Sermon: The Presence of Worship - Exodus 33

We long for God because we want to be in his presence. This model sermon explains that while we always live in God's omnipresence when we worship we experience his revealed presence. It is that presence of God that we long for in worship.

Sermon series: The Way of a Worshipper

  1. The Presence of Worship - Exodus 33
  2. The Preparation of Worship - Ecclesiastes 5
  3. The Power of Worship - Psalm 40, John 12
  4. The Protocol of Worship - Psalm 100

Scriptures: Exodus 33:12-23

The Bible study connection

We long for God because we want to be in his presence. This sermon explains that while we always live in God's omnipresence when we worship we experience his revealed presence. It is that presence of God that we long for in worship.

Introduction

George Barna surveyed thousands of churchgoing Christians. The question was asked: "Have you ever experienced God in a worship service?" Only one-third said that they regularly experience God in church.

William Hendrix's book Exit Interviews is about why today's generation is leaving the church. He summarizes the views of many worship dropouts: "Perhaps the most common complaint was that worship services were boring. It was not just that these gatherings were not interesting; they were not worshipful. They did little to help people meet God." (p. 260)

Sally Morgenthaler writing in Worship Evangelism says

"[When] Worship services that are not worshipful, people not meeting God, people not being allowed to participate in a worship relationship with God - it is as if the very essence of worship has been quietly removed. . . . The most significant benefit of a worship service is connecting with God. It does not matter how chatty and interesting the celebrity interviews, how captivating the drama, how stunning the soloist, or how relevant the message. When personal interaction with God is absent, church loses much of its appeal." (p. 23)

When was the last time you experienced the presence of God in a worship service? True, life-changing encounters with the living God are missing from many of our churches. One of the greatest needs among churches today is not new programs, a new seminar, or a new study. What is needed today is an encounter with God. We desperately need a life-changing glimpse of the greatness, the awesomeness, the wonder, the power, the mercy, the goodness, and the lovingkindness of God.

I. What is worship?

But what does worship mean? When you mention the word worship, it conjures us all kinds of images in people's minds. Simply stated worship is declaring the worth of God. The word worship comes from the old English word that means "worthship." With that definition in mind, we don't worship God for what we get out of it, but to give God the honor that is due him, recognizing his worth, his value, his place in our church, and his claim on our lives.

Worship, therefore, is not a weekly pep talk to rally the troops and win the contest. Worship is not a motivational seminar to make us feel good about ourselves. Worship is not the Christian alternative to a Saturday night rock concert or a Beethoven symphony. Worship occurs when people encounter God who loves them and desires a relationship with them. Robert Webber, in his book Worship Old and New, says it succinctly that worship is "a meeting between God and his people." Worship does not lead to an encounter with God. It is an encounter with God.

When we worship God, whether on our own or in church, we come with an agenda: to meet with God. And as important as that is, we need to remember that God has an agenda as well: to meet with us.

If worship is about encountering the presence of God, a simple question is raised: Isn't God's presence always with us?

II. The realities to God's presence

A. The reality of God's omnipresence

Of course, God is always with us. "If I go up to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, You are there" (Psalms 139:8). This is the reality of God's omnipresence. God's universal presence is a marvelous fact of life. We cannot escape the presence of God. Sometimes we are blind to it, but never for a minute think that God's presence is not with us. God promised Moses: "My presence will go with you" (Exodus 33:14).

God promises to manifest his presence in a special way when we worship. "For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there among them" (Matt. 18:20) seems to contradict Matthew 28:20 "And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matt. 28:20). Why would Jesus promise to be present conditionally (when two or three are present in my name) if he also promises to be with us always - that is under any circumstances? The only logical explanation is that Jesus is speaking about a different kind of presence in the first passage, something more than just God's omnipresence.

B. The reality of God's revealed presence

La Mar Boschman calls this type of presence "the revealed presence of God . . . an unusual revelation of God's essence in a certain location." Old Testament scholar Terence Fretheim calls it God's "tabernacling presence." Some refer to it as God's "manifest presence." In corporate worship, God desires to remove our blindfolds and give us an extraordinary, breathtaking glimpse of divine radiance.

Luke 5:17-26 records an example of both God's omnipresence and God's revealed presence. Jesus was there - omnipresence - in the midst of this crowd that had come to hear him teach. But notice verse 17. "And the Lord's power to heal was in Him" (Luke 5:17). The NIV translates it: "And the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick" (Luke 5:17 NIV). Luke recognized something different. Yes, Jesus was present - physically he was with them. But Luke noticed something more, something different. He noticed a power, Jesus' manifested presence that was in attendance, too. God's revealed presence was there, too. And, it was God's revealed presence that healed the paralytic brought to Jesus that day. And it was his revealed presence that caused everyone to be "astounded, and they were giving glory to God. And they were filled with awe and said, 'We have seen incredible things today!'" (Luke 5:26). That is the presence we long for in worship.

