The presence of God has two very different meanings. There is the omnipresence of God – the acknowledgement that there is no place in all the universe where God is not. If I take a rocket and travel at light speed to the other end of the galaxy I can still bow my head in prayer knowing that I have not outdistanced God. The eloquence of David comes to mind: "Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast" (Psalm 139:7-10).
Yet experience teaches us that while God may be present we have not known His presence. We know what this is like. Suppose you and I attend a great meeting but because of all that is going on and the crowd I never see you. But as we exit we bump into each other and I say, “If I’d have known you were here I would have sat with you.” While we were both present there was no benefit to each other of our presence.
Now, if we sat together we would have shared the experience, enjoyed some conversation with each other and just been glad to be around each other. That is enjoying the presence of another. In the same way we can go to meetings or listen to music and do all sorts of other God glorifying things but benefit nothing because we have missed connecting with the presence of God. It is like standing in a room and knowing that there are all sorts of radio waves going through the air but not hearing anything. The songs are always there but unless I have a radio it is nothing but empty air. And some of us go to meetings and see all the surrounding things but miss being tuned in because our hearts are not right.
What this means is that I can be in the most glorious cathedral and sit before the most precise and tuned choir, hear an eloquent sermon and enjoy the richest fellowship but for all that the building might have been empty of all but an echo. On the other side of this, I can be sitting on the floor of a rough grass hut while someone stumbles around in a language I do not know and be filled to overflowing. The difference is not the surroundings but the surrounding of the presence of God. So, look around you. If you are in a big corps where blessing follows blessing, praise God! You are where you ought to be. If you are in a small place but each time you meet you come away with your soul fed and your heart lifted, praise God! You are in the right place. Moving from one place to another will not necessarily make things better but the secret is being tuned into the presence of God. There was a lovely song that was in our previous American version of the Song Book called, “If Jesus Goes with Me”. In the first verse it says –
It may be in the valley, where countless dangers hide;
It may be in the sunshine that I, in peace, abide;
But this one thing I know—if it be dark or fair,
If Jesus is with me, I’ll go anywhere!
If you think that will happen because you showed up, think again. Just like love grows between people by careful attention and intentional cultivation so it is that seeking the presence of God will not begin because you show up at a certain building at a specified hour. God blesses those who seek after Him, who tune their hearts to Him. That comes from intentional seeking and communing with Him. Listen to His words in His Word. Hear his heart in your prayers.
One more thing. If He tells you where you ought to be decide you will be there and nowhere else. One of the sins of Jonah was the assumption that he could dictate where God would act instead of obeying what God had said. If God points you to a hovel, don’t seek Him at a mansion. But if He tells you to meet Him at the golden stair, don’t look for Him in the slums. He may be present wherever but His presence will only be where He points you to go.