The Irish poet Oscar Wilde once observed that,
"People fashion their God after their own understanding.
They make their God first and worship him afterwards."
How true this is of how most of us who have lived behind the door viewed our relationship with God! There is the God we want - the God after our own fashioning - and then there is the God who is - the God who has forever existed and who desires that His followers worship Him in spirit and truth (John 4:24). I discovered that, in order to be a disciple of the God who created me and was putting my life back together, I had to learn to worship Him...not so much with my voice, as in singing songs in a church building, but with my life - turning every moment, every breath of oxygen into a sacred experience of communicating with the God of the Universe. C. S. Lewis rightly pointed out:
"It is in the process of being worshipped
that God communicates His presence to men."
I distinctly recall the first time I ever tasted this reality. We had decided to take a drive down to a place called Portage, located about an 1 1/2 hours from where I live. Although it was overcast, there was sunshine in my soul because I gazed at the majestic mountains, at the great expanse of water that is the Turnagain Arm; as I stared at the glaciers rising like giants out of the earth, as the sounds of birds filled the air - I sensed God on the drive that day. Songs of worship filled my heart as I stood in awe of God's handiwork, soaked up the refreshing sense of who He is and how much He loves me. No church service could've offered me what I felt that day. I was not alone, not in the darkness, not living a life apart from God. I wanted that trip to last forever. Yet, even though physical darkness arrived and it was time to go home, I wanted to hold on to what I had gained that day: an understanding of what it truly means to worship God, to commune with Him, to experience Him.
That was what I lacked the day I visited St. James Cathedral. God is not contained in a church - God is alive in the human soul! One cannot force themselves to know or sense the presence of Him who is invisible. One cannot will themselves to worship. The essence of true worship is that God is pleased to stoop down and communicate with me and that I have the blessing of accessing the throne of Grace wherever I am - not just on Sundays (Hebrews 4:16). As the great Matthew Henry noted:
"It is not enough for us to be where God is worshipped,
if we do not ourselves worship Him, and that not with
boldly exercise only...but with the heart."
When we come to a place in our lives where we desire to fully experience God, a strangely beautiful thing begins to happen: the stage that we so long regarded as our livelihood starts to transform into an altar, a special place where we interact with the Divine and where we speak to God freely and without reserve. The place we once refused to allow Him to inhabit now is a meeting point that we treasure and delight in. Like the Psalmist said in Psalm 26:6-7:
"I...come before your altar, singing a song of thanksgiving
and telling about your miracles."
Worshipping and experiencing God becomes a way of life. Before the door has opened, the last we want is to get close to God...or anyone else for that matter. We are our own best friend - poor company thought it may be. We would rather suffer in shame and silence that know the liberating power of a life lived for God. But when the door welcomes in the Savior, and we taste the comforting presence of His love toward us, we are caught up in the warmth of His grace. Resistance doesn't work anymore. He is irresistible - all the way. Drawn to the side of him who bled for us, we find a fullness to our life that we have sought endlessly for but with no success.
I remember staring at the words engraved on the ceiling of St. James: "I am in your midst as one who serves," taken from the words of Jesus in Luke 22.
"I am in your midst..." I sure didn't feel God's presence at the time. My life was still a full-blown stage and I the starring actress.
Now, my life is an altar, and oh how different it has become! How I wish I could go back and stand in that church again, this time with a new perspective. Maybe I will someday. But today - right now - I am living in a perpetual hope, a daily worship, a moment-to-moment surrender. God cannot be touched or felt solely in a church service; rather, He can be embraced at every turn in the road, only a prayer away. No matter where we go or what is in store for us, He is already in our tomorrow while still giving strength for today. We cannot honor and cherish what we do not know. Yet, if we have humility of heart to come to the altar, just as we are, we will discover a spirit of living that we wouldn't trade for anything - not even for the stage we once called our own. He is in our midst. May we be found in His.