Every once in a while God encounters a group out of nowhere. It is like he was standing on the sideline and the next thing you know we are in His deep presence. I’ve experienced this many times, probably most of us have, if we are paying attention. My friends and I had that experience the other day and I’d like to make some observations about that experience.
My friends meet twice a month as a simple church. One week a month we meet in one of our homes and another time we meet in the same coffee shop, which is a central location for our far scattered group. We meet in a coffee shop just down the street from the San Jose Mission in Fremont, CA. The mission is one of the famous string of missions established in Early California by Spanish missionaries. It was one of those beautiful California October days; warm but not hot. It was sunny, so we sat outside on the patio in the shade. In other words, it was a beautiful, pleasant setting.
We were having our typical conversations, talking about God in our lives, what we were doing, what He was doing, chit chat, just a little of everything really, when my friend Babs asked a question, “Do you think spiritual growth only comes through suffering?” It was at that moment that God went from omnipresent to very present. Most of you know what I mean, He is always there, but suddenly His presence was palpable. Honestly, I was too into the moment to actually notice, but my wife, who has the gift of discernment, pointed it out to me later. Looking back, it was obvious.
What was that like? The conversation took on a higher level of focus. We were all involved, we were all engaged, although we probably came from different perspectives, we were safe and accepting of each other. This, in turn, allowed for transparency as we talked about deep issues like thoughts of suicide, long term depression and the need for medication. It was not the sort of conversation we would have with people who would have felt the need to put us back in the box. In a word, it was not the sort of conversation we would have had with people we didn’t trust. Our body language went from relaxed to attentive. We went from flowing between two or three conversations at once, to one clear focused conversation. And, we were ministering to each other; or better said, God was ministering to us through us. We were talking about real life, not mere doctrinal theory. We weren’t really looking for simple solutions as much as we were willing to be with each other and love one another. And it was very natural, real and genuine. It was safe.
We can’t make that happen. We could all go back to the same place, at the same time of day, in the same weather and discuss the same topic. But, lightning wouldn’t strike twice; or better said, God would choose to remain omnipresent by we wouldn’t notice him as very present. Sometimes this happens in the midst of singing/worship. Sometimes it happens in the midst of prayer. Sometimes it happens when we are in ministry together. Sometimes it happens with the folk talking in the kitchen but the people in the living room miss out. My point is that we can’t make this happen and we can’t reduplicate or plan it.
But we can create an environment where it might happen and often will happen. So what is that environment? First, it is safe. Our group has different political leanings from pretty far left to pretty far right and some points in between. But we love one another; and we won’t stop loving one another if we end up being on polar opposites of divisive issues. In other words, we treat each other like family. Second, we are willing to minister to each other because we love one another. But, that is different than wanting to “fix” each other. Third, we are disposed to God being in our midst. We want Him there. We long for him to be among us. But we know that He is Lord and we are not. He will come in deep presence when He chooses. We aren’t trying to manipulate God any more that we are trying to manipulate each other.
I’d like to make one last observation about that experience. Our conversation was our worship. We were in the presence of God. His Spirit was ministering to us through us. He was very much involved. And that was worship. Worship in the Bible isn’t just singing; it is living life in the presence and under God’s lordship, individually and corporately. This was just one lovely experience of corporate worship.
- Have you ever noticed God moving from omnipresent to very present? Does that idea bother you?
- What are common elements you would note in the experiences you’ve had with deep presence? Do you think the pleasant setting contributed to God’s presence or was superfluous?
- Why do you think we don’t experience this more?
- Why can’t we plan or manufacture God’s deep presence?