All Things are Yours

"… whether Paul, Apollos, Cephas, the world, life, death, the present, or the future— all things are yours, but you are Christ's…" (I Cor 3)



Civilized God vs. Natural God

So, I had this friend who was really struggling in his life and was taking steps towards God, and one late night while he and a friend were praying together in my community’s prayer room, he decided that the most authentic thing he could to get real with God was to strip naked and pray his heart out in his birthday suit.   florence-1060040_640Actually I don’t know exactly what he was doing, because I wasn’t there – but it was at an hour of the night when the likelihood of anyone walking in on this…event?…was extremely low (though admittedly not altogether without risk) and thankfully no one did – but his prayer partner thought it made a good enough story that he told a few folks, who told others, who told others, who told others who….eventually told me.

Except by the time it got back to me, it was from someone who wasn’t part of our community, and, the story had taken on a very twisted and shameful tone to it, and had unfortunately come to be used as an example of all that was wrong in our group.   Oy.  And now I’ve blogged about it – double oy.   Realistically, a community’s shared prayer space probably isn’t the best place to fulfill one’s urges to strip naked before God, unless the shared space is a Jewish Mikvah, in which case it is somehow totally sanctioned and even required – but then again, those spaces are not co-ed.

skydiving-270148_640Anyway, I don’t actually know how it played out intra-communally on our turf, whether or not any leaders actually said anything or cared about the fact that this had happened in our prayer room, but, whether it is to our collective shame or our collective honor, or neither, my guess is that not many people in our group cared terribly much, beyond it being a great story of, “You’ll never guess what so and so did!”   The group in that season had a culture of encouraging each other to take risks and make both big achievements and big mistakes, and so my guess is for most it would have been a “no harm, no foul” sort of situation.   Maybe.   (For all I know, everyone might have been horrified.)

But to those who heard about it outside our group and did not have those sensibilities, this was an indictment of monumental proportions.   As our group had other rumored indictments (both true and false), this one just seemed to corroborate with those.  But this is the thing – I think the shock and horror factor of this story would still have been there for most people in our neighborhood even if it included the fictitious detail that the door had been locked and no females could ever had accidentally entered, and all windows were covered, and the male prayer partner had waited outside so no accusations of anything could be made.

statue-5998_640Even with all those safeguards in place, the idea that someone had prayed naked in our community prayer room would have been just as offensive in any regard; of that I’m pretty sure.  And I don’t think the offense was merely about nakedness per se – I don’t think the story would have quite been the same if the story had been that this individual had been walking to the prayer room in the rain and got absolutely drenched, and for some reason couldn’t change in the restroom but asked his prayer partner to wait outside and guard the door while he quickly changed into dry clothes he had in his knapsack and then they went on to spend the rest of the night, fully clothed, praying the way they would be expected to do.

Now, there are all sorts of reasons for this.   I’m not going to dissect all of them, nor seek to justify nor condemn what my friend did.  But there is one specific aspect of this that I want to talk about, and it has to do with the messy confluence of a “Civilized God” with a “Natural God” construct.

What do I mean by a “Civilized God?”   When people form communities, and set apart buildings (such as our prayer room) for the worship of God, and have agreed upon procedures for worshipping that God, they are to some degree or another embracing a Civilized God.  Screenshot 2016-02-01 at 5.44.08 AMThat is to say, they believe that God receives and desires to be worshipped in the context of the social phenomenon we call civilization with all that it entails, and that He is happy to be in some way, a participant in the things of civilization.   What aspects of our civilized social life we outfit His worship with is debatable – but when we produce worship music with state of the art music studios and electric instruments, we have nodded to a Civilized God.  If the music is done with a carefully practiced choir, wearing choir robes, we sing that song to a Civilized God.   When we read the book of Revelation and see things like angels that write (invented by civilization) on scrolls (again, civilization) and play harps (civilization yet again) and blow trumpets (yep – civilization), we may be so civilized ourselves that we don’t even notice the interjection of the human inventions of civilization (don’t forget swords, horsemanship, herbal medicine, and thrones) into the allegorical description of the spiritual realm, but again, we’ve embraced a very Civilized Kingdom of God.   Revelation in fact culminates with the arrival of an amazing – wait for it – CITY. And nothing says civilization better than C.I.T.Y., even if it is a city of God.

the-substance-990771_640But that’s not the only view that people have of God – there is also the “Natural God” mindset.   After all, my friend had some instinct from somewhere, that to really have nothing between him and God, he needed to get all the vestiges of civilization off of his person – which of course, meant his clothing. He’s not alone – many, many people have sought God by heading to the wilderness, or a high mountain somewhere, so it could be just them and God away from any and all signs of humanity and its designs.

