Do We “Bring” God’s Presence When We Worship?

A Theological Course Correction For Worship Leaders And Pastors

The following is, I submit, a theological course correction necessary for Worship Leaders and Pastors who lead in settings that intentionally welcome the Holy Spirit to be “manifest” as we engage in worship. It is for those who love when the presence of the Holy Spirit is experienced, at all levels, by a community who has gathered to worship.

First of all, let me affirm this: I love the Holy Spirit. I also love when the Holy Spirit is manifest in a room in a palpable way, and people are responding (aided by expressions of worship) to the invisible, yet overwhelming, presence of the living, loving, ever-present God.

But as pastors and worship leaders, we have a responsibility to think about the way we talk about that experience to our congregations. We may mean one thing theologically, but when we’re not careful with our words, we communicate another. Theological ideas can be helpful or unhelpful to the discipleship of Christians – what we believe about God and how He works – and the following addresses what I believe to be a theologically faulty way of talking about God’s presence in any given worship environment.

Do We Bring The Presence Of God When We Lead Worship?

Here is my answer: We don’t “bring” the Presence of God by our music, worship, messages, or prayers.

I believe such language is theologically faulty, and confuses Christians when we use it. It suggests that we ourselves are the primary actors in the worship story, and that our actions precipitate whether or not the omnipresent God is “there” or not.

God is already present. God is the primary Actor in worship. Ours is to respond (1 John 4:19).

We turn our hearts to perceive Him, welcome Him, and to request His Presence be ever more manifest among us (ex. Solomon and the dedication of the Temple in 2 Chron. 5:13-14, and the disciples in the Upper Room in Acts 2). God doesn’t “show up” in this sense; He reveals Himself and we perceive Him – as we are open to a revelation of Him.

If We Don’t ‘Bring’ The Presence Of God, Can We ‘Welcome’ The Holy Spirit?

Welcoming the Holy Spirit is an act of invitation, yes, but not an invitation for the Holy Spirit to come into the room as if the Spirit has been absent.

Welcoming the Holy Spirit is an invitation to the already-present God to more fully overtake our hearts and to make His presence more evident, to more of us, in revelatory and transforming ways.

Worship leaders and pastors then create environments that help a community to become aware of His presence (well-curated worship environments can beautifully facilitate this), and to engage with Him as the already-active God who is near and can be perceived.

Our liturgies do not make God do anything, that would be magic (performing certain actions in order to get a divine being to do our will).

Rather, our liturgies (including rockin’ worship sets) invite Him to more fully do what He is already doing in and among us, even as they open our hearts to respond to the Spirit’s active, manifest presence.

God may choose, in some instances, to make His presence more evidently manifest in various environments. In this we can think of the examples of the Spirit filling Solomon’s Temple (2 Chron. 5:13-14), or the rushing wind empowering the disciples in Acts 2:1-4.

But we should not take the credit for His choice, even as we create environments where we as people are able to be more perceptive of what is actually happening in the room.

God “brings” Himself if you well, and is present, before we ever begin the music. I.e. Omnipresence is the theological presupposition to which we must orient before language for what is happening in the room falls from our lips.

Our worship work (liturgy) is to create environments where we can more fully perceive – and engage with – the reality of God’s Presence.

Can We Pray Or Say, “Come, Holy Spirit?”

Absolutely, in my view. We can invite the Holy Spirit to “come” in our midst.

It is what we mean by that when we pray it, as it has been prayed for millennia, that is so important.

In the Vineyard movement we pray “Come, Holy Spirit,” and in so doing we are inviting God’s presence to be manifest in powerful ways both in us and in the room.

What I am challenging is that I have heard many pastors and worship leaders over the last decades ask Him to visit us as though He isn’t there, and then when we ask Him to be there, He decides whether He will be or not.

  • God’s omnipresence suggests He is already there (Ps. 139:8).
  • God’s indwelling presence tells us He is in us (Col. 1:27).
  • Gods manifest presence, where He’s moving in a special way and we are perceiving Him increasingly, is what I believe can change from gathering to gathering (Acts 2, 2 Chron. 5:13-14, Acts 11:15).

In Acts 11:15, Paul says “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning.” The Holy Spirit, in this sense, comes. In John 3:8, Jesus alludes to the “wind” blowing wherever it pleases. There is something about a sudden wind that lets you know the air is there, as it has been all along, but it is moving in a fresh current.

To intimate that God is absent completely and then becomes present because we pray is quite different than believing God is present and then manifests His presence in a specific and transforming way.

Why Do You Pray “Come, Holy Spirit”?

