Monday, January 26, 2009

The Presence of God

Have you ever been in a church service and heard someone pray and thank God for the chance to come into his house and worship in his presence? Or maybe you've prayed that yourself? I have. Or maybe you've sung the hymn, "In the Garden." You know, the one that talks about meeting Jesus in a particular place at a particular time and then going out on your own into the world outside the "garden." I think songs like "In the Garden," and prayers that speak of "coming into" God's presence have unwittingly helped foster a dualistic way of looking at the world.

Growing up, I was always taught that it was important to have a time and place set aside to "meet with God", to spend some time reading the Bible and praying in order to be able to face the challenges of the day. We were told that first thing in the morning was the best. On top of that we should attend church services on Sunday morning and Sunday night to be prepared for the week ahead, and also show up on Wednesday night in order to refresh your faith for the second half of the week. Behind it all was the idea that if you weren't in church three or more times a week and having your own devotional time, you weren't spending enough time with God.

Don't misunderstand me. I am NOT saying that setting aside a regular amount of time to read Scripture and pray is a bad thing. I am NOT saying that a time of corporate worship and instruction is a bad thing. I AM saying that we fall short of the life that Jesus came to give us when we act as if those are the only times we are in the presence of God.

I see this in the theology that teaches that salvation is only spiritual and guarantees that one day we will escape this old world of sin and misery and go to our home in heaven. I believe that if we see heaven as "somewhere beyond the blue", it makes sense to believe that God isn't really with us in our day-to-day, and that it is essential that we go to church a lot and carve out a special time to "meet" with God. While folks may protest that they don't believe that, I think the evidence in their lives shows that they really do. Having said that, I know that there are people who use the words of this theology because that is what they grew up with, yet live as if they are always in the presence of God.

If we believe that God fills all of creation and that he is not limited to a particular place, then we can realize that heaven is all around us and that God is making all things new right now, and will finally restore his creation when Jesus returns. If we really believe that, then while we may set aside a certain time and place to focus on the Father, we will live in our day-to-day aware that we are continually in God's presence and don't have to rely on whether or not we had our "devotions that morning. We have the Spirit in us to guide us and reveal to us what God wants us to know and do.

Yes, we need to read and know the Bible. Yes, we need to pray. But we should never think that a certain time of the day or day of the week is the only time we are in God's presence. As the Psalmist asked, where can we go where God is not there?


Anonymous said...

I did not grow up in church as you did. We just started Sunday night services and I am trying to be very clear that this is not for the existing flock, it is for those who work Sunday am, or for people just not comfortable with coming back to services on Sunday morning. I may just quote a bit of your post, you said it better than I could.

co_heir said...

Feel free to quote away. :)

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