Screenshot 2016-02-01 at 5.51.26 AMAdam and Eve seemed to be this way – the closest they got to being civilized was taming a garden.    Moses at some point in his life was one of these folks – He met God on a high mountain and had communion with a very uncivilized, Natural God meeting, in the form of a burning bush.   John the Baptist, filled with the Spirit from his mother’s womb, also had a thing going with the Wild and Natural understanding of God, wearing camel skins and eating wild stuff and living far away from the temple worship of his father’s house – instead making the great outdoors his temple.

So you see, when my friend got naked in a prayer room, he was putting two things together that normally just don’t really belong together – the raw, natural, “nothing-but-a-man-and-his-God” sort of worship, mixed with the civilized, industrious, “a community of people got together” and pooled their resources to do something which will be a place in a town for townspeople to meet with God together.

And which God is God, really?

The Bible paints a picture of….
cairn-678422_640– A God who prohibits the use of tools in building him an altar – prefering instead a pile of wild rocks.
– A God who mixed up human languages because the people tried to use their know-how and social organizations to get closer to him
– A God who tells the man who wants to build him a temple, “Heaven is my throne, and Earth is my footstool….where is the house you would build for me?”
– A God who tells a man he is talking to to “take off your shoes….”
– A God who said that people who would consecrate themselves to Him must leave their hair to grow without styling or cutting it, and who may not eat grapes (a heavily cultivated crop.)
– A God who tells a man to lay on his side, outside, for a year, and eat food cooked over animal dung.
– A God who drives people like John the Baptist, Jesus, and Philip out into the wilderness.
– A God who overcomes a king with His Spirit, which leaves him laying naked in a ditch, prophesying.
– A God who is worshiped by a man who takes off everything but an ephod (and no one really knows what an ephod is, so I could imagine it is hardly worth mentioning) and dances wildly before Him.
– A God who does “not accept praise from man.”
dandelion-411756_640– A God who considers a babbling baby’s vocalizations to be “perfect praise.”

– A God whose express image, his very Son, had, “nowhere to lay his head.”
– A God whose Son went to a mountainside regularly to pray.
– A God who desired His Sacrifice to be made “outside the camp.”
– A God who provides for disciples who have been sent out to minister, taking nothing with themselves.
– A God whose Spirit births people of which one cannot pin down their origin or destinations, like the wind
– A God whose Son called his own body, “God’s temple.”
– A God who clothes the lilies of the field with more glory than any king ever had.
– A God of whom it was said, “The Most High does not live in houses made with human hands.”
– A God who met Paul when he conferred with no humans but spent three years in the desert of Arabia.
– A God who thinks has no regard for the fame and honor of this world, but regards as precious what the world rejects.
– A God whose Son Himself was rejected by society.
– A God who is building a “spiritual house” of people.

But, the Bible also talks about a God who is also the one who is…

jerusalem-108851_640– A God who gave the Israelites a code of laws to keep.
– A God who set up a priesthood caste with clear ritual requirements of record keeping, administration, times and dates, special foods and rites to be performed.
– A God who gave extremely specific instructions about the cloth and measurements and objects used for his tabernacle.
– A God who authorized fine craftsmanship in the building of ritual objects for his worship.
– A God who punished people like Korah who worshipped him in nonprescribed ways
– A God who spoke to kings and rulers about the events of their kingdoms, and gave them military and strategic advice on the affairs of their domains.
– A God who showed kings dreams about the rise and fall of their civilizations and others, so that the kings established mandatory worship of God in their realms.
– A God who filled an illustrious and expensive temple with His presence in honor of its ritual dedication.
– A God who was worshipped with harps and cymbals by priests working in carefully prescribed shifts.
– A God worshipped by highly structured acrostic poetry.
– A God who has angelic armies that have order and rank.
– A God that speaks metaphorically about piercing his daughters’ ears and adorning them with fine jewelry and rich linens.
– A God whose Son shows a preference at a very young age for hanging out in the temple, even calling it His Father’s house.
– A God whose Son expressed extremely strict ideas about the institution of marriage.
– A God that honors his servants in a far-off country that engage in ritualized prayer three times a day.
– A God whose Son shows some preference for Jewish nationalism, calling a Gentile woman a dog.
Screenshot 2016-02-01 at 5.54.31 AM– A God whose Son found refuge at His friend Lazarus’s house.
– A God whose Son went to the cultivated garden of Gethsemane to pray.
– A God whose Son teachings his disciples a prescriptive form of prayer, saying, “Our Father…”
– A God whose Son sings a hymn and performs a ritual passover meal, even instituting a new ritual along the way.
– A God whose Son weeps over a city, mourning that the systems and people running that city did not accept His visitation.
– A God whose Son tells his followers to hole themselves up in a room for weeks on end, practicing the discipline of prayer.
– A God whose followers came together regularly on the first day of the week.
– A God whose leaders came up with prescribed guidelines for choosing leaders, and appointed them.
– A God whose leaders issued decrees for ostracizing group members from the tribe who had disagreeable behavior.
– A God whose leaders carefully taught from written scripture truths about Him and His Son, and urged other leaders to “devote themselves to the public reading of scripture” and exhortation and teaching.

