The Presence of God

Discussion in 'General Baptist Discussions' started by Tom Butler, Mar 6, 2009.

  1. Tom Butler

    Tom Butler
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    In the Music Ministry category in the thread "Do Baptists Have a Shallow View of Corporate Worship?", Pastor Larry posted the following, which has caused me to do some more thinking about corporate worship.

    So, do you agree or disagree with Pastor Larry?

    We assume that God is present in any gathering of believers for worship, but are there times when God demonstrates his presence in a tangible way? Or are there times when something occurs during a worship service that you can attribute only to the moving of the Holy Spirit?

    Do you have criteria by which you judge that God is present?

    Release the hounds.
     
    #1 Tom Butler, Mar 6, 2009
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  2. swaimj

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    Let's see...how do I know that my wife and I are in love?

    We have a marriage certificate that says we are married.

    We had a ceremony in which we made vows to one another.

    I tell her I love her every day and she tells me the same thing.

    And sometimes, not all the time, and it is not the essence or our relationship, but, sometimes, I feel the love between us...I mean really feel it. I can't explain what the feeling is or what causes it. I do not know how to spontaneously generate it, but sometimes I FEEL the love.


    Our worship toward God is similar, I think. There are aspects of worship that are rote, perhaps, even programmed. The object of worship is not to generate a certain feeling in ourselves, but there are times when we REALLY FEEL God's presence. I cannot explain that or define it, but I know I have felt it. I pity a person who never feels love from their spouse or from their God. I think they are missing something.

    The Biblical basis for this? Paul says "His Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are the sons of God". I've read the leading commentators on that passage and no one even attempts to explain what this "bearing witness" is or what it consists of. It is a mystical element to the Christian faith without which our faith would not be what it is.
     
  3. Onlybygrace

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    Tom, thank you for this thread. I am going to make some comments for 2 reasons:
    1. I initiated that thread about Baptists and shallow worship.
    2. I think that what you are touching on is relevant to what I was trying to get at.

    I think we have to start by saying that God created us to be emotional beings with a complex set of emotions. The bible also teaches that God has emotions. He becomes angry. He loves. He rejoices. He is saddened. Maybe He does not experience or express emotions the same way we do but He certainly does have them from the testimony of scripture.
    Also it is not sinful to be emotional(and be Baptist). We experience and express emotions in a whole range of contexts and accept that as normal, yet when as corservative Baptists we start talking about emotions in the context of a public meeting certain folks are ready to fire up the branding iron and label us charismatic!

    Now don't get me wrong. I am not saying that we should be controlled by our emotions and let them dictate our practices and our behaviour, that would be wrong.
    But should we be writing them off and denying them expression in the context of "worship"?
    How do we do that and at the same time love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength?

    Having said that, let's zone in on the question of feeling God's presence.
    This is a bit of a minefield but here goes...

    Pastor Larry said: "I know God is within me based on his word and his work in my life. It has nothing to do with feeling."
    But when you become a Christian don't you FEEL convicted?
    I mean you can't factually know you're convicted based on God's word!
    Does the Spirit of God not bear witness with our spirits that we are the children of God?
    Is this bearing witness a fact or a feeling of assurance?
    When you are a new believer and don't have Pastor Larry's wealth of scriptural knowlege on which to make a sound decision and no time to seek out wise counsel, can the Holy Spirit not impress upon your heart the right way to go?
    If it is possible and acceptable in these circumstances, which scriptural verse tells us that it is unacceptable in a public meeting?

    I dare say that you can have a bonified Christian service with all the I's dotted and T's crossed in terms of being scripturally sound but still experience a distinct lack of a real encounter with the presence of God. Just because we think we have the formula right doesn't mean God is pleased and that He is automatically going to meet with us in a life-changing way. It's not that He does not want to but it is that He won't show up the way we want Him to when we want Him to. God is not our entertainer that we can summon up at our personal convenience.
    And although I Don't want my experience of God to be dictated by my emotions I certainly don't want to have an intimate encounter with God and be devoid of any kind of emotion.

