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January 2, 2013

Encountering Jesus at the Passion Conference

Worshiping God with 60,000 college students is an experience I’ll never forget—are emotional encounters with Jesus underrated?

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Tuesday night, conversation buzzed in Atlanta's Georgia Dome as a light fog hung over the crowd and Scripture passages rolled across large LCD screens. Anticipation filled the air as the lights dimmed, spotlights turned to the stage, and Chris Tomlin, David Crowder, Kristian Stanfill, and Christy Nockels came on stage to lead 60,000 university-aged students in worship. The buzz of conversation turned to a roar as guitars came to life, signifying the start of the 2013 Passion Conference in Atlanta, Georgia.

To an outsider, the scene looks more like a U2 concert than a worship conference. To a Passion attendee, however, it’s just another year of a conference where hearts are changed and a generation comes together to “make Jesus famous.”

“This is not about Passion,” founder and pastor Louie Giglio said during the conference’s main session Tuesday night. “This is about allowing Jesus to do a work in you that no one else could do.”

This comment brought me back to my experience at the Passion Conference in 2011, where I was one of 22,000 students gathered at the Philips Arena in Atlanta. As a senior in college at a conservative Christian school in the Midwest, I had rarely ventured outside the sanctuary of my conservative Lutheran church in Minnesota or my college campus chapel in Illinois, and the conference, at first, seemed like a spectacle.

Emotional expression was not commonplace in my traditional faith upbringing, and I was completely overwhelmed by Passion’s worship band—the thumping bass and euphoric screams coming from peers around me as they raised their hands in worship was a shock, and the repetitive mentions of “breaking chains” and “living for Jesus” were phrases I had never internalized before.

Gradually, over the course of four days, my heart was turned inside out by truth-filled messages spoken by Beth Moore, Louie Giglio, Francis Chan, and John Piper. The worship songs we sang contained more emotion than I’d ever experienced in song, and this “awakening” led me to pour out tears I’d been holding in for years. As I worshiped, prayed, and cried my hopes, fears, and failures out to God, I received support from an eight-person “community group” I was placed in for the duration of the conference, and gained peace and understanding from friends and mentors who changed my life forever.

When I got on the plane to leave Atlanta at the conclusion of the conference, I knew I had experienced God in an explosive way I hadn’t known was possible three days earlier. God had jumped off the pages of a hymnal into my heart, and I would never be the same—but what would happen when I left my group of new 22,000 Christian friends and arrived back home?

Passion taught me the importance of being authentic, both in worship, in community, and in daily devotional practice. I began “renewing my mind” in Christ (Ephesians 4:23) by prioritizing daily Scripture reading and memorization, and started replacing secular music in my iTunes library with Christian worship and rock songs.

I was able to successfully translate the spiritual encouragement and motivation I gained at Passion into my daily spiritual walk, and haven't slowed down since.

This year, the Passion Conference is being held at the Georgia Dome, and Allison is on the ground reporting for Christianity Today. Beth Moore, Francis Chan, Louie Giglio, and more are among the speakers featured, and you can follow the conference’s live stream at this link: http://live.268generation.com.

Have you ever encountered God in an emotionally powerful way? What was it like?

Allison J. Althoff is Today’s Christian Woman’s associate online editor. Follow her on Twitter @ajalthoff.

Related Tags: Encountering God, Faith, Passion Conferences, Worship

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