Ok.   Whew.    Where does this leave us?

Screenshot 2016-02-01 at 5.56.28 AM

We have a Natural God with no accouterments – the kind one looks for on a mountain.     We have a very Civilized God with a whole structured way of relating to him in society – the kind of God one looks for in a place like Jerusalem – where the Jews had their temple, and where the early church began.  (Yeah, I know – these two concepts play together about as well as a naked man trying to pray in a community prayer room.)

So which God will we worship, and how will we worship Him?   Will we embrace the Wild God, the unstructured, uncivilized God – or will we embrace the God of human institution, the civilized God of religion?   Will we go to the mountaintop to meet with Him or to the place of ritual and artistry and organization and form?

Where’s the living water?  What will we use to draw it up out of the well – our “natural God” tools or our “Civilized God” tools?  How will we drink?

Jesus weighs in, “Believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.   But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.  (John 4:23-24, ESV)

Is that an answer?   Not until it becomes real to you and me as we actually find out what it means for us for in our own experience, not as a doctrine or a theory about the “right” way to do things, but in the desperate try-almost-anything hardcore search to find Him and find how to relate to Him – not until it becomes a place you truly have met with and worshiped God.  And this is the important one – not until you and I, both alone and corporately, find a way to go back and get with Him over, and over and over again, does it mean much either; because let’s face it, a chance encounter with Him doesn’t mean we’ve learned how to drink that water from the well – it just means we had a happy accident.   Although I’d venture that when we start having regular, frequent, happy accidents, we’re heading in a good direction.


But we’re looking for that stability of real communion with Him, and we can, and should…journey to the mountain, journey to the valley, go to the city, and go to the town – worship in silence, and worship with lots of noise – worship with ritual, and worship freestyle – worship with others, and worship alone – sing old songs, sing new songs, pray in tongues and pray in English, draw a picture and dance a dance and reach for Him with our focus and thoughts and hearts – or toss it all out if the only thing that’s giving you or I anything is something not even named here.  But that pursuit must be deliberate and ongoing – it must be given time, energy, and push some other things aside.  Its not a works thing, but a laying hold of the One who has laid hold of us, thing.   And if we don’t seek, we’ll almost never find.

And please, I’ve really had to learn the hard way – it’s really important sometimes to forget anything about the “right” or “wrong” way to do church.  “Natural God” complexes and “Civilization God” complexes are alive and well in our pursuit of fellowship, unfortunately – but really the main issue is Jesus.   Are you finding Him when you’re with your church?  Put your doctrines and church theories aside – your organic church ideas or your tradition ideas or your social issue concerns or Holy Mother church ideas – for Christ’s sake I beg you, put it all aside.    That stuff tripped me up for way too many years of my life, and I don’t want it to get you too.

cathedral-569340_640Despite how much that church you’re at is doing everything wrong in your eyes, are you growing in Him there, or do you at least see potential for that?  If yes, don’t let anything tear you away from there.   But if not, move on – even if the church you’re part of is doing everything “right” and it’s the kind of church you’ve always been looking for or always gone to that has the right teaching and way of doing things – you have no time for that, find Jesus for real or at least find people as intent on real communion with Him as you are, who agree with you on perhaps nothing at all other than they want to know and pursue Him too, whether in the Natural God place or the Civilized God place or neither.   The less answers any of us have, the better, really…  And find, my friend, in the midst of all that, as all of it fades away, where you’ve seen and tasted and experienced a communion with Christ, no matter whether it looked wild and natural or civilized and structured.    Find in it all, despite it all – find the One who has truly made “all things yours.”

Selah.  Amen.

(PS – I usually hyperlink everything I say referencing a Bible verse to a Bible verse program online, but no one ever clicks on those links. So, if you want to know where I pulled something from the Bible, drop me a comment and I’ll let you know.   Otherwise, on this post, it would just take hours to insert links that no one ever uses.)


