I cannot explain to you how good it was to go to church today, and it wasn’t because of the building. It was because of PEOPLE! Yes! I got to actually be in the presence of other people! Being an extrovert that has been ordered by doctors to stay in, to say I was elated is an understatement!
It was just me and three other people. We couldn’t touch, we had to stand far apart, and the meeting was brief, but oh how sweet it was! You see, our services have moved online and the choir director had asked me and another person to do a duet for Sunday. She played the piano and we had a violinist. We met today to practice and will film some other time. I was so excited to go and SEE people IN PERSON! Just to be in their PRESENCE was so uplifting! My daughter was so excited to see people “for real,” that she literally squealed in excitement. It didn’t matter that the people were adults and weren’t her playmates. She got to see REAL PEOPLE! (and no, mom/dad don’t count as “real” people, apparently!) Despite technology and all the other ways we join with people, nothing can replace being in another person’s presence. Nothing.
That is when it hit me. God spoke in a very big way. In that small moment that meant so much to me, God revealed a little truth. That is what I want to share with you today. Despite this pandemic and all the changes that are happening, God is still speaking, reaching out, and inviting his children to be in his presence.
You see, we can read the Bible and go to church but if we are just going through the motions and not engaging with the Father, we are not in his presence. Just like when we see and speak to others on technology, we are not in their presence. During our busy lives, we often feel like we just don’t have the time to be still with God. We might be volunteering at the church, involved in Bible studies, never miss a Sunday, or even read our Bible daily, but if we are only checking off things on a list, we are not entering God’s presence. We are just Zooming God. However, when we take time out of our day to focus on God, to talk to him and listen to him, we are entering his presence. When we are in his presence, our spirits are lifted up and we experience our relationship in a deeper way. Being in someone’s presence means that you are with them, you are listening to what they say, you are speaking to them, and you aren’t focused on other things. You can see their body language, interpret their tone, and see their gestures. Being in God’s presence is much the same. We can hear him speak, we feel his nearness and we anticipate his will. If you can hear God whisper, you are in the presence of God, and our souls rejoice just like my heart rejoiced at being with other people.
Many times, we feel like God is far away because we can’t physically touch him. As Christians, we often yearn to be able to be physically comforted by God. We often do not go to him because of this hang up. Instead, we reach out to people who can do this for us. However, this pandemic has proven to us that we don’t need the physical touch to have a relationship. Let me tell you, without touching a single person today, my spirits were uplifted by just being in their presence. It was such a blessing! And God can do all that and more without physically being here. When we take the time to be in his presence, God can touch our soul, and that is something no one else can do.
But God hit me with another truth as I thought about our staff and how hard they are working. I already knew how much church staff works. After all, my dad became a pastor in my early teens, so I know. And lockdowns make things harder. Trying to keep the congregation engaged and together despite being separated, figuring out new technology that must be deployed immediately, doing funerals with the family and friends not physically there, visiting the sick is harder, more people are in need, food pantries can’t get supplies,… believe me, the list is long and church workers have a lot on their plate. Do you know what hit me in that moment?
I know all this, but most people don’t. Why don’t they know it? Because they aren’t around to SEE it. As humans, if we don’t see it then it must not be happening. The church staff must not be working for us because we can’t see them do it! How often do we do this with God? Because we can’t SEE God, we assume that he is not working for us. Sometimes we may even assume he is working against us. But that is so far from the truth! The Bible tells us that God is always working on our behalf. Just like our staff at MBC is working on behalf of the congregation without the members actually seeing it, God works on our behalf even when we can’t see it. Just because we can’t SEE God working doesn’t mean he isn’t. It just means that we don’t know what he is doing because we can’t see it. His work is still going on. Just because I don’t see my church staff working doesn’t mean they aren’t. God is always working on our behalf. Hold on to that truth and be encouraged!
This encounter was also a good example of how sweet the reunion with Jesus is after there has been a separation. I just finished teaching a Bible study on the Prodigal Son. This parable is about a son who was separated from his family and how bittersweet the reunion was. (There’s a lot more involved in that story, but this point is what is salient to our discussion now.) We spent a few weeks focusing on how the son was separated from his father due to his sin; the parallel being when we, as children of God, are separated from God the Father due to our sin. Separation feeds on itself and we become more and more separated. When the son (us) comes to his senses and returns to the father (God), the reunion was (is) joyous! No condemnation, no lectures, no judgment. The father actually threw a party and our Father does the same!
That is how it is with God every time we commune with him. God hates any separation between him and his children. When that separation is gone, heaven rejoices! Not only does heaven rejoice, but the hearts of God’s children rejoice! Just like being in the presence of three people brought my heart so much joy, just like my daughter squealed with excitement to see people “for real,” we feel the same joy when we are in God’s presence.
The COVID19 global pandemic has brought so many changes to so many lives. Many of these changes are not good. However, God still speaks in all of this mess! He can still show up in our lives. He still gives us blessings. They may look different than normal, God may be speaking to you in different ways, but he is there. He is there and he is working! Keep your eyes focused on him and be in his presence. You won’t ever regret it and it is always worth your time.