Tag Archives: God’s Presence

Making a Place for God’s Presence (Part 5) — For Worship Leaders

Modified Hubble Image, by Lee Ann RubsamWorship leading has got to be one of the most difficult ministry functions on the face of the planet. It is impossible to please everyone, from the senior pastor to the people in the pew. What if your pastor is telling you that he wants more Presence-oriented worship, or that he wants you to “flow with the Spirit” in worship, but you don’t have a clue how? There are some simple things you can do to get yourself there.

1.)  It starts with having a consistent prayer and Bible reading time. I know, I know. This is too basic, right? But we have bazillions of worship leaders across the nation who aren’t praying and absorbing the Scriptures every day — or, they do a quick five or ten minutes with Jesus. That’s not going to cut it, if you want to be tuned in to the Lord on Sunday morning.

As you pray and fill yourself with the Word, God communes with your spirit. You set yourself up to hear His voice — especially if you ask Him what He wants to say and then force yourself to be quiet before Him. You might not get immediate results, but over time, God will honor your faithfulness to listen for His voice. You will become more sensitive to Him.

2.)  Listen to Presence-oriented worship music. I have personally known worship leaders who listened to a little dab of worship music — just enough to come up with some songs for Sunday mornings. The majority of their listening was secular. You cannot fill your ears with music which does not have the Lord at its center, and then expect to catch the flow of heaven’s sound on Sunday morning.

Furthermore, while the contemporary Christian music on the radio is not at cross-purposes with worshiping the Lord, neither is a lot of it geared toward God manifesting His Presence in church services. Contemporary Christian music tends to be fairly us-oriented, talking about our struggles and weaknesses, with a little bit of “but God and His grace …” thrown in.

So, you’re going to have to fill your spirit up with worship music which not only touches your heart, but God’s heart, too. Do you need suggestions? There is so much available out there! Some great places to start are United Pursuit, Bethel Worship, Gateway, Jesus Culture, Vineyard, International House of Prayer (IHOP-KC), Robin Mark, Lindell Cooley, and Housefires.

3.)  Decide who your audience is going to be — God or man. Years ago, one of our church’s worship leaders decided to drill home to his team the importance of making God their audience. They were a very professional-sounding bunch, but although technical excellence was important to him, having their focus in the right place was even more of a priority.

Twice a month they spent an hour together simply worshiping the Lord with abandon, with no one else in the sanctuary except the Lord. God came down in there! (I know, because I snuck in to experience the Glory!)

If you want God to show up on Sunday mornings, make Him the focus of your worship, instead of how many or few people are there to hear you. Resist the temptation to let the size of the crowd influence your level of worship. Have a passion to pursue God together with the congregation, rather than putting on a performance for them.

4.)  It’s not about style … but it is about style. While people can connect with God through many different varieties of music, some songs are so busy and complicated that the congregation has a hard time taking hold of the Lord with them. It doesn’t all have to be slow and majestic, but it does have to be simple enough so people can sing with you.

One reason I love United Pursuit’s music is because the key concepts in each song are repetitive. Repetitive music with words which extol the Lord’s greatness and our love for Him tend to lead the congregation into a continuing upward spiral of devotion — which He then responds to.

Make sure the words have substance, but still make sense without having to search hard for their meaning. If the lyrics are too cryptic, they distract from focusing on the Lord.

If you can include in your lineup some songs which allow people to close their eyes, raise their hands, and just meditate on the Lord, that’s a good thing, too.

5.)  It’s not about energy or volume. I have heard worship leaders say that God likes it loud, and the louder it is, the more likely He is to manifest Himself. Music which is too soft can make people feel like they’re at a funeral parlor, but while that isn’t going to help them engage, neither will breaking their eardrums. Furthermore, God doesn’t suddenly wake up from a holy coma exclaiming, “Hey! They just cranked it up to where I can hear it way up here. I am impressed! I think I’ll go visit that congregation!” It sounds silly — but we sometimes act like that’s the way it is.

