Was God not there?

“The reason I left your church is because I didn’t see God there.”

With that statement do some lash out at the church they left. They can feel vindicated; they left a church where God was not present.

Which raises a question: How can one know that God is, or is not present in worship?

Of course, it is possible that God was not there; his presence with us, every time he is present, is a privilege beyond compare. How presumptuous are we when we expect him to be with us? The hymn we sing expresses this well:

“Shall we seek thee, Lord in vain? Shall we seek thee Lord in vain?” (William Hammond).

The Lord himself raised such a possibility: “In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9).

Yet I cannot shake the suspicion that those who say they didn’t see God in worship really mean that worship did not meet their own expectations, whatever those expectations were. God’s presence, or absence from worship has very little to do with my expectations of my fellow worshipers. Furthermore, in that statement I detect a dismissive attitude, even a lack of love, for others.

I recall a prophet who did see God one day in worship: “In the year that king Uzziah died, I saw the Lord,” declares Isaiah (6:1).

How many times had the Lord been there, in worship, and Isaiah had not seen him? I think it’s fair to suggest that God is present in worship many more times than when we see him. He was frequently present in Israel’s worship. On that particular day, it seems, Isaiah had seen him.

So if you came to worship and did not see God, it might be your vision that is at fault. Before walking out, perhaps, you could look a little harder?

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Stan Mitchell

Stan has preached since 1976, in Zimbabwe, California, Texas and Tennessee. He serves as preacher for the Red Walnut Church of Christ in Bath Springs, TN. He is currently Professor of Bible at Freed-Hardeman University. He is married to the former Marjorie McCarthy, and has one daughter, Tracy Watts. He is the author of four books: The Wise Get Wiser, the Foolish More Foolish: The Book of Proverbs, Give the Winds a Mighty Voice: Our Worship in Song, and Equipping the Saints for Ministry. He has recently published another book, "Will Our Faith Have Children: Developing Leadership in the Church for the Next Generation.

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