I was fifteen years of age when I had my first real and personal encounter with God. It was a moment that changed everything as my heart said yes to the golden thread of the Holy Spirit’s work of love and mercy in my life. I had sensed the presence of God many times growing up. My grandparents had been in church since they were kids, and they had led our family in the same way, and my parents were involved in serving others through various mission endeavors in my formative years. So, to be around the house of God and the people of God was not new to me. But to encounter Him for myself, one evening at a youth meeting when I asked Jesus to be the center of my world, immediately and radically changed me.
It was during this season, for which I will always be grateful, that the love of God overwhelmed me and wiped the slate of my heart clean. To serve Him completely was my immediate response. I now understand that when I became a Christian, I accepted the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—all three Persons of God—into my very being. I understood Jesus’ sacrifice for me, and I knew that the Holy Spirit had been involved in drawing me to Himself. The Bible tells us that it is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance, and kindness is listed as a fruit of the Spirit, the humbling quality of the Holy Spirit that He used to draw me to Himself. This golden thread of love and mercy has continued to chase me in every season, drawing me back to the Lord over and over again.
A Hunger for More
But at the tender age of sixteen, more than a year after I had become a Christian, there was a night at my church when my heart was simply hungry for more of Jesus in my life. I was standing with my youth pastor, who was praying with me and for me. We were asking God to reveal Himself to my heart in a greater dimension than ever before. Suddenly, I found myself speaking in an unknown language, a heavenly language, that was flowing out of my mouth. It was wonderful! But to be honest, as overwhelming as the experience was, it wasn’t the only great thing that transpired in my life that evening. That night, I experienced the very real presence of God as never before. Yes, it was wonderful to experience the “unknown tongue,” but deep in my soul I encountered an ever-greater revelation of His great love, which I have pursued with eagerness from that day on. Paul’s words resonate as I reflect on that experience:
Pursue [this] love [with eagerness, make it your goal], yet earnestly desire and cultivate the spiritual gifts [to be used by believers for the benefit of the church], but especially that you may prophesy [to foretell the future, to speak a new message from God to the people]. For one who speaks in an unknown tongue does not speak to people but to God; for no one understands him or catches his meaning, but by the Spirit he speaks mysteries [secret truths, hidden things]. (1 Corinthians 14:1–2 AMP)
Dear friend, please know that the presence of God is not just a theory; it is the reality of the nearness of the Holy Spirit in our midst! I had already had the miraculous experience of being born again, but that evening, I experienced the power of God’s Spirit lighting me up from the inside out. Bit by bit since that time I have continued to find that there is so much more spiritually available to us here on earth than we could possibly imagine! The gift of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives is experienced in billions of diverse ways by people around the world every moment of every day.
That night at my church, my heart, which had been made alive in Christ at the time of my salvation, was suddenly awakened to another dimension. It is hard for me to describe, but everything and everyone I saw from that moment on just looked more beautiful and, over time, I found myself being able to discern the voice of the Holy Spirit for myself. The Bible became like lyrical poetry to me every time I opened it—almost as if the pages I was reading were in fact reading me. It was so scary and powerful all at the same time!
This experience created a real conundrum of faith within my heart. I wanted more and more of the Lord in my life, but that openness to Him forced me to realize He wanted me to leave more and more of my old self, my old nature, behind. As someone who grew up extremely emotionally needy—this refining can be quite challenging. Still, I found myself compelled to become a part of something greater than myself. I was just sixteen years old, living away from home, and yet I was experiencing a new fire in my belly that I can honestly say is the reason I am still standing here today. The way I explain it is that the Holy Spirit had been in me, and now the Holy Spirit was on me! His golden thread of love was weaving itself through the fabric of my life in ways I am still only beginning to understand.
The presence of God is such a wonderful gift in our lives, but it can also be easy to take it for granted. I liken it to having a lamp, all ready to go, but if we never access its power, we will never fully see the light that is available to us and we will never experience its benefits in our lives. God’s Presence with us here on the earth is a stunning fact, and the raw and powerful dynamic of His Personhood here with us, in our midst, is something that can be difficult at times for us to grasp, especially in the midst of all that we go through in this world. But His love, His acceptance, His voice, His instruction, His warnings, His compassion—all of Him, the very essence of who He is to us and through us—is here with us in every moment. I have eagerly desired to welcome the Holy Spirit into my life in deepening ways for many years, and it seems that the more I learn, the hungrier I am for more of His presence in my world.
