There’s an abundance of worship songs about being in the presence of God and I have a deep appreciation for many of them.
I grew up being taught to stiff-arm the Holy Spirit a bit in worship gatherings, but I now have a great desire to walk deeper down the path of having an awareness of God’s presence. I have noticed this shared desire in the songs I hear, the worship leaders I observe, and the conversations I have. It’s a desire for the presence of God to be “thick in the room” as we lead and sing to the only One who is worthy.
This is an honorable, good desire. Psalm 16:11 says, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” The presence of God is the best thing ever. It’s what we were made for. It’s what we’ve been given access to through the finished work of the cross and the empty tomb.
But, many of us think we need to beg God for His presence, as if He is in heaven saying, “Well, if they’ll just mean the songs they sing enough, then maybe I’ll come down.” It reminds me of a satirical article about a popular song in which the Holy Spirit waited outside the doors of the auditorium until they “welcomed Him here.”
What do we do with this misperception as worship leaders and worshipers? I don’t have all the answers - and much of it is a mystery - but here is how we’ve landed on this in our church:
Walk down the path of awareness.
As worship leaders, we want people to understand that they are in the presence of the Almighty God when they sing. We want the Spirit to “fall fresh in this place.” On my team, we have an understanding that the cross is what made it possible for us to be in the presence of God.
We walk people down the path - a path we’ve already walked in our preparation, prayer, and practice - of an awareness of God’s presence. Every song chosen, transition planned, video played, prayer prayed, and Scripture read is an attempt to walk people deeper down the path of an awareness of God’s presence and impart a greater understanding of, and a response to, the glory of Jesus. To keep pointing to Christ repeatedly and ask the Holy Spirit to do His thing among us in that.
Turn the chair.
I often use the following example to explain the Spirit’s presence and our response to Him: I’ll sit in my chair and face away from the person I’m having a conversation with and continue talking. I know that I am in the “presence” of the person I’m talking to, but there is a sense that I am not fully aware of the other person’s presence until I turn in my chair and set my focus on him as we talk.
As worship leaders, our primary job is to raise our church’s gaze to Christ - to take their eyes off the mundane things of life and set them on the majesty of their Savior. As we do that, we ask the Holy Spirit to do what only He can do and to make us more aware of His presence.
The Holy Spirit does what He wants.
Of course, He does whatever He wants. He is God! Like the wind, He blows where He wishes. We don’t control Him. We can’t manipulate Him.
Yet we can’t simply halfheartedly hope that the Spirit will move and make us aware of God’s presence, which, as we've noted, is already there. We must do everything within our power to help people become increasingly aware of the presence of God in worship. To help them “turn in their seats” and raise their gaze as they become more and more aware of what God is doing among us. It is a holy moment.
God’s presence is among us every Sunday. He can manifest it to differing degrees. The danger lies in our basing what we see every week on what the Spirit may be doing in the unseen. At the end of the day, we need to rest secure in the knowledge that God reveals His presence in whichever way He chooses. We know that this is the perfect will of God.
I pray for more of His presence, and I pray for an increased awareness of it as we sing to Him on Sundays. But, above all else, I know that He will never leave us nor forsake us. He is worthy and there is coming a day when we will be fully in His presence and we will worship Him with an insatiable joy.