I have also watched worship leaders work themselves and their congregations into a lather of excitement and then announce that “God is really moving!” No, He wasn’t. There is a vast difference between being pumped up in your emotions and sensing the Lord’s Presence with your spirit. Being able to discern the difference comes through relationship with the Lord (see Point 1) and immersing yourself in true worship music (Point 2).

6.)  Prepare for the service during the week by asking God what music He would like to hear when the congregation comes together. He will be pleased that you invited Him into the decision-making process, and He will be faithful to answer — maybe by speaking directly to you, maybe through more subtle means. The Lord has specific plans for what He would like to do in any given service, and when we ask for His input into the choice of songs, we partner with His purposes. That is an exciting place to be!

7.)  Set the mood before the service. Have background worship music playing on CD which sets the tone for what you desire to accomplish once the service starts. Choose music which will make for a smooth transition into your first live song. A little thing like appropriate pre-service music prepares the soil of the congregation’s heart to enter in immediately when you and your team begin to sing.

8.)  Don’t just assume God will show up. Ask Him to. The Lord loves to be invited to manifest His Presence among us. We must maintain a holy awe of Him, where we never take Him for granted. Entreating Him to pour out His Spirit in the corporate gathering builds expectancy in us, too.

You can’t make God show up. That is entirely up to Him. If you try to develop a formula for how to bring in the Lord’s Presence you will offend Him. The song which brings worship to a deeper level one week may fall flat the next, if you’re depending on a method to manipulate God into moving among you.

The key is to make yourself and your church a prepared container, ready for the Lord to pour into. He is eager to fill our congregational gatherings with Himself, if we will make ourselves available to Him.

Previous: Part 4

Making a Place for God’s Presence (Part 4)

Modified Hubble Image, by Lee Ann RubsamLast time I spoke mainly to pastors about making a place for God’s Presence in church services. In this post, I’ll share some simple, practical ways we can invite God into our gatherings — whether church services, home fellowships, or prayer groups.

Develop a habit of expecting God to meet with you. God loves expectant hearts! He might still visit His Presence in your group if you are not expecting Him to, but if you aren’t looking for Him, you might not notice when He first starts manifesting Himself. You could unintentionally shut down the worship right when it’s beginning to cook — because you aren’t paying attention.

Prepare a place for God to show up. Most of the time, it doesn’t just happen. God likes to be entreated to come. We let Him know that He is valued above all else. My husband and I lead a couple of prayer groups in our home, and we definitely feel the responsibility of preparing the way in prayer and worship before people ever get there. We’ve done the same when we led prayer groups in church settings. Here are some ways we prepare a place for the Lord:

1. We fast.

2. We minimize distractions and appointments on days when our prayer gatherings are happening, so that our minds are fixed on the Lord.

3. We plan the worship music for the gathering ahead of time. We don’t have the luxury of a worship leader, so we use music from CDs. This really can work well! But we don’t just throw something together, or play whatever we feel like hearing. We ask the Lord, “What would you like to hear tonight?” I put together a playlist which has been thought out and prayed into. It is worth the time and effort.

4. We begin to prepare an atmosphere of the Lord’s Presence before the other people arrive. Usually, we spend a half hour or more worshiping and praying together, just the two of us. We entreat the Lord to be among us, to make everyone’s heart sensitive to Him, to move among us in the gifts of the Spirit, and to help us be of one heart and mind with Him and with each other. In a church setting, this time of preparing the way for the Lord could be accomplished by church staff joining in prayer and worship together, or an intercessor team, or both.

Preparing for His Presence to come down in the corporate gathering is a lot like a farmer getting his field ready for planting. If he doesn’t do the preliminary plowing and harrowing, sowing the seed will not produce much of a crop.

Teach the people you lead to expect God to show up. Encourage them to prepare a place in their hearts ahead of time to meet God in worship. Creating expectancy in your congregation or group is huge. We encourage our group to fast and pray ahead of time, if possible.

We suggest that, prior to coming, they ask God to give them something to contribute to our meeting. If He does, fine. If He doesn’t give them anything, He probably will sometime during our evening together, because they have prepared their hearts to receive from Him.