Worship: Edification and Distraction


Long ago, when I first gave my heart to Jesus, I spent time sojourning in some churches that were rather restrained in outward or individual emotional displays during worship.    It was a really big deal if someone lifted a hand up, or even two hands, during the worship time: enough to provoke entire late night conversations among the youth group (which I was part of at the time).   Questions abounded: “Why would anyone do this?   Was their hand like some sort of God antennae?   Were they feeling something at that moment that the rest of us weren’t privy to, that resulted in the hand being raised?   What was all that about?”   But the biggest question that would eventually emerge in these conversations was this one:  Was this person’s outward display of worship creating a distraction for the rest of the congregation?

Over the years, I moved on to other settings, other churches – churches where raising a hand to the Lord was not only understood as normal, but was also considered quite a mild and, even at times, “overly restrained” expression of worship (and/or praise.)  In these churches, there was a much more full-bodied concept of how one expressed praise – instead of the tongue being the only part of one’s body that moved during singing, people were allowed to AND encouraged to use whatever bodily posture most expressed their heart in the moment.   So, I’ve been to churches where people were on their faces, on their knees, or twirling about in wild expressive dance complete with streamers and flags in their hands.   And in these churches, the concept of distraction is almost completely foreign.  Instead, the overriding concern that the people in those congregations often have is a concern for freedom – is the worship “free enough?”   The belief in these settings is that “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” and in the most direct and momentary sense, this means that to them, freedom of congregational expression is paramount – in order that the Lord’s Spirit might be given room to “do what He wants to do.”

Additionally, there is also a concept in the “worship-freedom” loving churches, that the Lord’s worship and praise ought to be extravagant – that people lavishing expressions of unbridled emotion and awe and love and whatever else towards the Lord in a corporate setting, with no concern for how others might view those personal expressions of love and praise, is something honoring to the Lord, something of which He is worthy.   Thus worshipping in this manner is not something done just for one’s own emotional satisfaction, but is regarded instead as a personal offering of eschewing one’s regard for their own appearance, dignity, etiquette and personal composure, to instead bring a gift of wholehearted, expressive, and whole-bodied praise towards God.

I have to admit that over the years I’ve definitely become more partial towards the latter paradigm of group worship than the former.   From this vantage point, what in my early years was once considered a potential “distraction” -seeing someone else express individual worship and praise in a unique, creative, and less-conformist-to-everyone-else way,  is no longer something that I see as a distraction.   In the mindset of the “freedom” concept of worship, a brother or sister’s creative worship expression, which I once viewed as a distraction stealing my attention from focusing on God, is something I instead now consider to be mutual “edification” – something that helps me see God even better.

Seeing a fellow worshiper be demonstrative in how they worship or pray to me now is a chance to see their faith being expressed, which in turn is something which bolsters my own faith and experience of meeting with God.   But it took a change in my mindset for me to be able to view someone else’s spiritual expression as something that I could receive as a beneficial aspect of Christ being made known to me through His people.   I now see this as the living faith in one person’s heart being made known to mine; and then in turn, my own worship being made known to those worshiping with me as well, creating a mutually reinforcing dynamic.  On a human, sociological, natural level this is psychologically supportive of one another’s faith expressions, but on a deeper, more supernatural level, also is an arena where the Spirit of God is able to express His own nature corporately, through the weak yet creative expressions of His people who are passing expressed faith back and forth to one another in their full-bodied signals to Him and to one another.

But it did take a shift in mindset – if worship is about me and God being alone, and undistracted, to have this inner exchange of prayer, worship, honor, love, repentance, etc., then the question becomes: “Why gather together with other believers for worship at all?”  If worship is a private thing, where I shouldn’t notice your worship and you shouldn’t notice mine, then why do we bother coming TOGETHER to do it?   God *can* be encountered out in the woods, or on the seashore, or on my bed or in my living room, or alone in my car – so why not just let that be sufficient?

I think the reality is, as I’ve written before: we need both.   We need to experience God in our closets, alone, or at the seashore, alone.   We each NEED to have a unique connection to our Creator that doesn’t depend on man.   But we just can’t pass over the fact that if we believe the New Testament scriptures (and I’m writing mostly to Christians here as I write this) that the overwhelming testimony of that scripture is that God Himself is really into this concept, of believers in Jesus sharing a corporate experience of Christ – what is called being the “body of Christ” together.  Being the body can be a simply static concept: we are the body of Christ whether we get together or not – but this concept can be realized as also an experience-able concept, something which if when we get together and have some idea what we’re doing to gather “in the name of Christ” together moves from being a mere doctrine into a functional reality.