    And I'm sorry but the deep conviction I feel when I sing songs about the sacrifice of Christ for me on the cross that reduce me to tears because I realise afresh how utterly unworthy I am of His amazing grace is not comparative to "the feeling of chocolate milk and cookies."

    And the joy that bubbles out of me and causes me to want to sing at the top of my voice and shout His praises from the rooftops because I am so utterly grateful for my freedom in Christ from a life of bondage, and the feeling of jubilation I experience for the miracles He has performed in my life and where he has brought me from is not comparable to " the excitement of winning a ball game"

    And when I consider that He is, as the song says, "indescibable' and that He spoke this entire universe into being by the power of His word and yet desire a persoanl relationship with me, I stand so deeply in awe of Him sometimes that I bow my head and can't even bear to sing or speak which is not quite like "a cool breeze on a hot day"

    So in a nutshell I don't think that everyday feelings are a good example of what you feel in worship and I can't imagine worshipping God and not FEELING!
     
    #3 Onlybygrace, Mar 6, 2009
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  4. Tom Butler

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    As a 9-year-old, when the Holy Spirit convicted me of my sin (sort of threw it in my face), my first reaction was fear. I was overcome with dread as the Spirit revealed to me the seriousness of my sin, and all those sermons I'd heard on Hell (which didn't relate to me until that day) began flooding in. Emotional? You bet.

    Down the aisle I went, where the pastor began to question me. He ascertained my understanding of spiritual things, then pressed the claims of Christ on me. Do you believe Jesus died on the Christ to save sinners? Will you trust him, and him alone, to save you? All those sermons I'd heard on the need to be saved came back to me, and meant something. I answered yes through my tears. And my heart was comforted and the fear left.

    I remember when some deacons visited my unsaved father. I didn't hear all the conversation, but I did hear him say "I believe I will." I saw no emotion that evening, but the following Sunday, when he came, he was in tears. I wept as well, this time with great joy. Was it the presence of God? Don't know But there was some emotion in heaven, where we re told there is rejoicing when a sinner confesses Christ as Lord.

    There's a difference in emotion and emotionalism. Emotionalism has to be worked up. True emotion wells up.
     
    #4 Tom Butler, Mar 6, 2009
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  5. Tom Butler

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    This thread is getting really good!
     
  6. 4His_glory

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    Pastor Larry has a point in regards to people judging worship by emotions. There are a lot of decisions made based on feeling rather than fact.

    However, it is possible swing the proverbial pendulum to far in the opposite direction and divorce feeling completely from worship. My question is, "since we are emotional beings, being created that way (and therefore with a purpose those emotions exist) how can we not experience emotion in worship?

    Certainly David and other psalmists convey strong emotion or "feeling" in their divinely inspired songs. Joy is commonly expressed in the Psalms in giving praise to God and this is most certainly felt (yes, there is more to joy than that, but it is not less "good feelings").

    Pastor Larry said:
    I agree, but that does not mean that this knowledge of His presence is devoid of feeling (emotion).
     
  7. 4His_glory

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    Excellent point Tom. And I appreciate your personal testimony bit as well. I would say I experienced similar feelings when God saved me as well. Obviously by no means do I base my salvation on how I felt (or feel now for that matter) but upon Christ work for me on Calvary.
     
  8. Tom Butler

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    As I was reading some of the posts, my mind was drawn to Paul's writings, where at some point he would simply stop and break into praise to God.

    One of those is in Romans 11:36. Paul has been writing about his burden for the Jews, their difficulty in accepting Jesus as Messiah, and God's promise of eventual restoration of Israel.

    The Paul simply stops and writes, "Oh the depths of the riches both the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and his ways past finding out."

    This is in my imagination, but I can see Paul dictating this letter to Tertius, He has just written his fellow Jews have obtained mercy even in their unbelief, and will obtain mercy in the future. This is simply too much for Paul to handle calmly and he can't be silent. I cannot imagine Paul droning in a monotone, "Oh, the depths, ..."

    This may not be a good argument for emotion as a criterion to determine God's presence, but it tells us something about Paul.
     
  9. Tom Butler

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    That's why we trust Christ and his finished work instead of our feelings.
     