We encourage them to spend the ride to our gathering focusing on the Lord, so that they come with reverent hearts, ready to encounter Him. When people thoughtlessly blow into a meeting, it takes longer for them to attune their hearts to the Lord. It affects the ability of the whole group to focus on worship when some of us are distracted and unprepared.

Keep worship as the priority. It is not a preliminary to the sermon or prayer meeting. It is the most important part of the gathering — because honoring God comes above all else. Derek Prince once said, “Worship is not an appendix to the Christian life; it is not a little addition to services. It is the culmination.”

We have had people join our group who were impatient to get past worship and dive right into prayer. They wanted to immediately get to the “doing” of intercession, without taking time “being” in their relationship with the Lord. We have always resisted that, and we always will. We’ve taught them that honoring God is more important than petitioning Him, and that when we do intercede, our prayers will be much more Spirit-targeted (and therefore more effective) if we worship first.

When people connect with the Lord through Presence-oriented worship, their bodies and emotions often get healed during that time of adoring Him. Worship tenderizes people’s hearts so that they can better hear what God wants to speak to them through preaching, teaching, and the prophetic gifts. Worship is the entrance into whatever genuine Kingdom activities any of us do.

United Pursuit has a song with the words, “We’re not in a hurry, when it comes to Your Presence, when it comes to Your Spirit, when it comes to Your Presence ….” That’s where we’re at, and that, I believe, is why we experience the Lord’s Presence, week after week.

Next time, I’d like to provide some practical ideas for worship leaders for how to bring the Presence of God into the gatherings they lead.

Previous — Part 3
Next — Part 5

Making a Place for God’s Presence (Part 3)

Modified Hubble Image, by Lee Ann Rubsam

In the last two posts, I explained what is meant by the tangible Presence of God, why we need to experience Him in this way, and what that may look like. Today and in the next post, we’ll talk about simple ways we can invite the Lord to manifest His Presence in our Christian gatherings — prayer meetings, home fellowships, or church services, for instance. I particularly hope that pastors and other group leaders will find this post helpful.

The Lord truly desires to show up among His people. Has He not already said, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there I am in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20)? Why is it, then, that so many of our congregational gatherings are so dry? Why are people having difficulty connecting with God in the corporate setting?

It’s about attitudes and priorities. And, as with anything that goes on in the corporate gathering, the leaders — the ones who carry and implement the vision — are the place where change must start. If leaders don’t make God’s Presence top priority, it is unlikely to happen — at least on a consistent basis. I’m going to be speaking mainly to pastors for the rest of this post, but the following points can be applied by prayer and home fellowship leaders too:

If you want God to visit your service or gathering big-time, you will have to start with a major shift in what you value. Pastors face a tremendous amount of pressure to please people so that they keep coming. This is very real on a practical level, because if the people don’t come, the bills don’t get paid. It’s also real because in America, we’ve bought into the mentality that church numbers growth means we’re doing things right; we’re successful. It is definitely possible to grow a large church without the Presence of God. The people attending probably will be about as shallow spiritually as a layer of oil on water, but you can do it.

So, there’s a risk of losing people if you move toward a Presence-oriented church. You will have to decide, if push comes to shove, whether it is more important to make a place for natural-minded people to enjoy being entertained, or a place where God feels welcomed and honored. The two often don’t mix very well, so the Presence of God in your worship might mean taking heat from those who don’t want to grow deeper in the things of the Spirit. If you are willing to say, “God, I will do whatever it takes to make a place for Your Presence,” we can move on to the next point.

God’s agenda for any meeting must trump your plans. Going into any service or gathering with a plan is wisdom, but you must be willing to let God change the plan. That means, if your normal allotted time for praise and worship singing is twenty minutes, and you can see that the Holy Spirit is moving on people’s hearts, you won’t just shift into the next regularly scheduled segment of the service at the twenty-minute mark. If you do, you will grieve the Spirit. And, you will grieve the hearts of people who were beginning to be touched by Him.

Quite a few churches have adopted a separate service plan — one with a general social appeal and one for those who want to go deeper in the things of God. For instance, the Sunday morning service might feature lively praise music and a basic sermon, perhaps with an altar call. In most cases, the gifts of the Spirit won’t happen at this service, because it is thought they might scare away visitors and new or non-believers.

