God can sometimes be silent – but he is never absent.
This is the experience of Brian Houston, who with his wife Bobbie is founder of Hillsong, the phenomenal international evangelical church community which counts pop star Justin Bieber among its members.
Houston was speaking to Christian Today to mark the publication of the paperback edition of his bestseller book of daily readings, Live, Love, Lead.
In an era when people have so many options and the pressure to compromise is very real, walking with Jesus is purely by 'his grace and not our good works', he says. 'When we focus on Jesus, other things grow dim and temptation meets its match. When we focus on our own ability to live good lives we tend to struggle and fail.'
Hillsong has always been known – and hugely admired – throughout Christian communities. But recently it has aroused new interest beyond the church because pop star Justin Bieber attends Hillsong, even flying recently to Australia to worship there.
So what is it like for Houston to have this global superstar turn up in his congregation?
'Our church around the globe has people from every spectrum of society from the poor and needy through to globally recognisable names from the various spheres of life. Our focus is not on "celebrity" in our services. It is on Jesus.
'Our church is built on effective ministry to youth and children, pastoring and caring for people, a sense of community, as well as worship and preaching. That's why people come. Justin, like many others, is in church to strengthen his faith and to worship Jesus. A young man under huge pressure desiring to build a better foundation into his life.'
Bieber has been a public example of a young man trying his best to sustain his faith through extreme pressures from a secular world where fame, celebrity and money are for many the new deities, and all played out in the public eye since he was a young boy.
So what are Houston's tips for helping all of us sustain our faith against the pressures of modern life?
'As I say, keep the focus on Jesus. When Moses was desperate to see God's glory, He encountered God's grace and God's goodness (Exodus 33:18-20.) And his goodness is seen in his countenance – his smile – so don't look at the temptations, look to him. Surround yourself with good influences and keep making wise choices,' he says.
Houston was born in 1954, the son of Salvation Army officers.
'I have been involved in church life my entire life and it is in that environment that I first walked to the altar in a tent revival and committed my life to Jesus as a five-year-old boy.
'As a 17-year-old I was feeling the pull of temptation to "fit in" and party etc, but one night in my hometown, Wellington NZ, I walked into a cafe run by Youth for Christ, with a mural along the entire wall quoting the Ecclesiastes scripture, "remember now your creator while you are young". It was then and there I decided to live my life following Jesus Christ.'
Hillsong has grown to what it is today from 1983, when Houston and Bobbie founded a single church in Sydney in Australia.
Since then, he has launched churches located in some of the world's most greatest cities, three record labels, a film and television platform, multiple worldwide conferences and an international college. Each week, Hillsong's music is sung by an estimated 50 million people in 60 languages, and Houston's sermons are broadcast around the globe. In June 2016, Hillsong launched a global, 24-hour channel in partnership with Trinity Broadcasting Network, providing access to the worship and ministry to millions of viewers around the world.
Through Hillsong's college, conferences, podcasts, broadcasting and publishing, Houston trains and equips tens of thousands of Christian leaders and encourages countless others in their daily faith.
So what is the secret of this incredible success?
'Ha. There's only one answer to that. It's the grace of God. Bobbie and I started a church with a small group of people on the rural fringe of Sydney with plans to reach the suburbs of the Hills District. I was always a determined visionary but we could never have imagined all that was ahead.
'Today we have global congregations which my wife aptly describes as "one house with many rooms". Our music and worship has penetrated every continent, we have a 24-hour television channel (on Sky in the UK) – almost 2,000 students per year in Hillsong College, along with many outreaches to the needy. I can only smile at God's grace and the fruit of longevity and consistency.'
Still, Hillsong might be everywhere but sometimes, to many, God can seem so absent.
To those who struggle to find God, Houston says: 'Sometimes God is silent but He is never absent. He can't be. He is omnipresent. Evidence of his existence is everywhere. It's in creation itself. The best place to find him is in his Word.'
For 'new' Christians, Houston advises: 'Find good friends who will support you in your faith, devour the Bible, especially the New Testament, and plant yourself in a faith-filled, Jesus centred local church.'
