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Stop inviting God to your worship

prophetsofbaalleapuponthealtarWe hear it all the time in corporate worship services:

“God, we invite you to come as we worship you.”

“God, fill this place as we worship.”

“God, you are welcome here. Come down as we worship you.”

The motivation is, of course, noble: we want to commune with God in worship. We don’t worship for our own entertainment; we worship God, and so we want him there with us as we give him praise.

But here’s the problem: God is already there.

In fact, it is God who has initiated the communion. He is the one who invites us to join him in fellowship through the sacrificial atonement of his Son, which enables sinners such as we are to draw near to him in worship.

You see, the idea that we invite God–that we do things to please him and get his attention–is actually more pagan than it is biblical. In fact, I have suggested elsewhere that this is one of the fundamental differences between biblical worship and pagan worship. In pagan worship, the worshiper does things to try to get the god’s attention, call him down, and persuade the god to act on the worshiper’s behalf. In biblical worship, God has already acted on the behalf of the worshiper. In fact, it is God’s acts that provide the means for a sinner to draw near to him, and thus is it God who invites those who come with a true heart in full assurance of faith to draw near to communion with him.

This recognition of God as the one who initiates our encounter with him is fundamental to our understanding of the essence of biblical worship, and it will drastically change the way we worship, what we include in worship, and how we structure our worship services. Here are some practical implications of this thinking:

  1. We will begin our services with a Call from God himself to worship him, not prayer for him to come down.
  2. Our services will be filled with God’s Words.
  3. If we obey the instructions God has given us, and come in faith, we will have confidence that we have fellowshiped with God.
  4. We will not expect any sort of visible, physical, or experiential “manifestation” of God’s presence to validate our worship.
  5. As we obey God’s call to worship him, we will recognize our unworthiness to be there, confess our sins to him, and praise him for his work of atonement and expiation on our behalf.
  6. The structure of our worship services will reenact God’s work on our behalf.
Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

6 Responses to Stop inviting God to your worship

  1. Today we sang Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation, translated by John M. Neale from a seventh-century Latin text. The third stanza:
    To this temple, where we call Thee,
    Come, O Lord of Hosts, to-day;
    With Thy wonted loving-kindness,
    Hear Thy servants as they pray;
    And Thy fullest benediction
    Shed within its walls alway
    I agree with your point, but In this case we are asking God to come to hear and bless us, which is a reasonable request, and involves no offense to biblical worship.

  2. Hey, Greg. You raise a good example. There are certainly cases where we ask God to hear us, following the biblical precedent of asking for something in faith that God has promised. This is different from what I am criticizing above.

  3. Scott, a related pet hate of mine is the phrase “come into God’s presence” which is often said in some form at the start of services. It’s nonsense, because we are in the presence of God wherever we are, and it also encourages the deeply unchristian belief that God someone dwells in church buildings.

    I personally don’t hear it said often, but another disturbing phrase that some like to use is “usher in the presence of the Lord”. Especially when used about music (eg “the worship team ushered in the presence of the Lord”) I would share your view that this is more pagan than Biblical.

  4. I agree with you that it is problematic when people imply that music or other means can usher us into God’s presence.

    However, I would also agree that when we gather as churches for worship, God is present there is a special sense that he is not otherwise. Not physically or mystically, but corporate worship is a distinct time in which God invites us to commune with him as we positionally (in Christ) gather with the angels and saints in heaven (Hebrews 12).

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