Many Christians have had a moving experience of God’s presence, power and blessing. Some 80% of pastors and more than half of the folks in the pew have experienced some sort of life-changing divine touch.
Certainly, God’s love revealed in Christ, and his gospel of grace received by faith does not require goosebumps and chills or visions and dreams or miracles and healings to seal the deal. Faith alone in Christ alone by grace alone saves the surprised and joyful recipient of God’s love. Nonetheless, the biblical God is relational, and he created you and me for interpersonal connection.
He made us for himself, and to paraphrase Augustine, our hearts are restless until we know him.
With language that approaches poetry, the apostle Paul portrays the Christian life in terms of repeated or ongoing divine experiences that change us. We are transformed into Christlikeness by knowing and being known by God. Paul pens, “The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom. We all with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:17-18).”
Inviting response to the gospel, the apostle Peter echoes this idea. He urges his hearers, “Repent, therefore, and return, that your sins may be wiped away, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord (Acts 3:19).”
As Paul penned and Peter trumpeted, worship invites transformative experience with God.
When John baptized Jesus, he stood up, raised his hands in worship, and uttered words of adoration and praise, and thanksgiving and blessing. The Spirit descended upon him and the Father affirmed Jesus. Worship brought transformation.
Later, atop the holy mountain of transfiguration, Jesus again celebrated the goodness of God in worship and again the Presence of God brought Him blessing and refreshment.
The first generation of Christians knew about the deeply personal and transformative power residing in worship (e.g., 1 Corinthians 14:25 & Philippians 4:6-7), a power frequently missing from our gatherings.
Transformative worship requires time.
When I first enter an opportunity to worship, the distractions of life, the worries and concerns, recent events at work, on the drive, from life at home all crowd into the forefront of my mind. But the images found in the lyrics of worship songs and the demonstrated engagement with God of my fellow worshippers by clapping and singing, upraised hands and dancing feet strip away the layers of distractions.
Soon, I am present to the one who is always present to me. The Spirit whispers grace and favor in the ear, forges mental images of the Father’s joy and the Son’s shining eyes and warm smile in the mind, and prompts from me genuine worship of the living God in the whole man.
Being present to the presence changes us.
And the more frequently we draw close to God, the greater the transformation.