God does not “show up”.

When I was the worship coordinator at Cardiff Univeristy Christian Union, I remember a specific time when a group of us were praying ready for the weekly meeting. The speaker for that week and a little following of his also joined in the praying. At the end of the prayer session, the speaker went round all of us asking us the usual things; name, age, course, what we did in the CU and all that. But when he came to me and asked what I did, he asked in the most serious, non joking manner… “So, have you prayed to ask God if he’ll show up this evening?” To which I replied, “I think you need to look over your doctrine of omnipresence”.

I cannot stand the whole ‘God showing up’ business that people talk about. God is everywhere at all times. There isn’t a place where God isn’t, if you see what I mean. But I hear this ‘God turning up’ and ‘God showing up’ business all the time. Sure, God may reveal himself in a more obvious way than other times, but he is always there. The omnipresence of God is one of the most comforting doctrines in the Christian faith, and we shouldn’t be surprised when we see him act in a tangible way when we gather to worship.

We need to be careful about what we say about God being present or absent. God is always ready for us. Rather than us saying ‘God showed up today’, we should be saying ‘We showed up today to worship God and receive from him’. What I’m trying to say is that God is often stood up by us because our hearts are not in the right condition to worship, or they’re only half ready and non committal.

Never think that God isn’t ready for us… if there’s ever a feeling of unreadiness, the root of the problem is always with us. How do you prepare to meet with God? How does the omnipresence of God shape how you worship him and respond to him in your life? I’d love your thoughts!

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Dean Roberts

Dean is a Minister in the Anglican Church. Currently he is Curate in the parishes of Bedwas, Machen, Michaelston-y-Fedw and Rudry in South Wales. He was born and bred in Wales, is married to Megan, and has two dogs called Taliesin and Melyn, and two cats named Sinsir and Hâf. He graduated from Cardiff University with a BA Hons. in Theology & Religious Studies, and has studied for an MA in Theology, Ministry & Mission at Trinity College Bristol. He also holds a Cert.RSCM from the Royal School of Church Music. He loves playing music, walking, reading, blogging and horse riding as well as going to the cinema and theatre. Read More @ http://deanroberts.net/about

  • Jack Mowll

    My youth pastor from back home has similar thoughts about revival, as in revival happens when we learn to partner with God and align with his will. Cool stuff Dean; do you know the psalm which talks about always worshiping God whatever the circumstance?

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Jack. It’s crucial that we know and realise that the power and presence of God is unchanging. I think this is a vital component to revival coming in our nation. I think the Psalm you’re referring to may be Psalm 34??

  • Phil

    Hey Dean, you sound a bit like I did when I was a grumpy cessationist … I used to dismiss talk about the presence of God in very much the same way (i.e. “God is everywhere, you bonehead”). But I know you’re not a grumpy cessationist, so what’s the big deal?

    We have to square up to scriptures such as Paul in Acts 17 “God is not far from anyone” and David in Psalm 22 “My God, my God why have you forsaken me” (which Jesus makes his own on the cross). God also says “you will find me when you seek me with all your heart”, and Scripture tells us “seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near”.

    And what does it mean for Jesus to say “I will never leave you or forsake you” or “I am with you always”? And what about all that stuff in about longing for God, thirsting for him, or likening the heavens to a glass ceiling that we can’t break through? Or about preferring to be a door keeper. Or about fullness of joy in God’s presence, and endless pleasures at his right hand?

    I’m not sure “the problem is always with us” is that helpful. How does that work for Jesus at the cross? Perhaps we can say that’s a unique circumstance? That Jesus was forsaken so that we never have to feel experience? But I believe God wants us to pursue him, to ask, seek, knock … to be persistent. He likes to be asked.

    Isn’t praying for God to “show up” part of the asking, seeking, knocking, pursuing, drawing near to God so that he draws near to us process? Isn’t praying for God to “show up” just saying that we don’t take his omipresence for granted and, as you almost conceded, that we long for him to manifest his presence in an extraordinary way?

