The Presence and the Presents

Encountering God's presence and experiencing the presents of the Holy Spirit go together.

"Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed …. There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work" (1 Corinthians 12:1, 4-6).

When the apostle Paul wrote about the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit, he never seemed to lack for words. He wanted people to be informed about how God worked in and through his people. He showed no reticence in addressing this topic, and it seems that he experienced the presence of God's Spirit in ways that we might label as unusual today.

It is somewhat remarkable to me how comfortable we have become with "doing church" without any expectation that God might show up. Of course, we know that he is present and we do encounter him from time to time, but do we expect God to interrupt our carefully designed orders of service? Have we learned to do church as if God does not exist?

Recently, I've been wondering the same thing about small groups. Have we learned to do small groups as if God is not present with us? If we want to talk about spiritual gifts, we must first talk about the presence of the Spirit. If we jump straight to conversations about gifts, it would be like going to a Christmas celebrations where there were only presents but no presence of the actual people offering the gifts.

It's Not About Being Charismatic

The question I raise about whether we do small groups as if God does not exist is just as import to ask in charismatic or Pentecostal churches as any other. All churches develop traditions, forms for doing church, which create a set pattern of how their gatherings work. These traditions are not necessarily evil—we need them to help shape and define us as a people whose rhythms of life fit God's rhythms.

However, the tradition that shaped the people of God more than any other in the Bible was the experience of the presence of God. During the times when God's people did not encounter God's presence, they were the least able to live according to God's rhythm of love. When I read the story of the Church, my imagination is filled with the exhilarating ups and downs of encounters with God and others—not with church meetings and set agendas.

God wants a relationship with His people, not meetings. The Church is the people of God, not a people who happen to meet for gatherings to talk about God stuff. I think sometimes we go through the motions of church and forget the point of it all. It's as if we are going to school for the purpose of getting good grades and not to learn. In many cases we have grown so accustomed with the way we do church that if God did show up, we wouldn't know what was happening.

Of course, very few people actually say this out loud. As I write this, I do not like the ways that God is forcing me to look honestly at what is going on in the small groups in my church. As you read this, your first reaction might be something like, "We know how to create a meeting where people meet with God." That is great, but I encourage you to look again. Often we make this conclusion because we sing cutting edge worship songs or have a band—neither of which are crucial to being God's distinct people that are marked by his presence. Meeting together as the Church before our God is not about finding a form that will usher in his presence. God cannot be manipulated like that. That is not how relationships work.

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