The other night I participated in a unique and powerful worship experience with a group of college students at Oklahoma State University. The Tuesday night service, called Overflow, is student-led and has been for the last nine years. The service is held in the dark. No joking—pitch black. The only light in the room shines from the screen with song lyrics, a few candles and my drummer’s laptop.
It’s dark and we start the first song. I am so glad that no one can see me. I discover that I am completely comfortable. In the dark, I am not in charge; I am just me, as always, before God. I don’t know much more today than I did yesterday, only a few things about Him and about life that cause me to cry out to Him for help and rescue; to beg Him to remind me that He, the most high God, is all I need; to recognize Him as the lover of the unlovely, Savior of the world, Redeemer for the nations and a Friend like no other, no matter how elusive He sometimes may seem to me.
I have been leading worship for 12 years, and it seems the longer I do, the more I feel as if I have no idea what I am doing. How do I, a mere human—broken, self-centered and insecure—show anyone God? He is still so mysterious to me, even after all these years of talking to Him, listening for Him, hoping in Him, believing in Him. I often feel like I am at square one when it comes to really knowing God. You might think this would be embarrassing for me after all these years. I’ve led worship for festivals, conferences, retreats, churches and events that, if I said their names, you would likely respond, “Oh, I’ve heard of that,” or “I went to that.”
In 1992 I had the honor and responsibility to lead worship for high-school students for 10 weeks in a row. I felt very overwhelmed. The girl I roomed with that summer handed me a quote on a small piece of paper that read, “We are all worshippers by nature, built that way by God and for God, but what remains to be seen is to whom or to what we will give our worship.” This quote, as well as that summer, and the years to follow, stretched my concepts of worship to include more than just music and songs. All of these experiences have forced me to take a look at my life, as well as the reality that living for God and with God means struggling for Him and with Him.
These experiences also reveal to me that I am an idol worshipper and always will be. Psalm 16 confirms that with God “we are safe.” Yet the very next words warn, “Apart from You I have no good thing.” So, my nature is to wander in my worship, to shift loyalty based on the moment.
Yes, I know it sounds bad, but we are worshippers of many things. I worship, and tend to worship, anything that seems attractive at the moment. Depending on the moment, that may be myself and my ideas, or you and your ideas.
Regardless, I will worship something; I am designed for it. One thing I do know: the times I have worshipped God in all His glory, I come away stunned, humbled, stirred and very aware that I know very little about this powerful God of love and glory.
Maybe that’s why I’m so disconcerted at a pervading mindset that seems to have relegated worship to a few catchphrases, particular songs and, God forbid, people.
It occurred to me recently that this generation has grown up with mostly contemporary music in the church. It is not a new idea anymore. Although contemporary worship is not as common in some churches as the organ and the piano are, we are reaching a time in our Christian culture where it is more commonplace. Have we become guilty of worshipping worship songs or musical styles or popular worship leaders or churches? I hope that we teach ourselves to hold on to God and not the methods or the people He has given us. Satan loves that these are even issues we need to discuss, because these things take our eyes off Jesus.
Maybe that’s why I was so struck by a group of college students turning off the lights. In a culture that is driven by media and fame and popularity and celebrity-itis, maybe this generation is sending a message that we should wake up and listen to. Maybe they are tired of the show that churches have been putting on. Maybe they have caught enough of life’s hard blows to know that a Savior is all we are dying for. No more lights and show. No more flash and dash. Just give us something that matters or, better yet, Someone who is faithful, not faddish.
So, with the lights out, maybe you and I can remember that we are not the point. Our beloved methods can be so distracting from Jesus, though He alone is the Prize we seek and need.
I remember singing at a funeral when I was in high school. I sang behind a wall because it was not about me. We were there to honor that person and his life. I don’t remember thinking that it was weird; I didn’t need to be seen. And maybe these college students get it: glorifying God is not about getting seen, because we cannot change anyone’s life. But to see Jesus is to see everything we really need. My prayer for us all is to do whatever we can to show off Jesus, even if it means turning out the lights.