I was 19 years old the first time I lifted my hands in worship.
We were in Etna, California, at a phenomenal Christian camp called the JH Ranch. About a hundred of us college students were serving as summer staff, and we began each morning with an hour of prayer and musical worship before breakfast. Nothing fancy, nothing special, no bells or whistles (though there may have been a tambourine).
It changed my life.
Now, I grew up going to church, but until that summer I had only known worship from the neck-up, both mentally and physically. As I’ve joked before, if you lifted up ‘holy hands’ on a Sunday in my church growing up, you’d better have had a ‘holy question!’
But out in California, the college kids around me seemed to be worshipping in ways I hadn't seen. Their hands were lifted and their hearts were moved. So one morning, I too dared to raise my hands during a song. And the moment I did, I had the sensation of chains unwrapping, falling off of me.
As I began to express my prayer and praise physically, something started changing. My friend Dave Rhodes says it best:
After almost two decades of deeply Southern, fundamentalist worship culture, something started shifting in my soul. Amazingly, though, nobody at that camp would’ve ever had any idea about what was happening in me. I know I certainly didn’t have any idea how profoundly my life would change as a result of those times of prayer and worship.
But something in my relationship with God had awakened. I spent the rest of that summer reading everything I could get my hands on about what worship is, what praise means, spiritual disciplines, what prayer entails. I devoured Scripture. I ordered books. I sought out leaders who would talk to me about it. Some leaders even sought me out to let me know how poorly I was doing leading worship on occasion.
At the end of that summer we all spent 24 hours in fasting & solitude before returning home. I hiked up a snow-capped mountain, laid down my sleeping bag, and began my 24 hours of solo prayer. I remember reflecting on how much God had changed me over those few months. I remember resolving that if God could use praise and worship like that in my life, then I would give my life to his using it towards that end in others. God showed me some things I’ll never forget, and at the end of my solo, I felt God's clear invitation to keep walking this road of worship.
Fast forward 17 years, I’m still walking that road. It’s taken me and my family all over the world, and it’s been a true testimony to the grace of God. He’s kept me from wrecking everything. He’s saved me from sabotaging my marriage. He’s protected me by not giving me what I thought I wanted.
I’ve learned a lot on this little road, getting plenty of things wrong, every now and then getting something right, and always being amazed at God’s goodness, kindness, and agility in using such dysfunctional instruments.
Now, I've reached a point in life now where I’m less interested in putting on SHOWS and more interested in helping raise up SHEPHERDS. Now, I am passionate about that next generation of worship leader--that 19 year-old somewhere with the anointing of God on her life or that college leader with a cheesy ponytail who is daring for the first time to lift his hands and bless God.
My family and our community have oriented our entire life around this goal through 10,000 Fathers and our worship school.
When I look back, I’m so grateful for our grandfathers & forefathers (and mothers!) of worship. From St. Patrick all the way back in the 4th Century to Jan Hus in the 14th; from Martin Luther (15th C) to Johann Bach and the Wesleys (18th C). I thank God for the more recent worship renewal back in the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s. I thank God for the Jesus Movement, the Vineyard, Calvary Chapel and so many others. I’m grateful for trailblazers like Don Moen & Darlene Zschech, Jason Upton & Stuart Townend. I’m grateful for guys like Louie Giglio and Chris Tomlin.
It has become more and more obvious to me that we stand on the shoulders of those who’ve gone before us, and God has done so many beautiful things around the world through this renewal of praise and worship.
Looking forward, I’m curious about how we’re going to keep moving this forward faithfully and how focused we’ll be as we do. Sometimes it seems like there’s a lot of sideways energy these days. Sure, we have more worship songs—170,000 in CCLI, and counting!—more worship services, more worship concerts, but do we have more worship?
Is it maturing?
Are people’s lives changing? Are they loving God with more of their heart, soul, and strength?
If so, are we even around to know it, much less know what to do with it?
Another hero of mine, Bob Kauflin, told me one time:
I think he’s right. I think we must.
The more people I talk with, the more I get a sense that the renewal we’ve been enjoying is ripe and ready for reformation. Over the next few months, we’ll be making a few observations on this.
What do you see around you? How do you sense God shifting our 'worship culture'?