"Let the sea roar, and all its fullness, The world and those who dwell in it;"
In my morning devotion today, I ran into this verse that I've encountered so many times. I love it. There's something untamed and poetic about it. The passage it comes from is praise-focused, and it's one of those verses at the end that just jumps out at you.
It got me thinking. For a long time growing up, I didn't realize what worship really is. In fact, my understanding of it is still a work in progress. What I knew of worship as a kid was that it meant gripping the back of the pew in front of me and singing a lot of the same hymns on repeat. Same verses, too. My church wasn't rigid, but the attendants weren't the hand-raising type, either. For a distracted kid who was a little bored and a little hungry and not listening to the message like she should have been, it left me with an imprint that worship was mundane.
Then I started going to Christian concerts and youth conferences. That elevated my understanding of worship to a whole new level. People sang at the top of their lungs, raised their hands, closed their eyes, swayed, danced. At first it seemed real (and I'm not saying it wasn't). I thought, Surely they're all experiencing the presence of God, surely what they're doing is right, but I'm not feeling it. So, what's wrong with me?
After a few years, I stopped trying to fit in. If I wasn't moved, if I didn't feel like raising my hands or singing at the top of my lungs, I didn't. Because worship isn't being a copycat. It's much more authentic and personal than that.
So what is it?
Deciding to not follow the crowd at concerts, to seek my own attitude and spirit of worship, changed things for me. It made me search. It made me question myself, be honest with myself: Am I not a good Christian because I don't always feel like raising my hands? Because I don't always feel like dancing?
Nope. That wasn't the case. And it took a small group of people on my college campus and a few timely Bible studies/verses for me to realize it.
I'm a college freshman, and I've gotten involved with the BCM (Baptist Campus Ministry) at my university. Because of my orchestra schedule, I'm not able to go to their evenings of worship and study, but there was one night that orchestra was cancelled and I was able to attend. It was a smaller group than usual, and I'd gotten to know several of the people there well. It was also election day. Needless to say, we all needed to de-stress.
The evening didn't follow the usual format. There was no speaker, so the worship team led us in several songs, and we broke off for prayer in the middle. I found a dark corner and prayed, and prayed, my soul a little stale from weeks of classes and poor time management and haphazard prayer and Bible study. Then we were called back to the stage, and there were only maybe thirty of us and the musicians. We gathered close at the front, and as we started singing again, something clicked. Something about it felt so right for me, and I was able to close my eyes and sing at the top of my lungs. I didn't worry about raising my hands, I just did what felt natural. I sang to Jesus among my brothers and sisters, and listened to their voices too, and there was something so real and connecting and passionate about it that I felt a sensation I hadn't felt for a long time - rapture.
For me, it bubbles up from my chest in a laugh that makes my throat ache when I try to suppress it. It has to come out in at least a huge smile. It's unstoppable, and it fills whatever cavities of emptiness the world has clawed open inside me. I felt it then, and I knew I was worshiping for real - with sincere people, with the right crowd, with beautiful, honest music.
I try to be cautious when it comes to personal interpretations. As humans, we often want to twist Biblical truths to accommodate our own agenda. But I believe that worship was made to be personal. God speaks to us all in different ways. He may speak to someone at a loud Hillsong concert in the middle of a crowd of singers and dancers, just as easily as He may speak to someone as they sit at home in the quiet, over a cup of coffee and a devotional book. No matter the situation, we need to be listening for what God is speaking to our hearts. Sometimes He may whisper, I know your heart. Worship me with it quietly. You don't have to do what everyone else is doing. And other times He's whispering, Now's the time to worship Me like the ocean; crash against the shorelines of fear and shame that try to hem you in and keep you from praising Me. Don't be afraid to hold back."
Worship can be found in so many places. In a smile when you realize a Bible verse was meant for you. In a song you sing with your church. In offering help to a stranger. In stopping to smell a rose bud and remember the One who gave it fragrance.
Or it can be as free and wild and raw and untamed as the sea and all its fullness.
Ultimately, it's about God's voice, and how you respond. It's not about structure, or about the people who are watching. No, it's about Jesus, the beautiful center of worship and of everything else.
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What does worship mean to you?