I personally and pastorally invite the Holy Spirit to “come,” but what I mean by that is that I am requesting Him to “come” in a specific and profound way to my broken heart and the broken hearts in the room.

I am inviting the Father to reveal Himself in signs and wonders, and to take over the space in which we meet in a way that sweetly convinces us all that He is present, and He is love.

What Are Some Examples Of Invitation Prayers In Church History?

The prayer, “Come Holy Spirit” has many roots in history, and is a beautiful, orthodox prayer inviting God to manifest His presence, fill the hearts of the faithful, and reveal Himself in fresh and redefining ways.

A favorite of mine is below, written by St. Symeon, approximately 1000 years ago.

INVOCATION PRAYER FOR THE HOLY SPIRIT
From the book by Bishop Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way (New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1979).
Excerpts from An Invocation To The Holy Spirit by St. Symeon (949-1022 A.D.)

Come, true light.
Come, life eternal.
Come, hidden mystery.
Come, treasure without name.

Come, reality beyond all words.
Come, person beyond all understanding.
Come, rejoicing without end.
Come, light that knows no evening.

Come, unfailing expectation of the saved.
Come, raising of the fallen.
Come, resurrection of the dead.
Come, all-powerful, for unceasingly you create, refashion and change all things by your will alone.

Come, for your name fills our hearts with longing, and is ever on our lips.
Come, for you are yourself the desire that is within me.
Come, my breath and my life.
Come, the consolation of my humble soul.

Come, my joy, my glory, my endless delight.

Here is the prayer in its entirety, ]

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Question: Have you heard the language of us “bringing” God’s presence in worship or in church, and if so, how do you feel about the above?

Blog Resource: For general ideas on our language posture as worship leaders, The Essentials In Worship Course.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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15 thoughts on “Do We “Bring” God’s Presence When We Worship?

  1. Thank you! Blogged about this recently as well. It is important, because our minds are always making conclusions (whether we are aware of it or not) about God and us, just as we do when we are with each other. We are together and as a relationship builds we are always collecting information about the other, from their words, their actions, their body language, their expressions, their reactions…and on and on. And we form such an impression of the other that in time we begin to think we know how they will react to us. We do this with God as well. And as Christians, I think, we are so anxious to ‘get it right’ and to please this God we love so dearly, we often don’t realize that our hearts have been storing up untruths about God over time and with the constant repetition. And then, one day, usually when we hit a wall or find ourselves in crisis, we run into these heart conclusions and they can be a barrier between us and God.
    We pray and ask God to be with someone who is in crisis. And our minds conclude that He was not or is not there and that is why we are asking. We say these lines that you write about here Dan, and we do the same thing. I completely agree with your definition of what we mean when we say “Come Holy Spirit”. However, if we don’t clarify what we are really asking when we say it (every time?!), we are still wired to process the invitation to come as though someone is absent or farther away when we say it. So my question is, how to welcome the Holy Spirit and posture ourselves humbly and ‘openly’ in worship, without a long and wordy intro? How do we communicate to ourselves that we are not the centre of it all? (Great point btw and worth several blog posts because I think worship song sets and many messages these days ARE communicating that it is all revolving around us) Can we acknowledge the current meanings of common language and adapt to it? Few of us are self-aware enough to notice ever erroneous conclusion our hearts and minds are making as we build relationships. I have noticed that strong relationships are built when the participants go to the effort of being understood and the effort of asking and clarifying what the other means. So perhaps the extra effort is needed and warranted when it comes to the most dear relationship of all?

  2. Good thoughts, Shelly. Could you attempt to write, in 1 sentence, and invitation to the Holy Spirit that captures the big idea? It would be great to see what you come up with. I’ll work on it as well.

  3. Thanks for this deeply thoughtful and very helpful article, Dan. For too long we have, perhaps unwittingly, assumed and practiced a kind of mechanistic, and perhaps even pagan, application of the Psalm 22 notion of God being enthroned upon our praises. Well intentioned and much loved songs like Throne of Praise may have done as much damage as good, especially when not foot-noted with the kind of pastoral instruction you have provided here.

    For some time I have been concerned about well meant but misleading lyric content in contemporary worship song repertoire. The popular Revelation Song contains a lyric about the Lamb of God sitting on “heaven’s mercy seat.” Anyone who has even done even a cursory study of the mercy seat in the Hebrew Scriptures or its fulfillment in Jesus Christ who is THE propitiation (or mercy seat) for our sins can see the awkwardness of the construct. Jesus cannot sit on himself.

