week.
But to those who can hear there are many substitutes for God’s presence but none can completely mask the fact that the Spirit is absent and that God’s presence has been withheld.
Acts 3: 18 But those things, which God before had shewed by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ should suffer, he hath so fulfilled.19 Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.
There is a refreshing in the presence of the Lord. It can bring joy, or peace, or grace, or repentance, or brokenness, or a combination of these things, but to be sure you cannot experience God’s presence and not be refreshed and sanctified. The western church has become so indoctrinated with the culture that it even constructs its gatherings with an eye toward time constraints, entertainment, and “touches”. What do I mean by “touches”? Well in the 90s there were books written with specific ways to touch people in order to funnel them into your local fellowship. For instance the first friendly parking attendant was the first touch, and then each subsequent parking attendant was an additional touch. All of them were trained to spot visitors and be as friendly as humanly possible.
Then each visitor car had someone to guide them to their respective Sunday School class of accompany them to the main sanctuary. As they reached the main door there was an extremely friendly person who made them feel as welcomed as he or she could. They were handed literature and a welcome visitor card with name tags. Then the family was handed off to a smiling usher and led to their seats. The family was recognized publicly at the greeting time during the service and their visitor cards were collected at the offering time. Many churches call the home on Sunday afternoon or at least on Monday. Then someone may come by the home and a letter of appreciation for their visit was sent on Monday. All these interactions are known as “touches” in the field of sales in the secular world and they are designed to create a path to a sale. And the church has adopted such a strategy as well.
There is nothing wrong with being friendly, but when it becomes an art form with the intent to capture people and bring them into your particular fellowship then it can easily become manipulative. And many other ways are employed in order to increase your church attendance including molding the singing and the preaching in order to appeal to what people like and desire. Many of the seeker churches go door to door in the community and ask people what they like in a local church and after evaluating the results of that poll the church designs their church accordingly. Can you imagine such a thing? And ignored in all of it is what does the Lord desire and what can we do to beseech His presence and anointing on our gathering?
II Chron.5: 11 And it came to pass, when the priests were come out of the holy place: (for all the priests that were present were sanctified, and did not then wait by course:12 Also the Levites which were the singers, all of them of Asaph, of Heman, of Jeduthun, with their sons and their brethren, being arrayed in white linen, having cymbals and psalteries and harps, stood at the east end of the altar, and with them an hundred and twenty priests sounding with trumpets:)
13 It came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord; and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of musick, and praised the Lord, saying, For he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever: that then the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the Lord;
14 So that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud: for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of God.
We know that the Lord does not dwell in buildings today made with wood and stone but that He dwells in the hearts of believers in Jesus. But there are many principles we can glean from the Old Testament narratives concerning worship and the Temple. We, of course, are the temple of the Lord today. But since David had been a man of war God would not allow him to build the Temple but instead instructed Solomon, David’s son. And Solomon was obedient to the command given to him. Finally the day came when God’s people would enter into that Temple and worship God.
There was much music and singing and God’s people had prayed and prepared themselves to meet their God and worship the beauty of His holiness. This was a sacred day. But on that day of sacrifice and worship God heard their hearts and visited that Temple with the glory of His presence. You see, this was not about the Temple. This was about the Lord Himself. And what greater gift than the gift of His presence? The presence of the Lord was so powerful that the priests could not even stand under the weight of such power. Oh to have been there on that day! No ribbon cutting; no greeting from the mayor; no bank officials as guests; no new carpet smell; just the overwhelming power of God’s shekinah glory filling the place of worship!!
But fast forward to the New Covenant where the Spirit has been given and the Word is complete. And yet where is the hunger and thirst for His presence? Convenience, expertise, and efficiency are the by-words of the modern gatherings. People stream in having spent no time with God and they sit and expect to be entertained while their participation crests with singing along with the words on the overheads. The mockery of it all is astounding. People worshiping God without God’s Spirit?
I am not a miracle chaser but neither do I restrict God and the ministry of the Spirit. I do believe in all the gifts regardless of how many abuse them and even create their own false gifts. And I do believe that when God’s people earnestly pray and fast and submit themselves wholly unto the Lord that God will reward them with special and even unusual visitations of His presence and power. And those will not need man’s ox carts. They will come with such power that we are sanctified, and we are cleansed, and we are broken, and we are led to a kind of repentance that changes us and glorifies Christ. Isn’t that what your heart yearns for?
But if we are content with what we now have as it pertains to the revelation of Christ and His presence among us than we need not change a thing. If we do not hunger and thirst after our Redeemer so strongly that we cannot help but seek Him with our entire beings than what we are now doing will suffice. In fact the devil has convinced us that there really is no more of Christ for us in the Spirit and any miracles of revelation or life changing revivals were for a different time and a different generation. Our generation must use gimmicks and strategies and technological advances in order to create the illusion of His presence. But we can always reminisce about days gone by and experience some spiritual nostalgia.
But is anyone tired of the norm? Who among us is embarrassed by how stagnant and redundant are our gatherings? Everything we now do can be explained. Do we seek to experience that which can only be explained by the ministry of God’s Spirit? I do not believe every worship gathering can have a revival atmosphere or that we as humans can have a dramatic metamorphosis every Sunday morning. No, eventually that becomes a tradition as well. But what I do contend is that we have fallen into religious pit where we no longer expect anything dramatic to happen to God’s people and where we have come to expect the expected. We come expecting good music and good fellowship and good preaching. But most sad and shocking of all we have come to willingly embrace the absence of His presence and the presence of His absence. And if that be the case I wouldn’t walk across the street to be a part of it.