There were 25,000 people around me, all of us thronged into an Atlanta arena for a young adults conference, everyone singing as loud as we possibly could. At least, that’s how it sounded. I couldn’t decipher who was singing and who wasn’t – all I knew was thousands of voices were praising God together and I’d never heard anything like it before. I closed my eyes and stopped singing, trying to take in the sound. It was an enormous sound; it thundered around me, and I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. It sounded like what heaven might someday be like. I felt small, and in awe. Despite being surrounded by people, I felt intimately acquainted with the God of the universe.
A few days later, I was back in my small church in Dundas, Ontario. There were seventy-four people around me. Someone always counts who comes, because we’re a small enough church to track numbers each week. I was no longer in an arena, but a small stone church building that’s almost 200 years old. Our sound system isn’t state-of-the-art, and sometimes the speakers crackle, but as we sang in worship that morning — just those seventy-four voices — I could feel God with me.
I felt God’s presence tangibly, powerfully, and profoundly — both in an arena in Atlanta and in my small church in Ontario. God’s presence isn’t available only in big conferences, but also in a small and faithful congregation who come week after week.
But what about when you can’t feel God’s presence? Maybe you’ve been to both the glamorous conference and the small church building; maybe you’ve collapsed on your knees on your apartment floor or you’ve hidden yourself in your bedroom closet; maybe you’ve prayed faithfully with a group of friends or gone to Bible study week after week — and maybe even in all of that, you haven’t felt the presence of God.
It can be easy to believe that when we can’t feel His presence, God is no longer with us.
But God’s presence is not always a feeling.
God’s presence is not dictated or always detected by our feelings, our fickle hearts, or our moods. His presence is not mandated by how loud the music is at our church service or if the sound equipment is top-notch.
I am thankful — deeply and genuinely grateful — every time God gives me the grace of feeling His presence.
But my feelings don’t control whether or not God is with me. His presence is constant. He is with me even when I don’t acknowledge Him, even when I don’t fall on my face in gratitude for Him. He is within me and beside me. He promised us He’s Emmanuel — God with us. He came to dwell as close as anyone possibly could, in the womb of a woman, and then He gave us His Spirit to live within us.
“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” The psalmist once uttered these words, and you and I could utter the same.
You cannot escape from God’s presence — in the highest heights or the lowest depths — even if you can’t feel a thing. C.S Lewis once wrote, “God’s presence is not the same as the feeling of God’s presence and He may be doing most for us when we think He is doing least.”
When you can’t “feel” His presence, perhaps God is inviting you into something else: trust.
To trust that no matter your feelings, God is present.
To trust that no matter what comes, God is near.
To trust that no matter where or how you worship, God is worthy of it all.