We hear a lot of people say things like, “We want more of your presence, Lord” or “There’s just nothing like his presence”, but what exactly is the presence of God? Does it come? Can it leave? It is an “it”…or what?

What if I told you we could spend time singing worship songs, reading the Bible, and going to church and never actually enter God’s presence? What if I told you God’s presence isn’t really found in the soft music we often hear at the altar at the end of a service?

I was talking with my boys recently about this, and what I heard myself say inspired me to write this article. I was attempting to explain the presence of God to my 11 and 12-year-old sons. I wanted them to understand that reading God’s Word a little each morning doesn’t guarantee they have actually entered into His presence.

I asked my son, “Is it possible to treat reading the Bible like you might a job?” Like an assignment to be accomplished? Like an item on a to-do list? Couldn’t we read a chapter here and a chapter there, and then close the Good Book never having specifically encountered God in relationship?

Isn’t that what happened to many of the Bible’s religious leaders? The Pharisees and Sadducees certainly read the Word. But somehow they didn’t connect with the God of the Word.

My son’s eyes lit up like a light bulb. “Yeah, sometimes I just read the words and don’t really think about what I’m reading. I can even read a whole chapter without thinking about or interacting with God at all.”

Now we’re getting somewhere.

Is it possible that a lot of us church-goers approach spiritual disciplines this way too? Oh, I don’t think we mean to, but I feel we often miss the point. The idea is not to check off an item on a to-do list or clock in to accomplish our spiritual duty for the day. The idea is to engage with God, himself. Truthfully, as strange as it may sound, reading the Bible, praying, and singing are not at all what we’re after. These are simply a means to an end. Being with God, in fellowship with him; that is our primary ambition. And these spiritual disciplines are simply vehicles that help transport us into fellowship with God.

Imagine; I’m sitting in the same room as my wife. It could be said that we are in each other’s presence, yes? But isn’t it also possible that while we may physically be in the same room, we may also be completely disconnected—one daydreaming while the other consumes a good book? If so, are we still actually in each other’s presence? Physically, yes, but relationally, no.

If this is true, couldn’t it also be true that we may find ourselves physically present in a room with other believers, in a nice building with atmospheric sounds and sights, singing God-drenched songs, listening to poignant preaching and yet still be completely unengaged with the Maker, himself? Still not in his presence?

Is this possible? Is this happening? Maybe more than we’d care to think?

Granted, God’s presence is a bit of a mysterious thing—something that can be difficult to wrap our minds around—but I’m hoping to demystify it a bit. In fact, I’d like to suggest that his presence is not as enigmatic as it might seem.

Maybe being in God’s presence is the same as being in a friend’s presence. When I am engaged with my friend directly, I am truly in his presence, and yet when I am not engaged with my friend directly, it is very possible that I am disconnected with him, even if we’re in the same room. Being in God’s presence is much the same.

Some may say, “But God’s presence is all around us, right? Isn’t he, uh . . . oh, what’s that . . . ever present?? Um, omnipresent??” Yes, he is Emmanuel—God with us. But honestly, the question is not really so much if God is present but whether we are.

Ephesians 3:12 says, “Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence.” And Hebrews 4:16 invites, “So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.”

Come boldly.

This isn’t to say that God’s presence can’t come or go or move around, or “manifest”. Biblically, there are two types of God’s presence. There is his omnipresence that is, in essence, God, always everywhere. And the there is his manifest presence that can be sensed or felt, and possible even seen.

However, God’s presence isn’t in the music. God’s presence isn’t specifically in a church—as if he longingly waves goodbye when we depart for Sunday brunch, eagerly awaiting our return to his “House” so we can once again enjoy time together.

God’s presence is always available. God, himself, is always available. It is us who leaves. It is us who disengages from his presence, from him. It is us who clocks in and clocks out.

 God’s presence isn’t something out there. It is him. It is not a glory cloud or a fierce emotion or even an “it”. He is “It”. And it is him that we seek. God, himself. So truly, when we say we have encountered God’s presence, we are saying we have come face to face with him, his person, his being, not simply a feeling or an emotion. There are incredible feelings and emotions that are present when we are in his presence, but these feelings can also be experienced apart from his presence. So it is not our feelings that prove his presence, but relationship.

Psalm 106:20 reminds us that Israel exchanged their glorious God for the statue of a grass-eating ox. If we truly want him, and I know we do, we must end our pursuit—even our worship—of beautiful music, gifted leaders, and emotionally charged atmospheres.

If we desire him, we must awaken from the stupor of mistaking God’s presence for the rush we feel during a powerful services or even the excitement we experience while watching others connect with God. When all is said and done, we must find ourselves fully engaged with the person of God, fully present in his presence.

Jeff Deyo is known internationally as the lead singer of the Grammy nominated, Dove Award-winning group Sonicflood. He is the voice behind classic worship songs like “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever” and “In the Secret.” He is the founder of the Pure Worship Institute (PWI), a refreshing worship conference designed to encourage, equip, and empower singers and musicians to honor God with their songs and their lives, and he now holds the honor of being a full-time faculty member at North Central University in Minneapolis, MN. He has been married to his college sweetheart, Martha, since 1992. Together, they have 4 beautiful children, Roman, Evan, Channing, and Clara.