  10. Tom Butler

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    I don't want to argue that emotion in a worship service is always a sign of the presence of God. But I do want to argue that sometimes it is.

    David wrote in Psalms 22:3 "But thou art holy, o though that inhabits the praise of Israel."

    When people begin to praise God things begin to happen. On more than one occasion, my pastor has felt led to ask if anyone has a testimony. One by one, people rise. I truly believe God inhabited the praise of those people. I saw a bus ministry born in a testimony service. The pastor planned to preach but never got to. I saw the Spirit of God in a testimony meeting move an entire congregation to build a church in Africa, where a former pastor was now a missionary.

    You want God's manifested presence in your worship? Start telling him the truth about himself.
     
  11. Onlybygrace

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    Gee whiz Tom you’ve been really busy while was away…

    Ok let’s see if I can take you up on some of your comments, then I have a date with Pastor Larry followed by Victorious for dessert! LOL

    “There's a difference in emotion and emotionalism. Emotionalism has to be worked up. True emotion wells up.”

    I think that statement is chiefly semantics but I’ll accept it for the sake of debate. But let’s get to the heart of your thinking.

    Emotionalism has to be worked up
    The truth of the matter is that worship involves work on our parts, work o the part of the worship leader and work on the part of the Holy Spirit.

    1. My Part
    You and I both know that the word for worship and the word for service is exactly the same in the New Testament. It implies an active contribution on our parts. The bible is clear when it says we are workers together with Christ. In other words there is something God does and there is something I must do on our part. Now know the verse is written in a different context but it is the principle I am stressing. We don’t stand there passively in anticipation of something happening, we facilitate the process.
    For example meditating on the words we are singing is something we can do.
    Preparing your heart for the service by praying for it and yourself is another way of facilitating a real encounter with God. The scriptures say: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you”
    So I have to do a little work I order to get to the point where my worship experience is more meaningful. Faith without works is dead in any context! As in faith I put in some effort the Holy Spirit will give me a fresh revelation of who God is and who I am in the light of that. Emotion will follow.

    2. The Worship Leader’s Part
    I tend to be of the persuasion that the standards for ministry should be the same in all church departments. Since as Baptists we place highest priority on the pulpit then in my view that is the universal standard.
    So when it comes to someone who has been given the responsibility of directing focusing the minds and hearts of God’s people on Him I preparation to hear Him speak to us from His word on a Sunday morning, my expectation is no different than the one I have for the preacher that morning. In other words:
    • I expect him to spend a fair amount of time in preparation. I would not accept the preacher throwing something together an hour before and I don’t accept that from a worship leader either.
    • I expect him to spend time praying about the service.
    • I expect him to lead us in a direction and have a theme.
    • I expect him to lead by example.
    • I expect him to be sensitive the leading of the Holy Spirit.
    When you consider all of that, from where I’m standing it takes a fair amount of work to lead God’s people in worship.

    3. God’s Part
    I believe that as we sing songs of praise and worship to God the Holy Spirit illumines us, moving us beyond an intellectual understanding of the Biblical truth we are singing and onto a real grasp of the impact of that truth on our lives. He uses that truth to bring understanding and conviction. He takes it and encourages us, teaches us, leads us, motivates us, edifies us and directs us. He is at work during our worship. He works for us, through us (the worship leader) and most especially in us. And as we yield to that work and respond appropriately to Him we are able to respond with emotional integrity.

    So I think that there is a lot of work that happens on a number of levels in order to find emotional freedom in the presence of God. I don’t think it just happens. And whether you are saying it wells up, which really relates to the fact that it grows gradually and rises to crescendo rather than the fact that it is spontaneous, or whether you say it is worked up, relating to the fact that it takes some effort to get there it really is two sides of the same coin.

    Some of us are so bound and dead emotionally that we need to work a little and be worked on in order to really feel in God’s presence. Others are so used to relating on a superficial emotional level that we struggle to feel and express emotion honestly. Yes some work is needed.

    Sometimes it is only as we are made to think and choose to meditate and force ourselves to confront issues and yield to God’s working in us that we can reap the reward of freedom in His presence. Anyway there is no scripture that draws a distinction between emotions and emotionalism and neither is there a scripture that is prohibitive in either regard. In fact when Hannah was emotional she was accused of being drunk!