Practicing the Presence
I so enjoy the presence of my husband. I just like to know he is nearby. Even when he is working away quietly, it is a comfort to know he is near. But it’s never enough just to live under the same roof with someone you love. You need time to be in the moment together. That’s what I began discovering in that singular and remarkable moment when I encountered God’s Presence in a powerful and personal way. Yes, God had always been there. He lived inside of me. We were living under the same roof. But my hunger was for more than proximity. I wanted to experience God in His fullness.
The first time I encountered the phrase “practicing the presence” was in a book written by a Carmelite monk named Brother Lawrence. The book, The Practice of the Presence of God
, is a collection of his teachings gathered and passed down to our modern times from his lifetime in the 1600s.
Brother Lawrence’s conversion to Christianity took place when he was eighteen years old:
In the winter, seeing a tree stripped of its leaves, and considering that within a little time, the leaves would be renewed, and after that the flowers and fruit appear, he received a high view of the Providence and Power of God, which has never since been effaced from his soul.
“I regard myself as the most wretched of all men, stinking and covered with sores, and as one who has committed all sorts of crimes against his King. Overcome by remorse, I confess all my wickedness to Him, ask His pardon and abandon myself entirely to Him to do with as He will. But this King, filled with goodness and mercy, far from chastising me, lovingly embraces me, makes me eat at His table, serves me with His own hands, gives me the keys of His treasures and treats me as His favorite. He talks with me and is delighted with me in a thousand and one ways; He forgives me and relieves me of my principle bad habits without talking about them; I beg Him to make me according to His heart and always the more weak and despicable I see myself to be, the more beloved I am of God.”
A life-changing transition took place in Brother Lawrence’s life. He spoke of the same kindness that had so gripped and changed my life. His words were a testimony to what had happened to me but also a challenge to actually put into practice a companionship with God that would pervade my life.
This wasn’t a hard concept for me. As a musician, I know the value of practice. I have practiced (and still do) musical skills until they have become second nature to me. I no longer have to think through things like I used to do when I was first “practicing.”
As I read through Brother Lawrence’s prayers and considered his thought processes, I sensed the yearning of his heart, his spirit’s desire to be walking totally in step with the Holy Spirit, practicing God’s presence every moment of every day. What a wild concept, but what a wonderful revelation and challenge that I have taken to heart, and am still learning.
Receiving the constant and abundant love He has for each of us is what I need to practice more of in my own life: to be still in Him—not doing, just being—and allowing Him the freedom to do as He pleases in my life. Not being in control—not having all my ducks in a row—is another dynamic I am learning to embrace in the security of His presence. As someone who is motivated by doing and leading, I can assure you that God’s patience with me has been a much needed and delightful blessing.
There are many times in worship that I encounter God’s presence so strongly that I sense Him right next to me, speaking to me. I have felt as if my heart would jump right out of my chest. Brother Lawrence teaches about God’s “abiding Presence”—experiencing Him in the ordinary moments of life, experiencing Him in the difficult moments of life.
After my cancer diagnosis, while I was going through chemo along with all the fear and uncertainty wrapped up in that experience, I just don’t know how I would have been sustained had it not been for the presence of the Holy Spirit. But I have learned that even in the harshest of times, even when God seems silent or distant, as we take the time to lean in and draw close to Him, He is always whispering His love over us as we make room for the fullness of God’s presence in our lives.
Entering His Gates Through Worship
There is a great girl in our worship team, sweet Bonnie, who also happens to be an incredible artist. After my crazy season of chemo treatment, she painted an incredible picture of hope for me and my family, which hangs on a wall in our home. It is a picture of a massive storm, with high and treacherous waves all around. But right in the eye of the storm there is calm, and as you look carefully, you’ll see a ship with its sails set, sailing on top of the waves and the swell, safe and secure in the midst of raging waters. I am ever reminded of how God delivered me. In any storm of life, the only way to get on the other side of it is to sail right through it. It is God’s presence that provides the way.
From my experience, the only safe and sure passage through any storm is to grab hold of His promises like an anchor and worship your heart out until you actually believe what you are declaring! The golden thread of His presence and the practice of it daily is an intentional stance of faith. You enter the gates of heaven through thanksgiving and praise.
Yet, grasping and trusting His presence is not always an easy thing to do. As one who loves to have all (well, at least most) things in order, it can be a helpless feeling to find the only answer to facing a challenge is not to work harder but to simply love and trust through worship. It can feel like a weakness. But over the years as God has shown Himself unwavering in His love and devotion to me, watching Him take my weakness and shine through it with His strength is part of His greater glory in my life.
