One’s conversion to Christianity often includes a dramatic overwhelming God-moment. Something incredible happens when the Holy Spirit breaks through and speaks to you directly. This type of encounter with God usually causes a change, or pivot, from doubt to belief. When God shows up, the overwhelming evidence is convincing, and we have no choice but to accept and say yes to God.
Perhaps you were on the fence, or maybe you grew up going to church but never had an encounter with God personally. So, God really was there with you along the way, but you were slightly skeptical. Or maybe you believed but you had yet to experience the presence of God. And then, WHAMMO, God shows up in a BIG way and you experience a bonified God-encounter.
Everything comes into focus because now you have your own evidence and experience of God himself–a Holy Spirit moment where you felt enveloped, enclosed, or enraptured in something other-worldly.
Have you ever had
an encounter with God like this?
And yet, as the years tick by, the salvation sparkle wears off. It’s normal for those who’ve been following Jesus for many years to find themselves in a bit of a spiritual slump from time to time. This lull or quiet zone causes many people to doubt their faith and struggle to hear from or feel the presence of God. I myself have gone through seasons such as this.
Leading Worship and Experiencing God
As an itinerant worship leader, I travel to churches to fill in when their worship leaders need a weekend off. This means I get to participate in a variety of types of churches including different denominations, locations, and sizes. I’ve led worship in a fitness gym where the church was renting space, in an empty church during the Covid-19 pandemic when we were recording the church livestream, in a coffee shop when it was the only place we could record worship with good acoustics, and churches where the staff and volunteers outnumbered the congregants.
Being a guest musician gives me the ability to focus on leading people into the presence of the Lord. Because I’m only there for the morning, I don’t have to attend church staff meetings or handle other areas of ministry as a staffer would do. I connect with the pastor, pray and choose the songs, then arrive Sunday morning to set up, rehearse, and lead worship. Each Sunday feels like a huge honor, and I spend time during the week praying that God would show up in a big way during the coming service.
Often, it feels like it’s really not up to me I’ve thought, how could I have any impact on whether or not God shows up during a worship service? I know, theoretically, that God is ever-present, and he hears my prayers. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised when he also answers these prayers. He answered mine big-time when I had my own God-encounter that caused a faith-refresh.
I pulled off the interstate and followed the directions to my Sunday morning worship leading assignment. As I waited to turn right into a nondescript office complex, A homeless woman pushed her grocery cart through the middle of the intersection, unaware that cars were driving down the street. I watched her make it safely to the other side before crossing. Google Maps said, “you have arrived.” Really? I’ve been to some interesting churches before, but this? I was early, as I like to be when I’m leading worship for a new church. I was told the church I would be serving rented space from another church. I noticed their church logo on the front of the nondescript windows. But where was the door?
I walked around to the left, not there. Then, I walked up the sidewalk to the right and noticed a door with gathered curtains on the inside, propped open ever-so-slightly. I heard the faint voice of a pastor preaching and stepped inside. To the right of the entrance was an ancient vending machine marked with black Sharpie on masking tape, “proceeds for missions.”
The grey well-worn commercial-grade carpet led from the entryway to an open office space turned worship room, rectangular ceiling panels and fluorescent lights shined overhead casting a gloomy pallor. I snuck in, careful to avoid the chairs with stains on the seats, sat down, and waited for the service to end. I counted eight people in total including the pastor. Nearly empty. While I sat waiting after the service, no one said hello or introduced themselves. Strange. They must have known I was there for the next-in-line church.
The pastor for my service had texted that he was running late, and the drummer I was supposed to play with was also late. The earlier service had ended, I made myself at home at the keyboard and began to rehearse. While under normal circumstances, the lateness would alarm me, I wasn’t overly concerned since it was such a small church, and I didn’t feel pressure. The previous week had been challenging, and I felt depleted when I arrived. I knew from previous experience that I would still be able to lead well, I just didn’t have a lot of gas in my tank. I was running on fumes, as they say.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”Matthew 5:3
Special Moment of God’s Presence
As I spoke a word of welcome and opened with the first song, I noticed amongst the handful of people present several faithful women in the congregation with raised hands and eyes closed. I thought to myself, these are my people singing at the top of their lungs. Clearly, they were connecting with their creator. As I moved from the first song into Great Are You Lord, something special happened.
While nothing in the room changed physically, no one moved, no one shouted out anything, we all felt the tangible presence of an all-enveloping spirit moving in, around, and through us. In total, there were probably only 20 people in the room. While playing, I sensed the presence of God descending. I said thank you God in my heart and tried not to get lost in the moment and forget my place in the song.
If you’ve ever been to a concert when they’re running the fog machine, you don’t notice it at first, but then, all of a sudden, you realize you’re surrounded by haze. It was perhaps akin to that feeling, yet it was different. It was the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in real-time.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge…”Proverbs 1:7
I closed the three-song set with In Christ Alone. The pastor came to the stage and said the Lord was present with us. He asked me to continue playing softly and invited his congregation to take five minutes to pray however they wanted to — up at the front stage, in their seats, or on their knees. During this time the two female prayer warriors I had noticed at the start of the service came to the edge of the stage to pray.
Both prayed out loud, softly so that I couldn’t really make out what they were saying, but they were petitioning God for all the things in their lives and loved ones who needed help. Their arms were raised, their eyes closed, it was a beautiful picture of people responding to God: desperate, humble, filled with emotion, and healthy fear and respect.
Heart and Soul Filled by the Holy Spirit
As I played softly, I prayed as well. The presence of the Holy Spirit stayed palpable until it slowly released its strong grip on each of us in the room. The pastor came forward and closed us in prayer, then began his sermon as if nothing unusual had happened. I felt as though my prayers for renewal had been answered. My bucket was filled by the Lord himself, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Since that Sunday, I’ve been able to share this experience a few times to encourage other weary worship leaders, and to encourage a friend who was struggling. Both times, the story was met with awe and mutual respect that we serve an awesome and unpredictable God who shows up when he will to enliven and bring hope to those of us who are burdened.
As I closed the service with Lord, I Need You, these words stayed with me:
Where sin runs deep Your grace is more
Where grace is found is where You are
And where You are Lord, I am free
Holiness is Christ in me
“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”Matthew 18:20
I’m thankful that wherever two or three are gathered together, Christ is there in our midst.
Thank you for showing up when I need you. Through your powerful presence, whether it’s a friend offering care, or a child giving a hug, you are here. Help me remember that even when I don’t feel your presence, you are still moving in and around me, holding me up and offering your loving support and care each and every day.
In Jesus’ Name,
LAUREN’S RECOMMENDED READING
Fingerprints of God: What Science Is Learning About the Brain and Spiritual Experience is an excellent book by Barbara Bradley Hagerty (who is a former Christian Scientist). Using her NPR reporter skills, she visits neuroscientists, researchers, and many others in the quest to uncover hard scientific evidence for encounters with God. I found this book extremely engaging and could hardly put it down. Backed by evidence and personal experience, I encourage you to read this reporter’s journey to uncover what she calls the fingerprints of God on humanity.