    We all, whether pastors, songwriters, music publishers, Bible teachers, lead musicians, must take responsibility for more precise language and be willing to be one another’s keepers, calling each other to excellence in this vital area of worship vocabulary. Thank you!

  4. Thank you for this. I may not have heard the “bringing” part but I have heard enough already of the God, Holy Spirit, Jesus “showed up today” part and it has troubled me for ages. Thanks for giving me an opportunity to say how much that seems inappropriate and misleading and dishonoring.

  5. Well said, Dan. I love everything you’ve written here. Every week in our small group gathering, we have a routine with which we start our meeting. We welcome the Holy Spirit to be among us and do what he wants to do. We’ve told our group that Jesus said, ‘Where 2 or 3 are gathered in my name, there I am…’. So we assume he’s with us, since we are gathered to allow him to encourage, teach and guide us in following him, through the active presence of his Holy Spirit. We just want him to know he’s very welcome as we orient our hearts and minds towards his work among us, whatever that be.

  6. Praise God for you addressing this. in the last year or so I have been struggling with the songs that ask the Holy Spirit to come in to our midst because I know that He is in us, the temple of the Spirit. Are there any songs which acknowledge this?

    Your article has been helpful. Thank you.

  7. I believe it is time to re-fit our stages to reflect that God is the Actor, and we are the audience, appreciating His lines and actions on the stage of earth. Take the band off the stage and put them in the orchestra pit, facing the stage. Let the stage be the visual focus, but have no people there during worship. Possibly lyrics on a scene would suffice. WELCOME THE END OF WORSHIP AS ENTERTAINMENT! We are not here to entertain either God or ourselves. GOD IS THE ENTIRE SHOW! We are the audience. When we see, taste, smell, hear, and touch some of what GOD IS DOING, we respond…with awe, joy, peace, love, praise, thanksgiving, crying and laughter, rising to our feet spontaneously with applause. Some call it “worship.”

  8. Here are a few of my attempts to write, in 1 sentence, an invitation to the Holy Spirit that captures the big idea.
    I began with your statement because I think it sums up our approach rightly:

    “God is already present. God is the primary Actor in worship. Ours is to respond (1 John 4:19)”.

    And so I write:
    Holy Spirit, we direct our worship, our thoughts, our hearts, our attention, our voices to you.

    Or shorter and simpler:
    Holy Spirit, to you we direct our worship, our attention, our voices
    Holy Spirit, to you we direct our attention and our voices in worship
    Holy Spirit, to you we turn our hearts, our attention and our voices

    Holy Spirit we offer…(hmm…that sounds like we are doing God a favour, so strike that)

    Holy Spirit, to you we bring our worship …(sounds like it is something we brought in with us vs something we do with our very lives, with every action and choice and word – strike that.)

    Dale suggested -“Lord you are here. Let us enter into your presence”
    But it implies that before we began we were not in your presence, as in entering a room from with out.

    Some observations. I like the sound of metaphorical ways of saying things, like opening our hearts and many other sayings, some of which we are very familiar in our churches. But I also don’t like metaphorical ways of saying things, because I am a literal hearer first, and because I have spoken to many people, worshipers, who just don’t ‘get’ what these sorts of things actually mean. Metaphors sometimes resonate with the writer of them deeply, but conjure up completely different meanings for the hearer! I know, because I stand beside someone in worship who is often whispering in my ear “What does that even mean?!” And when you don’t really know what something means, you don’t, by nature, say them (or sing them) with your whole heart. So that’s why I think the plainer and simpler the better, for this sort of thing.

    By not addressing the issue of location or presence at all, we imply that it is a given. That He is here and with us. Which it is. By directing ourselves or turning ourselves to Him we imply that He is centre, and as you say Dan, the primary actor. And by our action of directing or turning we are responding to Him and to the reality that He is centre and He is worthy of worship. In doing it/saying it deliberately, we are also acknowledging that our posture is not a given; that we don’t always give him our attention or our hearts (and that we are choosing it now).

    In the role of a spiritual director, a large part is helping people see what God is doing in their lives. In effect, I am helping direct their attention to that. (Hence the title of the role). And I believe it to be true – that God is omnipresent, always faithful, and always working in our hearts and lives to accomplish his purposes in and through us. But we often don’t stop to notice, don’t want to notice, or even don’t know what to look for. So that is why the idea of directing our attention to the Holy Spirit resonates with me. It also resonates with respect to our culture of busyness and working hard, and our habits of distraction, avoidance or annihilation of all things painful. All of these are in contrast to a life of faithful listening and attention to the presence and works of God. Turns out, the buzzword ‘mindfulness’ is an essential part of worship!