The mystery of “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (the “you” in that verse being a plural you) is that there are new facets to knowing Christ, and to worshiping Him, or gathering with Him, that really can only be realized when we do this in conjunction with one another, functioning no longer just as individuals alone, but individuals in connection with one another, experiencing the dynamic that results from each person’s faith expressions feeding into the others’.   This is why so many people will share that something unique occurs when they worship with corporately – that they have an experience with the Spirit of God that is unique and cherished apart from what they have with Him while they are by themselves.   And it has something to do with each of us bringing something of our own heart with God to each other, where the whole of the corporate expression becomes greater than the sum of its own individual expressive parts.

It’s like what you see when a flock of birds fly overhead – a bird flying is just a bird, which is a marvelous thing.   But when hundreds of birds come together and each of them does its own little flying part, suddenly a whole new structure of expression is seen in the sky, as the flock moves in a way that creates new shapes, new forms, and new expressions of movement that any individual bird could never demonstrate to an observer.   When you’re *in* that flock of birds, you can undoubtedly see some angle on this unique thing that is happening even while you are in it – and, you get a chance to see where your own little part becomes an expression of something so much greater than yourself – it gives new dimensions to your own experience of being a bird, to fly along with the others.

This post is not meant, however, as some sort of “you need to go to church” sermon, as it may be tasting right now to some of my readers.   Church can be valuable to the degree that it truly gives you a chance to experience being part of the body of Christ with others.   Or, it can itself unfortunately at times be the single most distracting element that believers experience to truly being the body of Christ with one another – it depends on the church, its way of being, its beliefs, its leadership and its format of meeting.   Church is simply a scaffold, a structure, for people to be in spiritual life with one another.   And a structure can be something that living things thrive on – and build life on, like a coral reef growing on the structure of a sunken ship or stone outcrops, or a tomato plant being helped along with a stake for it to grow around.  Or structure can be something averse to life, something which destroys it – like putting a Walmart building and parking lot into a former wetland area.   Some of my readers would find their spiritual life greatly enhanced by leaving their church, and others need to find one.    I’m not making any statement about your own situation in regards to that, because how could I even begin to know?

But my goal here in this post is simply to point out: that there has long been this tension in the body of Christ between knowing what constitutes a corporate “distraction” from Christ for one another, and what actually constitutes a valuable opportunity to edify one another’s faith by each member of the body bringing their own expression of knowing Him to the corporate table.   And I think that we can meaningfully distract one another right into loving Him more, as we offer our own distracting expressions of knowing Him and loving Him to one another.

The Spirit in the Room

Years ago I had this friend, Stephen, who had this natural ability to turn any conversation into a real heartfelt conversation about God and Jesus, and I and another friend were hanging out with him one day as we all went to visit a friend who was undergoing some spiritual turmoil.   Her family had invited us in and told us all to go wait for her in her room, that she would be home shortly.   So while we waited, we prayed for her – and we asked the Lord to send His Spirit into her room to make Himself more real to her.

Not long thereafter, this gal came in and together we had a conversation about the Lord, where each person seemed to have something to share that flowed in perfect harmony with what the others shared.   As we spoke with her, I noticed what seemed to look like a barely discernable “mist” that filled the air, and as I took notice of the mist, it became more and more visible to me.    It seemed to sparkle, too, like this ambient light was filling the mist “particles” whatever they were, and as I paid more and more attention to this slightly glowing mist, I realized that the “light” seemed to glow not with some impersonal light, but with an extremely personable sense of affection and love, emanating from the mist.   Describing this sounds somewhat insane to me, even as I write it: how could a glow emanate something personable and loving?   These things just sound awful when one tries to put them into words, but this is the best I can describe what more or less is indescribable by normal terms, typical terms.   I have to admit though, at the time, I did not voice this experience to anyone: I was accustomed to spiritual experiences being highly individualistic, and assumed I was the only one there that saw such a thing, that anyone else would have thought I was nuts or lost in my own imagination.

So I was shocked, when upon leaving this gal’s house, Stephen immediately turned to me and my other friend, and exclaimed, “Did you see the Shekinah glory of God filling her room?!?!”   I was so surprised and gasped, “You saw it too?!?”  We asked the third friend who said she also saw the mist, although I wasn’t ever sure if she was just going along with what Stephen and I were sharing, or if she had really seen it also – but I knew that day that as individualistic as spiritual experiences can be, that they’re not ALWAYS private, individual, non-confirmable occurrences.

This was years and years ago; since then I have had many, many opportunities to be confronted with the presence of God in a room – with rare exception this has always occurred when people were gathered together to declare Him and His love in song (aka, to worship and pray together.)   There were many years of my life as a Christ-follower where I never saw or felt anything supernatural – during that time period, if you had told me then that you felt “the Spirit of God” during worship, I would have wondered firstly why I never could seem to share that experience, and secondly if you were just deluding yourself.   But something happened in between the time of my life when I “felt nothing” and the time of my life when I grew in an awareness of God’s presence among His people: and that was encountering the Holy Spirit not in a room filled with other people, but within myself.

