Choosing God’s Presence: Worshiping Him Inside and Outside the Walls
by Matt James
As a kid who grew up in church, and more specifically a kid whose father was the preacher, I sang a lot in church. I grew up in small country churches where the Sunday worship service consisted of a piano and organ, hymns, and a weekly “song special.” I also heard the annual Easter cantata, and children’s Christmas program. My brother and I would play a game to see who could find the page number first in the hymnal. (I usually won J.) Though I have fond memories of this time in my childhood, if I am honest, I hated singing so much. My least favorite part was singing solos in the Christmas program every year. If you were to ask my wife today, she would tell you that I am not a very expressive person, so singing “Joy to the World” without actually expressing any kind of joy was the absolute worst.
It wasn’t until I was eleven years old that I picked up a guitar and learned to play. For whatever reason, when I had the guitar in my hands it just felt right. I really began to enjoy participating in worship. It was like the instrument had the expression that I couldn’t share with my face, like the guitar had a voice of its own. This gave me more confidence in my own voice. In my high school years, I started going to a new church and began helping lead the music there. Shortly thereafter, this became my passion—I loved helping others connect to God through music.
This lasted for a while, but over time I fell into the trap of equating my worship of God with just what I did for fifteen minutes each Sunday. Not only is this wrong, but it’s also not sustainable. Attempting to fuel your life off a weekly fifteen-minute song session isn’t going to cut it. Don’t get me wrong, one of the highlights of my week is corporate worship with my church family, but over time God has revealed to me that worship is so much more than just singing a song or playing an instrument. I had to learn that worship and music are not synonymous.
Music can definitely be a part of worship, but it is not where true worship begins or ends. I learned this lesson during the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college. I went to work at Butler Springs Christian Camp that summer. I arrived about two weeks before all the other summer staff and I was going to be spending a lot of time by myself. I am very much an extrovert, so the idea of being alone for those two weeks was not exciting to me at all. Surprisingly though, I very much enjoyed it. It really wasn’t even on purpose, but I found myself talking to God throughout the day and spending time in prayer while I worked. Usually I would wake up early and take a morning hike, sing worship songs as I hiked, and when I would reach the end of my hike I’d open my Bible to read it.
During those two weeks, I never once stepped on a stage to lead others in worship. I didn’t have my guitar in my hands or a mic to my mouth, yet I felt so close to God. This propelled me to want even more. I discovered that when you give him your heart and your time, he gives you his peace and his joy. Truly being in his presence and being in tune with God is like nothing else I have experienced in life. There is no substitute for it and we cannot fake it, but when you are truly there with him, you experience his peace and joy.
No Matter Where You Are
I would like to tell you that I learned my lesson well and I am great at doing this on a regular basis even today—but I am not. As with everything, we have seasons. Some good, some bad, some mundane and some absolutely crazy (example: 2020). If you would have told me that in 2020 I would have spent more than three months leading worship at Christ’s Church to a completely empty room, I would have laughed at you. But if God has continued to teach me anything during this time, it’s that worshiping him is not confined to the walls of a church building. It was never confined to a building even before COVID-19, but I find that I can easily forget this.
Now more than ever, we need to realize that our worship experience with God cannot be something that is a once-a-week corporate experience. Though worship to God can be a communal thing, it is also a personal matter and we have to make sure we are individually spending time in his presence. It is not as complicated as we make it sometimes. Worship is simply choosing to be in God’s presence (no matter where you are) and offering him what you have.
One of my favorite verses that deals with the worship due God is 1 Chronicles 16:29, which says, “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him. Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness” (NIV).
So what does this look like for you? How do you spend time in worship, just being in his presence and offering him what you have? Does that look like reading your Bible before the kids wake up? Maybe for you it means going on a walk and praying to God. Is it just sitting on a porch swing in silence listening for God’s still, small voice?
What is it for you? Let us know, and join the conversation!
Matt James is a staff member, serving on the weekend experience and communication teams at Christ’s Church. He and his wife Haylee love being parents to their son Asa.