“Holy Spirit we invite You to come. You are welcome here. Come and empower us. Come and lead us to give You the worship You deserve.”
How many times have you heard a worship leader begin a worship service with a prayer like that, or something similar? I understand the sentiment but I was always a bit disturbed by the implications. Why do we need to invite the Spirit to come? Does it mean that the Spirit went away and we need to pray and invite Him to come otherwise He won’t show up? But where did the Spirit go since the last time the church gathered for worship? I have always believed that the coming of the Paraclete was the guarantee of the permanent presence of God (John 14:15–18). Why do we need to ask Him to show up again?
I read a tweet recently that further fuelled my concerns.
“Worship isn’t about getting God to ‘show up.’ That’s Baal-ism. Worship is about getting us to show up for God.” (@LeonardSweet, twitter.com/lensweet, 6 Oct)
The tweet transported me to Mt Carmel, 1 Kings 18. The prophets of Baal worked hard to get their god to show up.
Elijah told the prophets of Baal, “Choose one of the bulls for yourselves and go first, for you are the majority. Invoke the name of your god, but do not light a fire.” So they took a bull, as he had suggested, and prepared it. They invoked the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “Baal, answer us.” But there was no sound and no answer. They jumped around on the altar they had made. At noon Elijah mocked them, “Yell louder! After all, he is a god; he may be deep in thought, or perhaps he stepped out for a moment or has taken a trip. Perhaps he is sleeping and needs to be awakened.” So they yelled louder and, in accordance with their prescribed ritual, mutilated themselves with swords and spears until their bodies were covered with blood. Throughout the afternoon they were in an ecstatic frenzy, but there was no sound, no answer, and no response. (vv. 25–29 NET)
In contrast, YHWH was always present and Elijah could commune directly with Him.
When it was time for the evening offering, Elijah the prophet approached the altar and prayed: “O Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, prove today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, O Lord, are the true God and that you are winning back their allegiance.” (vv. 36–37 NET)
In fact it sounds somewhat arrogant to invite the Lord to come to a church that belongs to Him, a church bought by the blood of Jesus. As Paul reminds us in Ephesians 2:21–22: “In him the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (NET). God dwells among His people. He is the one who invites us into His presence (Matthew 11:25–30) not the other way round.
Therefore we do not have to pray certain prayers, or sing certain songs, or sing songs in a particular way, or do certain things, to get God to show up. He is among His people. As the tweet by Leonard Sweet reminds us, it is God who is waiting for us to show up. Remember the parable of the Gracious Father (Luke 15:11–31)?
Maybe we feel the need to ask God to show up because we don’t sense His presence. The problem is not that God is not present. The problem is that our hearts are far from him though we may be bodily present. We may be guilty of what Jesus says in Mark 6:6 — “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (NET).
Christian worship then is not about doing things to get God to show up. God is waiting for us to show up and to show up with the right heart. Maybe our prayer should be something like this: “O great and awesome God, O loving heavenly Father, You are here. Awaken our hearts O Lord to give You the worship that is Your due.”