It’s a long story for some other posting(s) to explain that journey, and how I came to know more what the indwelling Spirit of God was like in my own being; a journey that started with believing in the Messiah Himself and then asking, seeking, and crying out to know Him more – stumbling around in darkness wondering when and how He would turn the lights on for me, but still seeking, still reaching, still groping, knowing that there had to be something more than a “theory” of what it meant to have the Spirit come and live within me – that somehow this had to be something more than a belief or doctrine but an actual living experience.   I would read verses like this one:

Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:38) 

and wonder what this was describing, because even as a believer and follower of Jesus I knew that nothing which had happened to me thus far could be described in words like those.   So I went looking, and found that the Father was looking for me at the same time, to reveal His Son in me, to me, in a way that I didn’t know up to that point (and am still learning about even to this day.)

But this brings me to the point of this blog posting: that I believe there are two distinct ways in which the Spirit of God is made manifest to a believer.    And all too often, I hear and see my friends getting hung up on one of those two ways, while completely dismissing and misunderstanding the other of the two.    So to speak more clearly, there are two distinct ways (and these are not the only two, but for the sake of this discussion I am focusing on two) that the Holy Spirit frequently makes His presence known to those who know Jesus:

a) within themselves, in their own individual innermost being (in many various ways)


b) within a gathered, corporate expression of believers honoring Christ together

If you think about it, we know that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, and that this is true on an individual level.   You do not need to gather together with anyone else to alone be a temple of the Holy Spirit.   Jesus said this about Himself on a solitary, individual level, when He refered to His own body as God’s temple, and we know that this is true for each individual believer who receives Him into themselves.

We are each of us God’s temple.   And thus within ourselves, God can be communed with, ministered to, petitioned, and each of us can be led by the light of His Spirit within, on an individual level.    In the Old Testament, God sending His Spirit upon an individual is a recognized occurrence; sometimes New Testament believers will make a distinction about whether God wants to position Himself “upon” or “within” someone in the New Testament sense and whether or not there is a difference between the impartation of the Spirit to a person upon the initial commitment to Christ in one’s life, or sometime thereafter, but regardless of these discussions, most believers agree that the Holy Spirit is available to any individual believer in one sense or another.

I think one issue however with the Lord dwelling among us individually is that for some individuals, their only experience of the presence of God has occurred almost always in corporate settings.  Even their individual sense of His presence is only found when they meet with others to sing and pray.   For a new believer, this isn’t immediately a problem as gathering with others can be like “training wheels” as they first recognize their ability to sense the Spirit in environments where others are setting the spiritual tone for them.   Being in a corporate setting can help one to recognize not only the Spirit as He moves in the midst of music or sharing in a group, but also to become more sensitive to what He is like within the individual.   But for some people, they remain dependent exclusively on the others in the group to manifest the presence of Spirit for them; and this is problematic; it is essential that each believer is uniquely aware of the Spirit of God in such a way that they are not depending on others to know Christ by the Spirit.

People that are struggling with this dynamic are often very upset if something happens during a corporate meeting to distract from enjoying Christ together, and are not easily able to follow the leading of the Lord through disruptive situations to the corporate situation.    For instance, if a nonbeliever is visiting in a small home meeting of Christians, and behaves in a way that is insensitive to an awareness of the Spirit of God – or if he or she has conversation with someone where the conversation does not focus on spiritual things, a believer who is not able to tap into Christ within themselves individually may not know how to extend grace and love to someone who has disrupted their corporate worship or sharing time, instead considering that person a trial or a tribulation.   One who knows how to experience Christ within however is not dependent on an outward experience of Christ in a group to be edified or to have the wherewithal to give something of the Spirit to someone who doesn’t know how to see or touch Him yet;  and there are many more reasons why it is essential that every believer be fluent in experiencing the Spirit of Christ for themselves without being dependent on gathering with others to tap into His presence among them, at least not most of the time.

If one is dependent on the “corporate anointing” to experience the Spirit, one does not mature in their own ability to edify others, but remains a consumer of what others in the body bring forth to edify them.  (Unfortunately, most churches are set up so that during the Sunday service particularly there is very little opportunity for anyone other than a few select people to exercise their giftings for the edification of others, and so people remain mostly consumers of the religious services offered to them, and the Lord still does make Himself manifest corporately from time to time in these settings; but I do believe that the more the church makes opportunities for people to go from being mere consumers to those who actively edify others that the corporate presence of God experienced in meetings of the body will increase in frequency and magnitude.)