    And just to stir things up … I quite often hear people describe hell as the absence of God’s presence. But is that true?

    • Phil, you’ve raised some really good issues here. I think it’s really good to weigh everything up with scripture and you’ve brought some brilliant ones to light here. But I do think the terminology we use can be really unhelpful when we’re talking about God and his persona.

      I do stand by may statement about the problem being us. It is us that hinders our relationship with God. However, as you’ve pointed out, if we are seeking him then that means that we won’t be ignorant of his continual presence, if you see what I mean.

      I don’t think it’s good to ask God to show up – he’s already told us that he will always be there “I’ll be with you to the very end of the age” ; so, why don’t we ask God to do a new thing in us, through us, around us? Because that’s more Biblical and we find God saying that he’s going to do a new thing at various points in scripture. Surely that’s what most of us mean when we talk about God showing up? If so, then say what you mean and mean what you say; if you want God to do a new thing and experience it, then say it! Don’t hide behind the ‘showing up’ nonsense which confuses people and conveys a wrong message.

      As for the Jesus being abandoned by the Father, I think that has a lot to do with kenotic theology, God’s sovereignty and penal substitution, of which many theologians have written in the past, and therefore I dare not venture to deep into that one – but I have an idea of what I would say!

      I’d like to know what you think hell is, Phil… because I’ve heard it being described as that too…

      PS – Glad you know I’m not a grumpy cessationist!!! 🙂

  • Phil

    Is it just down to us? Is it a “problem” God leaves us to solve alone? Or is this a relationship that he wants us to grow into? Is revival just about people tapping into something that was always there for them, if only they knew about it? Or is it also a sovereign work of God?

    I cannot force God to manifest (show) himself, but his omnipresence should set my expectation that he can and will show up anywhere, anytime. To pray for that seems entirely right, because it’s not up to me, and I hang on to his gracious promises as I pray.

    Did you think the guy didn’t believe in the omnipresence of God? Perhaps he’s just learned not to take it (and the promise of God’s manifest presence) for granted? To be honest, if I’d been in your shoes I think it’s likely that I hadn’t prayed for anything special.

    • I think experiencing God is the two way relationship that you’re alluding to; but there can be breakdowns in a relationship, and when that happens it’s always on our side. God never does anything to damage his relationship with us…

      You’re right when you say that we can’t force God to ‘show up’ – but the sticking point for me is when you say that we can have an expectation that he ‘can and will show up’. I feel like that’s putting emphasis on our wants rather than the omnipresence of God himself, and I don’t particularly find that helpful.

      Maybe it comes down to a simple argument over terminology. But I think when you talk about God showing up, it automatically infers that there are times that he doesn’t show up as well, and that, to me is incorrect.

  • Phil

    On hell: I’ve got this book http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qnrJVTSYLr8 but I haven’t read it yet 🙂

  • Andrew

    Yet another set of wise thoughts well expressed Dean, thank you!
    I think an implication of God being everywhere is that we can worship Him anywhere, any time – it’s not a preserve of a ‘worship sevice’ – and that further implies we can worship Him anyHOW. I agree with you that we must show up, in terms of our attentiveness and heart-tuning. If God is omnipresent then this does wonders for our relationship with Him. Imagine a friend who is only available by appointment at a certain place for 20 minutes a week (depending on how many songs are on the playlist 😉 )

    • Andrew – wise thoughts from you too! It’s important that we know that we don’t walk alone in our spiritual journey and that worship is actually a lifestyle rather than 20 minutes of song!

  • Phil

    And Moses said to the LORD, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here.  For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” And Aaron (well, that was his middle name) said to Moses, “I think you need to look over your doctrine of omnipresence”. Exodus 33:15-17 (DARV)

    • That’s a cheap shot, Phil!

      But on a more serious level, your argument can only be supported depending on how you interpret the passage. As you know, a few verses later says that God said that he would go with Moses, that his presence would continually be with them…

      Of course, this verse, to me, has more authority when answering the question of doubting where God is rather than purposefully asking him to show up 😉