When we enter His gates through worship, we invite Him to we invite Him to walk with us and to carry us through every storm we face. At times I am calm and grateful, at other times I am voiceless and desperate. But God’s goodness toward me as He draws near remains the same. My friend and author Alicia Britt Chole says this: “To worship in the light is a joy-filled act of faith. To worship in the dark is a faith-fueled act of war.”
The storms of life will come, but it’s how we respond that will eventually reveal the extent of the damage—and His deliverance. In my heart I know I want to stand and declare as Moses did in the wilderness:
If your presence doesn’t take the lead here, call this trip off right now. How else will it be known that you’re with me in this, with me and your people? Are you traveling with us or not? How else will we know that we’re special, I and your people, among all other people on this planet Earth? (Exodus 33:15 THE MESSAGE)
God will be with us in the greatest of times, but oh, He is with us in the worst of times too! It doesn’t matter what the situation is that I face. I am always free to be filled with joy despite the pressures of this life. The Lord our God is in our midst. He takes great delight in you, He renews you by His love, and He shouts for joy over you (Zephaniah 3:17)! So, worship Him. Sing your praises to His name! With the psalmist, declare these words:
But as for me, I will sing about your power. Each morning I will sing with joy about your unfailing love. For you have been my refuge, a place of safety when I am in distress. O my Strength, to you I sing praises, for you, O God, are my refuge, the God who shows me unfailing love. (Psalm 59:16–17 NLT)
Our worship should always be our response to His majesty, our tribute to God when He shows up in our lives, the created responding to the Creator, our spirits being fueled in His presence as we invite the Giver of life to do in us what only He can do.
Sing A Song!
Songs of worship are a gift that gives us words and melodies to scrape our hearts off the floor and point them heavenward. You don’t have to be a musician or have a wonderful voice to experience God’s presence through songs of worship. All you need is a heart after God.
The words and melody of songs will help you to...
Express the true faith that is already in your heart;
Shout above the distracting and sometimes negative noise in your life;
Focus your eyes and thoughts on what is lovely and true;
Experience a supernatural joy in the midst of hardship;
Lift up Jesus, the goal of our worship.
All of us, as worshippers of this living, loving, accepting, lifechanging, kind, and all-knowing God, are called to bring our lives before Him as a spiritual act of worship (Romans 12:1). He is not after our performance. He is after our hearts. That’s it. But here’s the most wonderful result of a worshipful life. When you begin to declare the song of your heart, when you begin to announce the faithfulness of God at every turn of your life, when you bring even a mustard seed of faith to your melody, when all you can do is whisper as you sing, “I give thanks to the Lord for His steadfast love endures forever,” you, like King Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20), will stand and watch the Lord Himself ambush satan with your song. Your song of worship is your bold statement of faith—and you will not fall! When His presence is made manifest in our midst, we are safe and secure in the harbor of His goodness.
If you find yourself casually meandering through worship, getting distracted or maybe even a little sleepy (which happens to us all), just keep pursuing Jesus. Make the time and set aside a place where it’s all about you and Him. He is not hard to find. Sometimes all it takes is a bit of tenacity on our part to respond and simply say, “In this moment, it’s only You and me.” Then wait and be ready for Him to speak. I promise you, He will.
If you have seasons of doubt, you’re not alone. Even David, the man after God’s own heart, wondered if God was hiding from him. But his hunger for God’s presence would not allow him to give up.
Lord, when you said to me, “Seek my face,” my inner being responded, “I’m seeking your face with all my heart.” So don’t hide yourself, Lord, when I come to find you. You’re the God of my salvation; how can you reject your servant in anger? You’ve been my only hope, so don’t forsake me now when I need you! My father and mother abandoned me. I’m like an orphan! But you took me in and made me yours. (Psalm 27:8–10 TPT)
When We Worship
• When we worship Jesus, we declare His kingdom come and we announce His presence on the earth.
• When we worship the Lord, we are coming to Him by faith, bringing the voice of our hearts before heaven.
• When we worship God, we are dispelling the darkness and taking authority over every principality and power that would try to defy and delay God’s work in the earth.
• When we worship, we are exalting Christ and His dominion over every situation and circumstance.
• When we worship through the power of the Holy Spirit, thanksgiving is our entry point, joy is our strength, and breakthrough is our inheritance.
• When we worship, the demons tremble and the angels join in.
• When we worship, God’s kingdom dominion is established in our lives.
Whatever you are facing today, grab hold of the golden thread of God’s faithfulness. Make time to enter into His presence. Make room for His Word and His Spirit to speak to you and encourage you. Practice the presence of God in every situation, every circumstance you encounter, and allow Him to move through you as you feel His delight and His joy in you, His beloved child.