By: Britt Nilsson
Note: before you read this, please understand that I write this in an effort to bring freedom, hope, and excitement. This is not to challenge, demean, or offend anyone or their particular views. I believe we serve a HUGE God, who made millions of people with millions of opinions, and I think that is absolutely necessary, beautiful, and healthy. These are just thoughts that have brought light, life, and perspective to me, so I wanted to share them with you…more as a topic of conversation than as a matter of right and wrong. I hope you find my heart in this, and I sincerely pray that it touches yours. ☺
So, it all started about a week or two ago, when I went to a Hillsong conference at the Forum in LA. The show was a massive spectacle, complete with full-on EDM soundscape, laser lightshow, pumping bass, kaliedescoping visuals, glitter, strobe-lights, confetti…you get the idea. It was loud enough to literally shake your body into involuntary movement, if all of the aforementioned hadn’t made dancing irresistible enough already. Which, for me it certainly had.
I love to jump around, I love to lose myself in music and emotion, I love to worship with large crowds, and I especially love to see artists putting all of their talent, heart, and creativity on display for Jesus. Suffice it to say, I enjoyed myself LIKE CRAZY! I could feel the Holy Spirit in the atmosphere and I cried, laughed, and danced til I was exhausted. Worship parties like these get me really excited about what I believe is a very accurate and beautiful, if not hugely tamed-down, picture of what a dance party in heaven will look like! It feels like an earthly foretaste of the explosion of love, excitement, and fun that we will experience when we all worship together forever.
For me, the emotional, joyful, exuberant atmosphere takes me to a place of release and freedom. It truly allows me to abandon myself to worshipping my Father. I feel my body react to beautiful sounds, my heart react to beautiful words, and my spirit connect to the thousands in the crowd as we (literally) SHOUT the name of Jesus with all of the breath in our lungs. The glittering display reminds me of the glory of the God that we serve as the synth and piano and drums all work together to create moments of togetherness and holy reverence – connecting every person in the stadium to a singular experience in space and time. A space and time devoted to enjoying, thanking, and crying out to the God who loves us.
As the night came to a close (womp, womp), I posted some photos and video of the experience on social media (as one does). This was partly because I wanted to remember the experience myself, but also because I wanted to share the excitement with all of my friends about what happened that night. I assumed, naively perhaps, that everyone in the world would agree with me, share equally in my delight, and perhaps even want to come along next time.
Now, even though it has happened dozens of times before, I must admit I was still surprised when I was met (rather promptly) with some heavy resistance and outright offense. My followers wrote me personal messages to inform me that true worship doesn’t require a light-show. Ouch. People wrote to explain to me that this new type of ‘worship’ doesn’t glorify God but the artists. Ok. Others said that loud, large gatherings like this are not what Christ intended for church to turn into, and that this was ‘not what true worship was about’. Yikes.
At first, I felt personally attacked. My heart felt an aching twinge of rejection, a hot wave of insecurity, a need to defend myself. I felt like these people were implying that my experience was not only invalid, but actually an intentional rejection of the very thing I meant to do: Worship.
And it hurt. But somewhere deep in my heart, I felt like I should refrain from responding immediately. It didn’t feel loving or necessary to start one of those (all-too-familiar) church arguments about protocol, where both sides feel superior and it becomes about who is more ‘right’ than about what God thinks. I didn’t want to be the “new” Christian versus the “old”. I also didn’t want to speak about something so important before I actually knew what I thought about it all.
Before I responded, I wanted to know the truth about what I felt God was telling ME about what worship really is. I wanted to utilize the offense and ask God how best to understand my reaction to it. Sometimes there’s nothing better than someone challenging your views to make you get in touch with what your views actually are. It isn’t fun to have your beliefs called into question, but it can really make you dig deeper than you might on your own.
And so, the real question that I had to ask Holy Spirit essentially boiled down to this: ‘what IS worship supposed to be?’ or, more specifically, “what does God want it to be?”
I have to admit, this one stumped me at first, because there have honestly been times I’ve felt closer to God walking to the grocery store humming a song in my head than I have taking full-on communion at a fancy service. I have felt profoundly “worshipful” (it IS a word, I looked it up) standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon, simply having my mind blown without ever singing, or even saying, a single word. I have felt like I was worshipping as I sat alone with God on the beach, watching the powerful waves, feeling overwhelmed with awe and gratitude for the sheer greatness of God’s design and majesty. I have felt worshipful (there it is, again) even at secular concerts, where beautiful music engulfs me and makes my soul come alive, and the only thing I can do is lift my hands to heaven and thank God for the sweetness of that once-in-a-lifetime moment.
I’ve worshipped God on the Sea of Galilee in Israel, singing hymns on the water where Jesus walked. I have worshipped God alone in my room; my heart full of pain, my knees sore, and my eyes full of tears as my forehead touched the carpet. I’ve worshipped in Peru with hundreds of orphans singing in Spanish. I’ve worshipped alone with my headphones blaring in downtown LA, late at night on a busy street. I have worshipped with dear friends in small sacred spaces. All of these have been worship…or so I had thought…
But still, I had to ask Holy Spirit if I was truly worshipping in these moments.
