We 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:
- We will begin our services with a Call from God himself to worship him, not prayer for him to come down.
- Our services will be filled with God’s Words.
- If we obey the instructions God has given us, and come in faith, we will have confidence that we have fellowshiped with God.
- We will not expect any sort of visible, physical, or experiential “manifestation” of God’s presence to validate our worship.
- 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.
- The structure of our worship services will reenact God’s work on our behalf.