A good friend of mine at college called James used to attend a prophecy clinic once a month at a church called Woodlands. The leaders of the session would spend a couple of hours praying over him and inviting God’s presence to come. I remember one time seeing him in the distance walking from one of these sessions to an evening meeting and every 10 paces or so he stopped on the pavement, raised his hands and stood still to worship Jesus. He was so full of God’s presence it simply overwhelmed him. He was passionate about the presence of God and could not get enough!
I wonder what are you passionate about? What gets you out of bed in the morning with a spring in your step? Within St Mark’s family I bet the answer to this will be wide ranging and varied. However, I hope and pray we can all agree that in our lists somewhere is the answer ‘encountering God’, seeking and enjoying his presence.
We all encounter God in different ways. Some of us enjoy silence and stillness; others seek the Lord during periods of extended sung worship. Many encounter Jesus in the receiving of bread and wine, others meet Him most closely through His word. Many of us enjoy meeting Him, wherever and however, through many means!
Without wanting to debate our personal preferences, or the worth or importance of different elements of public or private worship, what is true for all followers of Jesus is the need for the presence of God. Or to put it another way – as followers of Jesus we must be hungry to encounter God regularly and expect to do so.
Before Hennie went on sabbatical she had a prophetic word for the church about going deeper with God. As leadership team we have thought and prayed into this and believe that the starting point to going deeper, as disciples and followers of Jesus, is encountering God through his Holy Spirit. Encountering God changes everything. Regularly spending time in God’s presence changes how we view Him, ourselves, each other, and the community around us. Now, of course, it is right to remember that through the cross and subsequent outpouring of the Spirit, God’s presence is always with us, and is in fact, in us. However, the Bible teaches that in terms of God’s manifold presence, there is always more! Consider that God is in everything (Col 1:17), lives in all believers through faith (Romans 8:9), is there when two or three are gathered in his name (Matt 18:20), inhabits the praises of his people (Ps. 22:3), and can overwhelm us with his presence (1 Kings 8:10-11). There is always more! (If you want to know more, Bill Johnson’s book Hosting the Presence is a good place to start).
So how can we church create a culture where we are disciplined in seeking to host the presence of God, and encounter Him in everything we do?
Be people of repentance
Firstly, we need to turn to Jesus and pursue him at all times and in all places. Our goal surely is to encounter Him whether we are on our way to work or at home, at church or in community. This involves regularly, daily, choosing to realign ourselves with Jesus; to turn from our own ways and desires and to walk His path. A holy life delights the one who himself is holy.
On top of this, I believe we must enter all times of worship with an expectancy to meet God, whatever shape or style those times take. And, on our Sunday gatherings we must prioritise how we belong to Jesus, sharing stories and testimonies of God at work that raise faith and expectancy, celebrating our relationship with Jesus through our sung worship that allows for intimacy with God, and preaching for the purposes of transformation. We need to make space for God!
Making space for God
In a practical sense this sounds an easy thing to, but in reality it can be challenging to make space for God. We must lay down control and be ‘at ease’ with being uncomfortable as we wait for the Lord. Whether at home, in life groups, during the activities of our different ministries, or in Sunday worship, we must make space for waiting on Him, welcoming His Spirit and enabling people to engage with Him. Where appropriate, we can then pray for one another. This may mean periods of silence as we gather but most of all it means each of us being prepared to be vulnerable with God and wait for Him to do something, rather than engineer anything ourselves. This may feel odd at first but as the saying goes, practice makes perfect.
Practice the presence
We must remember that God is far more willing to meet with us than we are with Him. He longs to rest on each of us in an intimate way and longs to change us. The more we allow Him space in our worship the easier we will recognise His voice, discern what He is saying and how He is leading. The onus is on all of us to practice making space for God’s presence, and encounter Him!
The Bible and church history shows us that the fruit of seeking to host the presence of God is that the Lord’s presence will come in power and take us deeper! I hope that as we practice this, we will be more confident in Him and in turn see Him move in power through us and in our communities. There is lots of encouraging and fascinating material to read on this - John Wesley, George Whitefield, Smith Wigglesworth, and John Wimber to name a few and of course – the book of Acts!
As we enter July and prepare for some rest over the summer, I pray that you will be further filled with the Spirit and that we will grow together to be a people of the presence, going deeper with God.