That was a scary question.
A scary question, with a simple answer. I heard Him say, “God sees the posture of your heart”. Immediately, I felt peace. Immediately, I felt free. I felt loved. I felt safe. I felt…seen.
It sounded like truth to me.
That’s because everything I know about my Father makes me believe He sees the most hidden recesses of our hearts, at every moment, and that He cares. Only He knows the specific attitude, motion, and head-space that will get us closest to Him at each and every different point in our lives. I believe worship will not and can not be the same experience for every person, or for every generation, or for every taste, preference, proclivity, or season of life. And, when I really think about it, isn’t that more true to life?
Isn’t it more wonderful to think that worship is just not a small, routine, easily-defined act? Isn’t it freeing to think we will never run out of ways to worship our Father? That we are never doing it ‘wrong’ or ‘right’ if our hearts are truly leaning toward Him? Isn’t it FUN to think it could be FUN to connect to His Presence?
Jesus came so that we could have eternal and constant and intimate access to the Throne. So, in theory, any and every moment is the best time and place to worship, in whatever way brings You into alignment with the Father’s purposes and heart for you. Is there ever a bad, wrong, or unsuitable environment to cry out to Him, thank Him, to acknowledge His Majesty in all things? The bible says “every good and perfect gift comes from God”, so when we praise Him for his good gifts, are we not worshipping Him with our very spirits?
You can call me a hippie, or a raver, or a freak, but as for me, I want to be worshipping all the time. I want to make the “worship” category bigger, deeper, richer, more diverse and more accessible. I want to worship in my car, at the grocery store, getting gas, while I work, or even in a hospital room. I want to give God glory with all that I do. I want to live in a state of worship and let my love for God permeate the way I experience every single moment I am alive. That’s because I am convinced that God is simply pleased when we reach out for Him with our hearts, whether it is in a beautiful, reverent song, or a stadium full of exploding hearts, or even alone with a discrete act of surrender.
I have been stretched, blessed, and changed for the better with each encounter, large or small, with our Heavenly Father. I cannot imagine that He is ranking these experiences, or calling some of them ‘real’ and some ‘not’. I think the heart of God longs to connect with the heart of His people, and I think when that is happening, He smiles. I think heaven rejoices when we call on His Name and tell Him He is wonderful. I think that whenever and however we praise Him, we are simply reminding ourselves who we love, who we need, and who is really in control.
And that’s the point: the act of worship sets us free! I am saddened to see Christians to fall into the trap of excluding others, invalidating their experiences, or making God smaller than He is. That feels like a man-made prison-cell, when I believe our God wants us to live in an expansive, inclusive, abundant Kingdom. We are so lucky and blessed to worship a loving Father who sees into our very hearts, and doesn’t disregard our praise for lack of other’s ability to see the value in it.
I think He wants us to dance sometimes, weep sometimes, stand with arms raised when we want to touch His glory, and fall to our knees when we feel the weight of it. Because, when our hearts are turned toward His goodness, attuned to His Voice, praising and appreciating His faithfulness, majesty, consistency, kindness, power, and truth, we can actually see the world as God intends. Worship doesn’t cure the problems around us, but it does transform us, as it creates a perspective that is more aligned with God’s. When we give Him glory, we remember we are not alone.
I believe whenever and wherever and however a human being purposely admits this and turns their affections toward Him, He thoroughly delights in that simple act of worship. Worshipping is an act of praise, surrender, gratitude, and intention that takes place whenever we purposefully shift our gaze back to Him. Sometimes as a small turn of the heart when we choose to play a song that honors Jesus, or other times with a hard, heavy, even painful cry out to God to save us from the temptation to wallow in despair, sadness, self-pity, addictive behavior, self-sabotage, gossip, self-reliance, or any of the things that we might be tempted to worship above Our Savior. We worship God when we place our hearts in a posture that puts Him back on the throne.
Or, at least that’s how I see it.
So, to avoid any confusion, I certainly don’t think church “needs” lights and explosions and spectacle to praise God. I don’t think a child of God needs anything other than an open heart full of praise to do it. I think God loves and delights in all of the ways His children seek to glorify Him. I think He’s more concerned with the heart of a person than the key a song is sung in. I think He shows up with just as much enthusiasm when He hears electronic music in a giant stadium, a hymn in a small-town church, a quiet prayer in a cubicle, or a million places in between. I think He delights in our worshipping—whether it is large, small, loud, quiet, joyful, somber, public, or private.
I come alive inside when I consider the heart of our Father who longs to draw near to us whenever (and however) we endeavor to draw near to Him. And, remember that no one can see your heart but God. If you are reaching out for Him, praising Him, calling on His Name, offering yourself to Him…then you are engaged in the call to worship. God knows when your posture is surrendered, when your thoughts are toward Him, when your intention is to bless His Name. Take comfort in the precious fact that He truly, deeply, and consistently delights in you, just as you delight in Him. That is the precious and divine romance called worship, and no one can ever take that away from you.
Be blessed! Love you guys,