We are currently preaching our way through Exodus, the story of Moses being "called out [of Egypt] to be called in [to God’s presence]". As a leadership, our reason for this was: as we thought and prayed about our next sermon series for Sunday mornings, we became convinced that what we didn't need was more head knowledge, more theology, more things to do… (as helpful/unhelpful some of those are at times). We need God's Presence.
We believe as a church our primary passion needs to be pursuing Jesus; running after Him, seeking Him, engaging with Him. That if we could become people of His presence, this would be more significant, more valuable than anything else we could undertake on Sunday mornings.
It is so easy to fall into the trap of pursuing what we like, what we enjoy, our preferences. However, we meet to engage with a risen Jesus, to worship the Father, to hear the encouragement and challenge of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
But what does it mean to be a people of His presence? How can we recognise His presence amongst us and, therefore, be able to engage with Him?
If we do not recognise, or even understand, what being in Jesus' presence is, it could be easy to confuse it with emotion, experience, even louder songs... It is so easy to be sucked in by slick and miss presence altogether.
For myself, being brought up in a church that didn’t recognise that the work of the Spirit was something for today (cessationists), perceiving His presence is something I have had to work hard to get my head round. In my early 20s, I found myself at a Pentecostal church and I would come out of meetings and people would be saying, "Wow, wasn't God's presence there?" and, if I am honest, I would not really know what they meant.
I remember someone first saying when I came to Yorkshire, when commenting about the weather, that it was ‘clammy’. I didn’t know what it meant, but you agree, and respond: “Yes, it's clammy”. But no one had ever told me the definition of what 'clammy' was! So when people said that, I'd start to take note of what's going on in my body, the heat, breathing, what is different? I took note of what it meant in my body by "it's clammy". Similarly, when we encounter His presence at home, in church, we take note of it. We can then look for that wherever we go in workplaces, walking down the street, meeting with friends. He is with us at all times, all places. We need to understand that and begin to recognise it and hear when His presence is helping and prompting us.
But the question is, how do we start, as a church, to move beyond the sermon and the Sunday service? For some, the pressure is: say hello, maybe undertake a role on a rota, have a cuppa and leave for home again quickly fearing the chicken is burning in the oven!
I was watching a program recently and they were discussing the economy and one person made a comment about money (and having more of it) being our most precious commodity, when a lady sitting there said, “Of course it's not – time is our most precious commodity. You can get more money, you can get money back, but you can never produce, buy or gain more time!” I thought, isn’t that so true?
Henri Nouwen says, “If there is any focus that we need, it is the discipline of dwelling in the presence of Jesus who asks us, 'Do you love me?'”. We need to create time in our busy schedules to work out what it means to just ‘be’ in His presence.
I believe as a church we are good at ‘doing’ but not so good at ‘being’ and, as someone once said, “We were created ‘human beings’ not ‘human doings’!
As a leadership, we have discussed a number of times over the past months how we want to call the church together to come into His presence. Not so much a prayer meeting, though we will pray, but not to come with our list of wants and needs. Not so much a worship evening, although I am sure we will have some musical worship to help us engage. We want to immerse ourselves in who He is. Remind our souls that we have found favour with a loving and faithful God. To listen in and join in a conversation that the Holy Spirit is already speaking to and over us.
We recognise with Mark going to Halifax, there is a change of season and we want to hear from God what His heart is for us as a church community this next season. Yet we are busy people, a busy church and we feel it would be a big ask, on top of everything everybody does to say we want you ALL to come to such a meeting. Yet we see this as high priority. So, in January, we are seeking to cancel as many meetings as possible. Sunday mornings after Christmas, throughout January, will stay as one service at 10.30am to release children’s workers, AV people, musicians & worship leaders. We are going to ask you to postpone separate prayer meetings and small groups too. Anything apart from core meetings (such as weekly children's and youth meetings) we are asking, graciously, will you consider cancelling? We want to clear the calender as much as we can. (We are still working this out so any leaders please come and chat to us).
Then, on Thursday evenings in January, we are calling the church to come together. We are asking can you make this a priority, so we can journey together? You may think ‘this is not my thing, I prefer to…’. We fully understand that, but please, come with an openness to hearing from the Spirit yourself. It may be messy (shouldn't that be what church is anyway?) but we want to be plunged into His presence, be reminded of how good He is, and listen to Him.
We are expecting good and great things – will you come and participate?