This well known scripture, 1 Corinthians 14:24-25 demonstrates the difference between a group of people where believers are enjoying God’s presence corporately for themselves but unable to adjust to bringing forth a deeper measure of Christ individually, in contrast to a group of people that know how to listen to the Lord individually and make Him known corporately from their own individual reserves.  When the latter is the case, out of a place of growing maturity individual believers can bring forth treasures from Christ in such a way that even a nonbeliever with undeveloped awareness of the spirit-realm can see that He is among them corporately:Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature….If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.”

But aside from the drawback of being fixated on a corporate experience at the expense of the individual experience, one can see that is a great deal of validity to being able to relate to His presence as a gathered people as well.   For instance, while it is completely scripturally valid to think of each individual Christian as a temple of Christ, we also know from scriptures such as 2 Corinthians 6:16, that we are a corporate, collective temple as well.   Also, 1 Peter 2:5 talks about each believer being a living stone, built TOGETHER into one spiritual house.   Thus there is a sense in which the Spirit of God can fill not just us as individuals, but also us as a gathered, corporate expression of faith in Christ.  

In the Old Testament, God coming “among” His people is a persistent motif:

  • Him coming among them (Leviticus 26:12-13)
  • walking in their camp (Deuteronomy 23:14)
  • going ahead of them and leading them corporately (Exodus 13:21, Exodus 33:14, Deuteronomy 31:8) and
  • His desire to dwell among them as a people, corporately, in the New Covenant (Ezekiel 27:37).
  • There is also a motif of the glory of God coming in a rather demonstrative way and filling His temple (*1 Kings 8:11, *Ezekiel 10:4, *2 Chronicles 5:14, *2 Chronicles 7:1-2, Ezekiel 43:5 & 44:4)

and translating this to the New Testament, remembering that we are not just individually temples, but are corporately a temple, it should be no surprise that the presence of Christ can be experienced corporately when believers gather together to minister to Him and each other.

Now, I have heard many objections to this whole idea.   One common objection is the idea that God being experienced corporately is an Old Testament thing, not a New Testament thing, because Christ has made it possible for the three-in-one God to dwell within each of us.   While I agree, obviously, that the work of the cross and resurrection and ascension of Christ has huge ramifications for the accessibility of the Spirit, I think it is a misconception that a *corporate* experience of God’s presence is uniquely ‘Old Testament.’ For one thing, an *individual experience* of God’s presence is very much an Old Testament occurrence so why do we believe that the distinction made by the New Testament is a matter of individuality vs. corporate life?   I think this is a mistake.

Another objection I think also to be a mistake is to believe that because God comes to dwell inwardly within an individual under the New Covenant that this means all outward experiences of God’s presence (which a corporate experience is in some aspects) are no longer valid.   The reality is that if God dwells in me, but He is also dwelling IN you, for me to experience any aspect of communion with you in that same Spirit requires me to experience something outside myself – to experience a communion shared BETWEEN us, not only within myself.  This can happen on many levels; I do not in any way mean to suggest the normal and presumed means of us experiencing His presence together will be to see a sparkling mist of love filling the room (although that is certainly one way I have personally experienced His presence being made manifest corporately on less than a handful of occasions) but experiencing His presence IS something that in one way or another is not a rare occurrence by any means – and learning to be sensitive to the Spirit within oneself sharpens one’s spiritual senses for discerning Him, via the inner sensitivity to His love or voice or glory or light or wisdom or movements, etc., to that same Spirit when He does things in the midst of a group people as well.

No, I think the largest difference between what we see in God filling the temple in the Old Testament, versus what He does when He fills His temple now, is that the temple NOW is not a building made of stone, but is now a building of LIVING stones.    If God comes and fills a room, He’s not filling it because He has a thing about “rooms” as much as because He is meeting in a  with the people gathering there.   The motifs of the Old Covenant have become realized in flesh and blood more than in stone and mortar; in a very real way we have become the stones, and this was what He was after all along anyway.   Even in the Old Testament God was still hanging out with people; in the New Testament He does this even more so, in an even much more relatable way.   Christ has come as the incarnation, the “God with us” of the Father, and we have been caught up in this in such a way that even we have been transformed into the very incarnation of Christ, brothers together with Him.  (1 Cor 6:15, 1 John 4:17, Hebrews 2:11)

Unfortunately many New Testament scriptures that reference God’s Spirit being among us as a group are scriptures that refer to His presence among us specifically to deal with matters of sin, but nevertheless the testimony of Scripture is that He does meet with us corporately.

“Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” (Matthew 18:19-20 ESV)

When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus…” (1 Corinthians 5:4 ESV; Paul’s Spirit is present in the gathered assembly by extension, unity, and association with the Lord’s Spirit…)

The fact that these verses however refer to judgment and discipline is actually helpful; because to establish a matter in a court of law according to the law of Moses required 2 or 3 witnesses.   Therefore there is something hidden in these verses that is wonderful – the concept that it is not just when people come together that they find Jesus present corporately, but when people come together for the sake of witnessing and testifying to something of the Lord that He is somehow “present” in a way beyond the general sense of God being present ubiquitously in the universe.

Another way in which believers testify of Christ’s reality is through their good works, their actions in the world.   This testimony of Christ is compared in Scripture to a lamp, placed on a stand where others can see it.

“….nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:15-16 ESV)

This lampstand then comes to represent the testimony of believers about who God is, spread their good works, in a region or vicinity where a church is found.   This testimony then results in praise, people “glorifying God” in response to what they see and hear.  It is this combination of one group testifying to another group of people, which then results in praise, that makes up the lampstand motif – and this lampstand motif is then used for another image in Scripture which demonstrates the unique presence of Christ that is present among believers in a corporate sense, when believers are shining forth a testimony of who God and Christ are to their neighbors through their love and care for those around them, resulting in praise.

Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. ” (Revelation 1:12-13)

Christ is present “among the lampstands.”   This is different than an individual experiencing Christ within themselves, this is a unique way that the Lord is present, found “in the midst” of what a collective group of people say and do together regarding Christ.

When a group of people remembers the character and works of the Lord together – how they’ve seen Him in their lives, and in the lives of others, and how they have experienced His testimony in their own life and the life of their community, this is meant to result in “praise and glory to God.”

Charismatics are fond of the verse, not without cause, that says, “Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.” (Psalm 22:3 – People often paraphrase this as “God is enthroned on the praises of His people.”)  As overused as this verse can be, there is a validity to how the glory and presence of the Lord is made manifest among those who declare, honor, and remember His goodnesses together.   The testimony of the Lord expressed corporately, whether in song, outcry (“Come Lord Jesus!” aka, Maranatha!) or sharing the life and truth of who He is (such as my friends in the opening story of this blog) provides an environment in which the Spirit of Christ can agree and make Himself manifest and known more fully to those who look to Him for His appearances.

 If you sow to the Spirit, you reap from the Spirit, and this is not only a personal truth but a corporate truth as well – filling the atmosphere of our shared time together with words expressed from open and hungry hearts turned towards Him is like lifting up the loaves and fishes towards Heaven and suddenly finding that there is more in the baskets than what one started with – more to eat of Who He is than what was brought to the meeting originally by the participants.  

What is the whole point though?   Criticisms of “worship times” where people seem to be worshipping to “get something from God” or “have an emotional experience” of some type are not entirely without merit, although they are often unduly critical of those who simply enjoy meeting with God.  But really – is it wrong to get one’s sense of fulfillment and pleasure from experiencing the actual presence and glory of the Living God?   If so, what *is* the acceptable thing in life that a human may rightly derive a sense of joy, fulfillment and pleasure from?

Some might say He is worthy to be honored and glorified for His own sake, regardless of what we might enjoy or not enjoy of that – and this is true – but if one finds themselves deeply enjoying honoring and glorifying Him, and also finds a taste of Heavenly realities such as the glory and presence of God Himself – and responsive feelings to tasting those realities here on Earth – is this really so unseemly?

We all have seen worship meetings though that seemed to be filled with emotional and musical hype, even manipulation.   These are real issues for the body of Christ to reckon with as it seeks to meet authentically and in reality with God, and give Him praise, and honor, and hunger, and love, as a gathered group of people.   But the hype driven, or manipulative seeming music or styles are not by any means the real crux of the story here.

The reality of this story is that we pray for the Kingdom to come to Earth – and while there are many, many facets to what this means one thing that it means is this:  Each one of us has a heart of flesh, taken from the dust of this Earth – and that is one place that the King, and the Kingdom, is meant to come.  He does that via His Spirit, which is His presence.

And, not only that, we are a people, a nation, a temple here on the Earth.   And if His presence doesn’t come and dwell among us when we gather together, how do we hope for His presence and His Kingdom to be made manifest anywhere else on this planet?   Are we not, as those called by His name, ground zero for His appearances?   What is it we partake in together as one body – is it only “truth” and “ideas” and “ways of life” or is there a facet of God coming to us, like the morning dew, or sometimes as a mist, or sometimes as a sense of His personhood, or sometimes as a Song, or as fresh revelation of His word to us, or in many other ways, is He welcome among us as a group?   I hope we can say yes.   Yes to Him, in however He makes Himself known to us – individually, or corporately, or any other way known to man.

Create a free website or blog at

Up ↑