By Tim Bennett
The second annual “Worship the King” event in the Syracuse dome this September 15th was definitely not a clone of the first. Instead of recognizing dignitaries in the crowd with a jam-packed program with many testimonies, formal prayers, vocal solos, messages and exhortations, like the 2016 event, this one focused primarily on worship, with only one testimony, two short messages, and an invitation for prayer at the end. Will Young, the leading student organizer and president of Young Life on the S.U. campus, said: “We asked the students who participated in the first event what we could do to improve it and they all said they wanted more worship. We decided this time to try to do a few things well rather than do too much.”
After a short meeting designed for students at 6:15 PM, the 7:00 PM public meeting began with a video of previous WTK events. Young then welcomed the enthusiastic crowd of 2000 or so, and then introduced S.U. sophomore, Ben Butler, from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Butler started out his testimony by saying, “It is possible to know about God without actually knowing Him.” He went on to say how he had been brought up in a Christian family, attended a Christian school, went to church, and turned to pornography because of a spiritual emptiness. While he was a junior in high school, however, Butler said he sensed that God was calling him to really live out his faith instead of only giving it lip service. “I knew what the Bible said. I just didn’t have the courage to follow it,” he continued. “It was then I really started seeking God and obeying what the Bible teaches, as opposed to just picking and choosing what verses to follow. Finding God’s love and mercy changed me from the inside out and changed my heart and my motivations.”
After Butler’s poignant story, Derek Johnson, from Jesus Culture (described as “an American international Christian revivalist youth outreach ministry birthed out of Bethel Church in Redding, California”) led worship on guitar with a group of local Christian musicians, which included some S.U. alumni. It was obvious during the evening that many knew Johnson’s worship songs by heart (Johnson’s solo album Real Love, released in 2015, reached #1 on the Christian iTunes charts). Young explained that they decided to invite musicians from outside the university this year because it’s hard for students to properly rehearse having just arrived on campus. On the other hand, the 2018 spring WTK event, which will be held at Hendricks Chapel on April 27, 2018 at 7 PM, will be 100% student run and organized.
After a solid time of worship, Zack Curry, also from Jesus Culture, shared a message about “sparks” that get a spiritual fire going. He referred to the Haystack Prayer Meeting that took place in 1806 at Williams College in Massachusetts. As the story goes, five students sought refuge under a haystack during a violent storm. Instead of quaking in fear, these students amazingly talked and prayed about world evangelism. Their zeal spread to other colleges and it’s been said that this “spark” eventually led to the modern-day missions’ movement. Curry gave another example of one student at Chico State College, where he went to school, deciding to get up at 6:30 AM every weekday and pray in front of the college for a move of God on the campus, which eventually took place. He encouraged everyone present to pay attention to the things that “move your heart” or “frustrate you” because it could be an indication from God that He is going to use you as a part of a solution to that problem. “We all have a spark of hope in us that we are to share with those around us and that is “Christ in us, the hope of glory,” Curry said. “And that hope is a person—Jesus Christ.”
The new dean of Hendricks Chapel, Brian Koneke, shared after Curry about the meaning of the word “amen.” He told a humorous story about the first time he preached at a church where people yelled out the word in response to his preaching. Since he was from a small town in Wisconsin he had never heard of people reacting like that before. Later, he researched the word for its meaning and discovered it meant “it shall be so.” He also found out that it meant much more. It was a declaration of faith and confidence in God and one another. It meant being united with other believers in our diversity of backgrounds, denominations, and physical attributes. Konkel finished his message by saying: “I believe we are at an ‘amen’ moment in Syracuse. When Christians get together across lines that normally divide, something beautiful happens.”
Youth groups from the area also attended the event. Sarah (15) from Lighthouse Church of God in Mexico, NY, which had 20 members from their youth ministry present, said: “We went to the chapel before it started to pray, and it was powerful. Great to have Jesus Culture there. It was encouraging, too, to see all the college students being witnessed to and prayed for. I received prayer that Jesus would be in my heart and that the light increases.” Another boy, John (13, not real name), said, “I came to get more of the Lord in me. I went for prayer because I have been experiencing bisexualness. I went up for prayer, too, and I really felt the Holy Spirit go through me.”
John and Sarah were not the only ones to go forward for prayer. Many students responded to Zack Curry’s call and ministry teams from The Healing Rooms, Transformation Syracuse, local churches, and leaders of student ministry groups were available to pray for the needs.
The night could probably be summed up with the lyrics of a Jesus Culture song that deeply resonated with many people present: “There is a current stirring deep inside. It’s overflowing from the heart of God. The tide is rising, rising. We come alive in the river.”*
*From Jesus Culture’s Let it Echo album (2016)