The room goes dark as fog begins to fill the room. You can almost feel the anticipation build as synthesizers start to rumble and shake the dust free from the ceiling tiles. In just a few short moments, something will happen. Hearts begin racing as the kick drum resonates throughout the auditorium and urges the crowd of teenagers to begin clapping. Before you know it, the lights flash as a wall of sound heralds the beginning of something unstoppable. The worship service has begun!
Okay, maybe my description of the typical youth worship service is a bit far-fetched. Maybe what I’ve described sounds more like a U2 concert than a time of corporate worship. But, I’ve led many worship services just like that. In fact, I’m writing this article while backstage; I’m still covered in sweat from leading a time of worship very similar to the one I just described. The lights were glorious, and the sound was impressive. Hands were raised all over the auditorium as shouts of praise shook the walls. But, what happens when the stage lights go out? What is left when all the production disappears, and we are left with our hearts bare before God?
Not long ago I was a teenager. Ridiculously skinny and completely awkward, I would go to youth group every Wednesday night. Sometimes I went because I wanted to be a good kid, and other times because I hated being at home alone. I was mostly concerned with how other kids would think of me, and I rarely had the attention span to listen to the pastor’s message. Like many young people, youth group was a social outlet for me. There was, however, one part of the evening I couldn’t ignore or escape. When the worship band started to play, I felt something. I’m not sure if it was an emotional experience or a spiritual one, or even a combination of the two. All I know is that when I opened my heart to God in worship, everything started to change. The burdens I had been carrying were lifted from my shoulders, and the broken places of my heart began to feel whole again. Most importantly, I chose to surrender my life to Jesus Christ and committed myself to following Him.
My story is not unique. Music has the incredible ability to break through the walls around a young person’s heart. That’s why we formed Sixteen Cities. Music plays a very important role throughout Scripture. I especially appreciate how King David connected with God in an intimate way through worship. Psalm 146:1 (NLT) says, “Let all that I am praise the Lord. I will praise the Lord as long as I live. I will sing praises to my God with my dying breath.” Even the angels worship God with instruments and songs of praise. Somehow music has a way of connecting us with God in a special way.
That’s probably why we place so much emphasis on our worship services. We set up elaborate lights and sound systems because we want each young person to experience God in a miraculous way. We’re not trying to outshine Cirque du Soleil or shock and awe people into the kingdom of God. Even if we had access to the most amazing production in the world, God alone can change hearts and heal brokenness. God alone is worthy of our worship.
After all, when the music fades and the stage lights go out, only God remains. So if you’re worshipping in the midst of a massive auditorium full of lights and sound or praising Him in your living room, connecting with God is what’s important.
I’ve never believed that worship could be summed up in an experience. I don’t think worship simply happens to people like the aftermath of epic sound and lights. It’s something we offer up to God. It’s a commitment to lay down our lives and give Him our all. Romans 12:1 (NLT) says, “Let them be a living and holy sacrifice – the kind He will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship Him.”