God used a tent full of teenagers to change my life.
I used to believe my church was the only true church. (This is not a unique way of thinking; I have found this thinking is common in many denominations.) Because I was in the only true church, I questioned the Christianity of others who did not attend my church. And before you ask, yes, I have deeply repented of this way of thinking, but I needed to share this to tell the following story.
I was invited to a youth conference sponsored by another denomination. I was invited to set up a booth, share some things I’d written, and be available to talk to the youth who were attending the conference. Though God had been working with me to see there were good Christians in other denominations, I was still struggling with my “only true church” way of thinking, I wondered if God was sending me to this conference so that I could help others have a better understanding of who God was. I believed most of the teens attending the conference likely had a wrong view of God, and they needed to know God loved them and was for them.
After setting up my booth, I went to the main hall, where worship had been going on for several minutes. I expected to see a band on stage and teens sitting in rows listening to music. Instead, I walked into a room of thousands of teenagers worshipping. Many had their arms raised as they sang, several had tears rolling down their faces, almost all were singing and praising God in a way I had never experienced. People didn’t raise their hands or show emotion in my church; we simply stood and sang. These kids weren’t just singing—they were worshipping. They knew the one they were worshipping. It was beautiful.
Tears ran down my face as I began to realize why God wanted me at that conference. Not because I could teach anything to anyone, but because I had a lot to learn. I had to learn to stop judging others, I had to learn from others; I had to learn how to worship. I went to my motel room that night and asked for forgiveness. I wept as I wondered if I was even a Christian. I had answers to a lot of biblical and theological questions, but it was head knowledge. I realized I did not know God. I’d never worshipped like those kids worshipped. My relationship with God was knowing about him; those kids worshipped as if their relationship was with him. That event changed everything for me—God used it to start me on a journey of walking with him that will never end.
Worship can be life changing. Since that day, I’ve participated in wonderful worship services around the world—dancing with worshippers in Ghana, participating in worship in Malawi and South Africa, Bangladesh and Nepal. I am moved watching worshippers dance and clap, wave scarves and show amazing joy as they worship. I experienced it just today during a sermon when the pastor broke into song during his sermon, the worship team joined him, and soon the whole congregation was making worship a significant part of the sermon. It was powerful, it was encouraging, it was hopeful.
I wonder, sometimes, if we realize the power a worship service can have on people who are looking for hope. When guests and friends visit our churches and see others pouring their hearts into singing songs of praise, it’s uplifting to them; it’s powerful and hopeful.
We refer to worship as part of the Hope Venue because we know the power of hope. Hope is what brings a lot of people to church. They come hoping to find answers to the pain and trials they are going through. They are tired and they hope there is more to life than what they face on a daily basis. They are afraid to hope that maybe, just maybe God will help them. They have lost hope that he loves them just the way they are, but they still have a glimmer of hope that they have not been rejected.
When they come, we want to provide a joyous and worshipful atmosphere where their hope can be restored. We worship a God of hope and we want others to know him, so they can worship him and live in his hope.
In this issue of Equipper, we are focusing on hope in worship. We start by being reminded of giving special attention to the Christian worship calendar—there are a number of special days throughout the year when guests are more likely to visit. Just for fun, we have included a tongue-in-cheek article about how to keep guests from returning. We also have a couple articles about worship reminding ourselves that worship isn’t about what we want and what makes us feel good—it’s about God: Father, Son and Spirit. It’s asking God to open the eyes of our heart so we can see him. It’s about the light of the world coming down into our darkness and opening our eyes to let us see. It’s about shouting Alleluia, for our Lord, God Almighty reigns. It’s about providing opportunity to change hearts.
One day God used a tent full of worshipping teenagers to start me on a journey of worship I hope to never end. My prayer is that God can use GCI worship services to start many others on their personal journeys of worship, where they find hope restored, where they find like-minded people pouring their hearts out to the one who is our hope.