A service on another night of the week, once a month or more, is then provided. At these “encounter” services, more intimate worship is allowed, and at greater length. In a charismatic church, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are welcomed at this second service. Deeper preaching and teaching are presented, and prayer for healings and miracles is offered. The hope is that the Sunday morning crowd will eventually develop a deeper hunger for the Lord and begin adding the more Presence-oriented service into their church experience.

If the reasoning behind the two-service approach is to give the congregation a short period of time to adjust to more Presence-oriented services, this could help transition flow smoothly. But if the purpose is to appease both the spiritually hungry and the not-so-hungry, it is not going to work long-term. Why? Because we can’t push God from box to box, telling Him when to show up, and what He can and cannot do in a given service. It is an affront to Him. There may be exceptions, because God knows the heart behind why things are done the way they are, but eventually He will bring church leadership to the decision of who is Lord. If it is not THE Lord, the fire will die out.

I’ve probably lost some readers by now. But for those of you who want to go on, next time we will talk about practical ways we can invite God to pour out His Presence among us.

Previous: Part 2
Next: Part 4

Making a Place for God’s Presence (Part 2)

Modified Hubble Image, by Lee Ann RubsamIn our last post, I explained what we mean by experiencing the Presence of God. I mentioned that worship, meditating on the Word, and intimate prayer are ways we can, as individuals, invite God to manifest His Presence to us.

Why should we want God to manifest Himself to us? Aren’t mature believers supposed to walk by faith, not by sight?

The truth is, God has built into humankind a hunger to know Him experientially. He is intimately acquainted with us, but He also longs for us to know Him intimately. That’s the way it started out in Eden — mutual knowing of one another between God and man.

In Exodus 33:12 through 34:9, we have the story of Moses’ quest for God’s manifested Presence. “I beseech You, show me Your glory” (Exodus 33:18). God readily granted his petition. He hid Moses in a crevice in the rock and allowed him to see His glory in limited measure as He passed by.

And the LORD descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and … passed by before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin ….”

And Moses hastily bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. — Exodus 34:5-8

God has made us spiritual beings, who happen to reside in physical bodies. Because we are spiritual in nature, and because we were created to fellowship with God, we quite naturally long for God’s supernatural evidences to show up in our natural world. Encountering God in a manifestation of His supernatural Presence keeps us alive to Him. We need this intermingling with His Presence to sustain us and empower us to do the “greater works” of God, mentioned in John 14:12, which were to be poured out on believers with the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Physical healings often take place in us too, as we worship in the Presence of our Healer.

We can encounter God’s Presence when we are alone with Him in prayer and worship, but experiencing Him tangibly should also be a regular occurrence when the Church gathers corporately. In fact, the magnitude of His revealed glory should be multiplied when we join with other believers. We are not meant for a “just me and Jesus” lifestyle. We are all members of the Body of Christ, fitted together as one entity. And when that joining together takes place, God is eager to come down among us.

Yet, many have never experienced the manifest Presence of God in the church setting. Why? We have learned to do without sensing Him in the congregation for so long that we don’t even know we can expect Him to show up.

We fill the void of His Presence with all sorts of substitutes — glitzy worship teams with all the right gestures and singing techniques, flashy lights, beautiful video presentations, music loud enough to blow the doors out. While these things are not necessarily bad in themselves (well, the excessively loud music might be!), they are calculated to appeal to our soul, not our spirit. They stimulate excitement for the mind and body, but they do not connect our spirit to the Lord. So, when the show is over, our inner man has not been satisfied. A gnawing emptiness remains.

Why are so many leaving the local church? They are not hearing the simple gospel of Jesus preached (which is a subject for another day), and they are not being given opportunity to truly meet with God in worship. When little room is made for genuine interaction between man’s spirit and the Spirit of the Lord, disappointment and boredom result. Somehow, the Church has bought into the false notion that we need to artificially entertain people, in order to compete with the world system for their attention and affection.

We can change this. It is not all that hard. It will take a few adjustments, starting with our attitudes and expanding into our actions. That’s where we will pick up next time.

