Christian youth camp was an unparalleled experience in my teen years. Blistering hot days, late nights, the inimitable taste of camp food, the iffy air-conditioning and the guarantee of at least one unforgettable new friendship or even a whirlwind summer romance every year. But between the long hours of studying in the blacktop tents, the later years of shopwork, and the evening teachings and campfires, the part my friends and I always looked forward to the most at camp was the worship sessions.
You can picture the scene: anywhere from 50-80 teenagers piled into a gymnasium, the sour green lighting destroying any guess as to the hour outside. The older camp counselors are exhausted and the attendees are awkwardly shifting their feet and either clustering together or shuffling apart, still trying to figure out exactly where they fit within this extended family setting for the week. When the first song starts, it’s usually “Dive” by Steven Curtis Chapman—a classic “get your blood pumping” opener—and by the end of the first chorus, the most outgoing and enthusiastic campers and councilors are on their feet, jumping in the aisle, line-dancing at the foot of the stage.
Yet for every one who’s up there, there’s another handful hanging back. Public worship can be such a vulnerable thing, after all, and for some it’s harder to dance bare before the Lord than others. But the outgoing ones start to trickle back, grabbing their reluctant friends both old and new by the hands, dragging them up to the front. One by one, they forget to make it about them—they make it about God instead. The community feeling swells with the raised voices, the dancing feet. It’s a glimpse of what David led in the streets with the Ark’s return. It’s maybe even a glimpse of eternity—we’ll have to see when we get there.
Gradually, the songs start to wind down. It’s always stuck in my head, that pattern—two upbeat songs, two slow ones, maybe just one more slow depending on what the worship team’s been practicing, a setlist to prepare listeners for the segue into prayer and manifestations, then the teaching or study session afterward.
But during those last two songs, something remarkable happens.
See, there’s this kid—every year, there’s at least one. He’s super cool, he’s chill, he’s a little above it all. He’s only here because his parents made him go. He’s spent most of the sessions doodling in his notebook and endured the teachings staring into space. It’s easy to make assumptions about this boy, about who he is and what he’s going to get out of this week.
And then the last songs start; and suddenly this kid who no one was quite sure how to reach, we realize God knew exactly how to reach him. By the end of the final verse he’s down on his knees between the chairs in the last row where he tucked himself away during the upbeat songs; his head is bowed, and he weeps. It’s the silent, heavy sobs of the heart touched by God, and all around him, the kids who didn’t mesh with him before, the ones who were either too cool like him to show it or not cool enough to be in that circle, gather around in a new kind of circle. Their hands are on his shoulders. Quiet prayer starts. Assurances and hugs and words of comfort and love pass around.
In the turn of a moment, the act of worship pulls out the truth of that boy from the mask he wore into the room. And he sees his Creator. And he feels seen.
There’s a lot that can be said on the subject of worship, but when I think about this word, it always comes back to this: to the sinner in all of us, broken and stripped bare, laid out at the feet of Jesus. I see in the love songs we sing to God a profound prayer that connects us all, heart-to-heart, straight back to Him. On humid summer mornings when I sit on my front porch—grown now, married to one of those background kids I dragged with me to the front during “Dive”—sometimes I close my eyes and I still feel all those threads connecting us in reverence and love to the Creator of us all.
That, my friends, is what worship is to me.
What is Worship?
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines worship as “to honor or show reverence for a divine being or supernatural power; to regard with great or extravagant respect, honor, or devotion.”
Last week we looked at the “praise” aspect of our interaction with God. This time we’re going to talk about worship!
Whereas praise is something we are called to do, and can do regardless of how we feel because it is an acknowledgement of the simple fact of God’s mighty works, worship is rooted in a deep sense of devotion and adoration that comes from within the depths of us. It involves a wholehearted submission of self so that we become filled with nothing but feelings of adoration and honor for our God.
We see this play out often in powerful worship sessions, both congregationally and privately, where someone might fall to their knees, bow their head, lift their hands, sing at the top of their voice, etc. These are all acts of surrender in which we open ourselves absolutely to the expression of worship, making the moment not about us, but about being in relationship with Him.
Ultimately, worship is a heart-posture of reverence and surrender before God.
What Does the Bible Say About Worship?
John 4:24 – God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.
Psalm 95:6 – Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.
Romans 12:1 – I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
How Can I Become More Worshipful?
Like many spiritual actions, becoming more worshipful often requires carving out dedicated time from our busy lives to prioritize the things of God. With worship, this may look like setting aside time for practices that help you enter into a state of worship.
Many people find that music is a key factor for worship; the right song can bring a person into a state of wholehearted, self-surrendered worship at the feet of Jesus. Because musical tastes differ so widely, it’s up to the individual to find what songs, if any, are “worship songs” for them.
There is also an aspect of worship in how we live our lives, similar to praise. When we operate from a state of devoted submission to God, it changes how we walk out our day-to-day lives. Scripture tells us that the saved will worship God for eternity, but this isn’t indicative of a future spent singing and dancing forever. The Bible tells us that in the eternal future, we will live lives much like the ones we have now—working and playing and being a family together, as God intended it from the beginning—but with all the chaos and sin removed from the picture. So that means we will worship God through our work and play and way of being then, and we can do the same thing now!
When we are mindful of the things that glorify and honor God, and when the posture of our hearts is that of complete dedication to Him, we can lay down our love of self and elevate Him above all else, living as sacrifices, as the Book of Romans tells us. In this way, we worship Him with our very way of being—with Him, with the people around us, and in our personal lives.
Make space this week for at least fifteen minutes of undivided worship time, just you and God – no distractions! See if you can make this fifteen minutes a daily practice.