Manufacturing and Marketing the Presence of God
God is always present when His people meet. As Jesus promised in Matthew 18:20, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (KJV). But once in a while, He chooses to stir hearts with a particularly strong sense of blessing or conviction.
I occasionally notice promotional materials for Southern Gospel groups that promise to bring God’s presence, in this second sense, to services where they are invited to perform. (I can’t recall ever seeing a top-tier group do this; a claim to this effect is a pretty sure sign that I’m reading the promotional materials for a local or regional group.)
In that light, a recent series of columns from Bob Kauflin, a church musician and modern hymnwriter, is worth reading. In the first post, he states:
Good intentions notwithstanding, no one can consistently and meaningfully “bring God’s manifest presence” to a group of people. No musician, no pastor, no singer, no preacher, no leader – nobody. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit and he functions on his own terms, not ours (John 3:8; 1 Cor. 12:11).
I’ve been invited to attend conferences, download songs, attend concerts, buy books, and listen to preachers who all claim they will bring me into God’s presence – for a price. But we can’t buy the presence of God. Simon the Magician realized that when he saw the disciples laying their hands on people with dramatic effect. He offered them cold cash, saying, “Give me this power.” Peter rebuked him.
God’s power, like God’s presence, can’t be bought or sold. God doesn’t call us so much to be facilitators of his glory as faithful to the gospel. Our job isn’t to create an “environment of excitement” but an environment of response to the true God through the gospel in the power of the Spirit.
Check out the three-part series here, here, and here. Don’t be dissuaded from completing the series by the corrective tone of the first post; the second post provides a necessary positive balance—we also aren’t to minimize the fact that sometimes God does choose to move in these powerful ways, and we need to be open and receptive when these times come.
In the concluding third post, he gets to the heart of the matter: “Don’t let the pursuit of experience replace a pursuit of faithfulness to Scripture and the gospel.”
It seems every generation is tempted to value and pursue experience over faithfulness. The perils are numerous. It can lead to equating elevated passions to encountering God, feeling disappointed if we’re not emotionally or physically affected, making secondary means (technical skill, lights, videos, arrangements) primary in engaging people’s minds and hearts, and being overimpressed with unusual manifestations. If the people I lead get more excited about the latest “move of God” than the fact that Jesus Christ came to die for our sins and rise from the dead to reconcile us to God (the gospel), then we’re responsible to lead them back to what is of first importance (1 Cor. 15:1-4). Likewise, if my congregation thinks “hearing from God” only means prophetic or spontaneous events, I need to help them treasure God’s sufficient and authoritative Word more than gold (Ps. 19:10-11).