    Anyway enough for now let’s give you a chance to respond…
     
  12. Tom Butler

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    Onlybygrace, I can find very little to disagree with in your post.

    Let me give you an example of what I mean by emotionalism. I have written about this in other thread.

    I was invited to attend and sing at a worship service by a friend. Turns out it was a charismatic church, and was my first experience in a church of that kind.

    Right before the start, people were chatting, wandering in and out. Then the music leader got up and signaled to the drummer to start. The music leader began clapping his hands to the drumbeat, and the congregation began to join in. The leader called out, "Come on, we've got to get in the spirit." He clapped harder, and some began dancing as they clapped. Eventually he started some sort of contemporary chorus.

    It seems to me as an observer that the music and the drums and the clapping had one object--an emotional response. Such a response was equated with "getting in the spirit." That's what I describe as emotionalism.

    I also noticed that they could turn it on or off, depending on what the music leader wanted. And what gave the appearance of being spontaneous worship was in fact carefully planned and in some ways manipulated. Although, to be sure, the congregation was a willing participant.

    What you described as some things to do to prepare for worship seem reasonable to me. I would much prefer your ideas than for someone to walk into the auditorium, sit down and take the attitude, "now bless me if you can."
     
  13. Jim1999

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    I had been taught the scriptures from early on in the Church of England and at the Anglican Public School (private, all boys boarding school). When it came time for confirmation, we were taught the specific scriptures leading to salvation in Christ. I always knew and believed in Jesus as taught in scripture. When this time came, however, I "realized" the Christ as my personal Saviour. It went from an academic belief to a spiritual belief. I didn't experience some emotional upheaval, but I did experience the Christ in my whole being.

    Under soul we discussed the total person inluding body, soul/spirit. So, I went from a mental consent that Jesus was who He said He was, to a relization of that Christ in my entire person. It went beyond mere emotionalism, and also beyond mere intelectualism, but included both.

    There are times when this may express itself with tears, and other times when the reality of the Word strikes home in a new sense of belonging.

    For some reason the hymn, The Church's One Foundation rings true to me and I always experience a touch of emotion, The same hymn may not move the next person so much. To me it goes beyond mere emotionalism, to the next chap it may be all emtion.

    Cheers,

    Jim
     
  14. Tom Butler

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    Jim, thanks for your perspective. To me, this is really going to be a good thread.

    I was just thinking about some church ads, I've seen in various media. They'll run something lie, "exciting worship services, dynamic preaching." Or I'll hear or read about some preacher saying that the worst thingk a worship service can become is "boring."

    When you read or hear this kind of ad, what image of that church pops into your mind?

    It seems to me that this is the kind of place where the Spirit is worked instead of poured out.

    Or might it be a church where the Spirit is poured out at every service, and it wants everybody to know (as if something like that could be kept a secret).

    I'd love to see our church run a TV spot, with something like, "this is not your father's church--it's your grandfather's church. We preach the old-fashioned gospel, not motivational psychobabble; we sing the great old hymns of the church, with some Southern Gospel thrown in; you want that contemporary stuff, we ain't got any; we don't dance or jump up and down, but we rejoice at the salvation of a sinner or the restoration of a prodigal. We don't have drums, but we do have a percussion instrument. It's called a piano. We do have an electronic keyboard. It's call an organ. Our preacher has never preached out of a novel, never talked about a rock band's theology, never preached on Sunday without a coat and tie. We don't have big-screen TVs (although we'd rethink that if we got big enough). But we do have hymnbooks if you need them. We don't have Bible study at the local bar, but we do at the jail on occasion. I'll bet you think we're not very modern. Wrong. We actually have electricity, a sound system and allow guitars in our worship (unplugged, of course. Interested? Come see us. Or call and we'll come see you."

    I wonder what kind of response we'd get to that spot. Probably none from anybody under 50. It would sound too dull, and too much like them fundie-mentalcases..
     
  15. Onlybygrace

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    Agreed...looking forward to reading some of your posts. God Bless!
     

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