This extra glimpse of God we crave; we want. We need to feel it, to sense it, to experience it, to taste it, and to touch it. And when we do, like the paralytic, we will forever be changed. We should ask for it.

III. What is needed in worship?

If you could ask God for anything, what would it be? What we ask for says a lot about ourselves.

Some people have that opportunity. Moses was one. Moses met with God and had the opportunity to ask him for anything in the universe. Moses did not ask for food or drink, or gold or silver, prestige or riches. Moses had a desire for something far deeper, something higher, something beyond himself, something eternal, something spiritual. Moses had two requests.

A. A hunger for God

First, Moses asked: "teach me Your ways" (Ex. 33:13). The Amplified Bible translates it this way: "Now therefore, I pray You, if I have found favor in Your sight, show me now Your way, that I may know You [progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with You, perceiving and recognizing and understanding more strongly and clearly] and that I may find favor in Your sight" (Ex. 33:13 Amplified Bible). Moses wasn't interested in God's ways just because he desired information. His desire came from a heart of a worshipper that was saying, "I want to sign up with you for life - not just a chapter of it. I want to walk into eternity with you." It was his way of saying I want to become more progressively, more intimately acquainted with the living God. He was saying that he wanted to experience God every day of his life. He didn't just want the facts he wanted God. He was talking about a relationship.

Moses hungered for God. Moses longed for God. Moses realized that nothing else in the world could compare to the experience of being with God. Moses had a passion for his presence.

Let me stop for a moment. Do you realize that you can experience God's grace without experiencing his presence? You can have an understanding that Jesus died for your sins, and not ever have an intimate relationship with him? You can know facts and figures, dates and times, and still not really know the One who loved you first. What a shame to be saved and not really enter into the joy of knowing Christ. Sadly, people do it all the time. Our churches are full of people who know who God is but don't really know him and have never experienced his presence.

Our worship should hunger for God.

B. An encounter with God

Second, Moses asked: "Please, let me see Your glory" (Ex. 33:18). The Hebrew word for glory is chabod, which means "God's honor, renown, majesty, weight, and his visible splendor." The word glory used in this setting is closely related to presence and face. Moses wanted to behold God face to face. He wanted a visible encounter with the living God. He was not content with business as usual. He wanted God to show up in his life.

Let's pause again: When you come to church are you tired of business as usual? Going through the motions? Showing up Sunday after Sunday for worship service and not having your soul stirred? Leaving the same way you came in? Don't you want God to show up in your life?

We not only need to hunger for God, we need an encounter with God.

This encounter, this sense of God's supernatural presence, transforms worship from a duty to devotion, from a ritual to relationship, from just another meeting to a holy gathering. God's attendance in our lives and our experience of him is the essence of real worship.

IV. What do we need to do?

Here are five simple, but life changing actions we need to take to experience God's revealed presence in worship.

  1. Anticipate God's revealed presence in worship. Expect him. Long for him.
  2. Look for God's hand at work in worship.
  3. Listen for God's voice.
  4. Open yourself up to new manifestations of God's presence.
  5. Be sensitive to the leadership of God's Spirit.

Conclusion

Let me close with two observations regarding experiencing God's presence in worship.

Worship leader and composer Marty Nystrom observes:

"I do a lot of traveling and witnessing on airplanes. And I've heard over and over again, 'Well, I've been to church before and, yea, it was good, but it's not really my thing.' (They probably went to a dead church!) And I've had people say, 'Well, I've read the Bible and it's a good book, but I study the Koran, too, and there's some wisdom there. . . .' But, I've never had anybody look me in the eye and say, 'You know, I've experienced the presence of God, and quite honestly, I don't want it.' No one has ever said that to me! Because, people who experience the real presence of God are changed from the ordinary. . . . They want more of him."

A. W. Tozer wrote:

"The world is perishing for lack of the knowledge of God, and the church is famishing for want of his presence. The instant cure of most of our religious ills would be to enter the Presence in spiritual experience, to become suddenly aware that we are in God and that God is in us. This would lift us out of our pitiful narrowness and cause our hearts to be enlarged. This would burn away the impurities from our lives as the bugs and fungi were burned away by the fire that dwelt in the bush."

Rick Ezell is the pastor of First Baptist Greer, South Carolina. Rick has earned a Doctor of Ministry in Preaching from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Master of Theology in preaching from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Rick is a consultant, conference leader, communicator, and coach.