Previous — Part 1
Next — Part 3

Making a Place for God’s Presence (Part 1)

Modified Hubble Image, by Lee Ann RubsamRecently, someone attending one of our prayer gatherings commented that he so enjoyed the weighty Presence of God among us. He asked, “Why do I feel that here, but not in other groups I have participated in?”

My answer was that many Christians are not aware that they can experience sensing the Lord’s Presence, and so they don’t make room for Him to move among them. In our house of prayer, we do a few simple things to make the Lord feel welcome. Basically, we prepare a place for Him, and then He does the rest. The results are glorious!

In this series, I’m going to share with you what we mean by the Glory-Presence of God, why it is important for us to experience Him tangibly, and how to tap into His Presence as individuals and in group settings, such as church services and prayer gatherings. I will provide practical how-to ideas for worship leaders and pastors who desire to see God manifest His Presence in their congregations. In this initial post, we’ll talk about the individual aspect.

When we are born again, the Holy Spirit comes to live inside of us. We begin to interact with God. He speaks to our inner man, convicting us of sin, comforting and reassuring us, and guiding our lives day by day. There is a further experience, clearly laid out in the Bible, which every believer can and should have — the Baptism in the Spirit — which is a full immersion in the Holy Spirit. We are filled up with Him, and fully enveloped by Him. It is a gateway into a deeper, more powerful life in Christ. For those who are skeptical, or who have never heard of being baptized in the Spirit, I have an inexpensive audio teaching for you at my website: The Baptism in the Spirit: Why You Need It & How to Get It. I have also written an article on the subject, What Is the Baptism in the Spirit?

So, every believer already experiences the Presence of God in some measure. We maintain and increase our connection to His Presence through heartfelt worship, absorbing and meditating on His Word, and intimate prayer, where we converse with Him and listen for His responses to us. Ephesians 5:18 exhorts us to “be filled with the Spirit,” indicating that there is an active part we play; worship, the Word, and intimate prayer are how we go about it.

We can experience the Lord both internally and externally. At times, He manifests Himself to His people tangibly in corporate gatherings. We may feel like the air around us becomes heavy, or thick, with Him, as if He is brooding over us or resting upon us. We may sense that He has suddenly entered the room, or, there is a gradual increase in awareness of Him. The gifts of the Spirit, mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, may start evidencing. A fog or mist which can be seen with the natural eye might appear. We become very conscious that He is with us, touching us, even though we cannot see Him.

What we are encountering in such times is the kabod, a Hebrew word translated “glory” in our English Bibles. The word also means “weight; splendor; glorious honor; abundant fullness.”

On a personal level, you may experience a warm feeling in your heart, or great peace settling in, or a sense that Jesus is standing right by your side. You may have stronger physical manifestations of God interacting with you:

1.) Fire is coursing through you or enveloping you. The Holy Spirit often reveals Himself and what He is doing as fire.

Jeremiah said “He has sent fire into my bones” (Lamentations 1:13). Moses described Him as “a consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24). John the Baptist said Jesus would “baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Luke 3:16).

2.) You feel a breeze or wind. The Hebrew word ruach and the Greek word pneuma both mean “spirit; breath; wind.” They are the words used in the Bible for the Holy Spirit.

3.) Many believers have felt what they described as overwhelming sensations of “liquid love” pouring over or through them.

4.) During intense manifestations of the Lord’s Presence, you may find it hard to stand, as if you are being pushed downward, or your balance may become unsteady. At the dedication of Solomon’s temple, “… The cloud filled the house of the LORD, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud: for the glory of the LORD had filled the house of the LORD” (1 Kings 8:10, 11).

These are just a few of the ways you might encounter the Glory-Presence of God personally or in a group setting.

While we should greatly desire God’s Presence in these tangible ways, we must never get off into pursuing the manifestations for their own sake. We go wholeheartedly after the Lord, not how He shows up. We can ask, as Moses did in Exodus 33:18, “Lord, show me Your glory,” but then we let Him decide how and when to release supernatural evidences of His Presence with us. He will not disappoint us.

Next — Part 2