And for older Christians – like the writer of this article! – he adds: 'Keep dreaming new dreams and be intentional about empowering and mentoring younger people who desperately need spiritual mums and dads.
'Avoid cynicism at all costs and be an example of radiating Jesus in your older age.'
Church: Headquartered in Sydney, Hillsong has churches in city centrrs in 19 countries and on five continents. The church has an average global attendance approaching 100,000 weekly. With their flagship campus in Sydney, Hillsong has churches in 19 countries on five continents, including seven in the UK. In Australia alone, there are 78 services per weekend across New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania, Northern Territory and also in Bali, Indonesia.
Hillsong Worship: Since 1992, Hillsong Worship has created 24 albums with more than 275 songs. Each week, Hillsong Worship songs are sung by an estimated 50 million people in 60 languages. Hillsong Worship has toured in countries all over the world. Hillsong Worship releases an annual album. Their latest album, Let There be Light, released October 2016. Today, Hillsong Worship is a collaboration of Hillsong worship music coming out of the global expression of Hillsong Church.
Hillsong United: Formed in 1998, Hillsong United is led by Brian and Bobbie's son, Joel Houston. Hillsong United has created 16 albums. Their song 'Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)' from their album Zion reached platinum status in the US The group has toured for many years, packing out large venues like the Staples Centre in Los Angeles. In 2016, Hillsong United was named Top Christian Artist at the Billboard Music Awards. Their latest album, of Dirt and Grace, released July 2016.
Young & Free (Y&F): More than a label, Hillsong's youth music ministry, Young & Free, is the sound of the next generation of Hillsong music. Hillsong Young & Free has created two albums. Their latest album, Youth Revival Acoustic, released in February 2017.
Hillsong Conference: Since 1986, Hillsong in Australia has hosted its annual conferences where thousands of people gather to hear about church leadership, worship, and community engagement from Hillsong's key team members and other renowned Christian leaders.
Colour Conference: The Colour Conference was started by Bobbie Houston many years ago out of a deep desire to place value on women and encourage them to be all that God's called them to be. Hillsong hosts this annual conference across five countries internationally each year.
Worship & Creative Conference: A brand new conference for worship leaders, songwriters, artists and designers, production teams, editors, filmmakers, dancers, vocalists, musicians, pastors, writers and creatives across all disciplines to steal away from the ordinary and create space to encounter Jesus.
College: Located in Sydney, Hillsong International Leadership College offers leadership and ministry courses to help shape future leaders around the world. Since its creation in 1995, more than 10,000 students, representing more than 65 countries have graduated from the college.
Hillsong embraces opportunities to practically shape the lives of people in communities around the world. In addition to its own community care initiatives, it partners with other ministries to bring hope to many:
The A21 Campaign, a nonprofit founded by Nick and Christine Caine, dedicated to abolishing injustice in the 21st century by combatting human trafficking
Vision Rescue, a non-profit, registered charity involved in feeding, providing non formal education, medical help, skill training and other kinds of help to addicted and abused street children
Hillsong Africa Foundation, a nonprofit organization involving many community programs, including: feeding programs, orphan care, women's shelters, disaster relief, wheelchair distribution, substance abuse programs, job skills training centers, prison programs and Tembaletu School
The Colour Sisterhood, a modern day movement of everyday women placing value on womanhood, who desire to make a difference and make the world a better place for those in need and are dedicated to helping women find an important and critical level of partnership
Greenlight (London), a social justice initiative that sees a team of skilled volunteers go onto the streets of London in the evenings in a medical van to offer minimal invasive medical care, and provide advice and signposting service to the homeless
iCareRevolution (London), a community youth arm of Hillsong Church London and a movement working to encourage London's youth
The Platt Centre (London), works to eradicate isolation and loneliness amongst the elderly people across the UK, in partnership with RISE
CityCare (Australia), a church-based, not-for-profit organization that exists to serve communities by offering pathways to empower and equip those who want to take their next steps in life.