    In doing this though- something interesting arose in me. I wrote these sentences and then tried them on in my imagination, as the beginning of a worship set. And something in me reacted in an interesting way. I felt anxious. I felt a “but what about..?!” feeling. I felt anxious about the (missing) asking part inherent in “Come Holy Spirit.” And I realized that this phrase doesn’t reflect the sentences I highlighted from your blog and used a a guideline for writing a new sentence. “God is already present. God is the primary Actor in worship. Ours is to respond” – I tried to write an intro to worship sentence that spoke to these truths. But in doing so, I left out the invitation that is in “Come, Holy Spirit.”

    And in doing so, I noticed anxiety in myself, as though the part of our corporate gatherings when the Holy Spirit ‘comes’ and does wonderful, powerful, transformative, and often visible miracles among us might not happen.

    And then I got to thinking – does He ‘come’, does He do those things among us as a result of our very specific invitation, or does He do these things amongst us as we together and direct our attention and our hearts, minds, bodies to Him in worship?
    So then some more questions: Does the invitation need to be made at all? If it does, is it because we need to ask/invite Him (and so without the invitation He won’t), or is it because the act of inviting Him shifts something in us, toward expecting Him to? And if that is the case, is that how it should be, or do we need a paradigm shift? If I come and worship with my full attention (body, mind, spirit, soul, heart, whateves..all of me) will I not be in a posture to notice and welcome the work of the Holy Spirit? And then if yes, I would, then is an invitation needed or even appropriate? I notice that you stated “ours is to respond” and not “ours is to invite.” Appropriately so, because the latter statement might imply that we have control, and that God is subject to our wishes.

    So maybe it is okay that the sentences I came up with do not invite, they respond. And this whole thought process has me doing a bit of self-examination of my motivations and expectations of corporate worship times. Just the fact that I even noticed during my imaginative ‘practise’ that something was expected of me and didn’t include me asking for what I want of him, is very interesting. Not sure if that means a different sentence is needed, or that a heart shift is needed?! And don’t get me wrong, I am a huge proponent of being upfront and direct with God about what I (we) want! I am also acutely aware of my regular, desperate need to be immersed in who he is, and that, to me, aside from obedience and his worthiness, is the gift of worship.

    So hmm….in conclusion, for now at least, perhaps a worship set intro./invitation sentence is not the same entity or does not serve the same purpose as an expression to the Holy Spirit of what we want. One is a posturing of ourselves. The other is a prayer to Him. And if I were to re-write a prayer…I would say something very direct, like “Holy Spirit we need you, we want you, we are useless and powerless without you, we surrender to your work, healing, love, comfort, wisdom, guidance in us, for us, with us…but I’m not sure that’s how, at least not only how, to start a worship set. Because first we need to worship our King and God, acknowledge Him, give Him our full attention, and surrender our hearts…

  9. My take on worship and the presence of God at our meetings: I had the privilege of attending all but the first of the Vineyard conferences held in Brighton, UK, in the mid eighties, and to witness the manifest presence of the Holy Spirit sweeping back and forth over a packed house of 4,500 people, like the wind over the corn.

    Ephesians 5 26&27 tell us that Christ died for the Church that He may sanctify Her having cleansed Her by the washing with water of the word so that he can present her to Himself glorious, without spot or wrinkle. To me this defines the work of the Holy Spirit during our times of ministry, preparing the bride for the eventual banquet. In Songs 4:9 He says to His Bride “You have made my heart beat faster with a single glance of your eyes” and later “honey drips from your lips”.

    It suggests to me that when the first Adam and Eve fell, it broke God’s heart, and that when Christ, the second Adam, is restored to His bride (implied to be the second Eve) His heart towards her will be restored.

    Surely this must be our end goal for “Worship”, and that during our times of prayer ministry, the Holy spirit comes and restores every skin cell, and straightens every hair every hair, one by one.

    Phil

  10. Further comment about lyrics: Hebrews 4:12 tells us that” the Word is living and active and sharper than any two edged sword, even penetrating as far as the division of soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart”. Especially considering the preceding context for this passage, I would suggest that when the lyrics convey the Word in truth, that our hardness of heart is broken down allowing the Holy Spirit to enter and do His work in us. “Its your blood that cleanses me” still opens my heart to the Holy Spirit whenever I play it. This aspect seems to be missing from most of our songs today, that seem to be full of altruism and nice ethical ideas that work at a surface level.

  11. I believe we have to always battle this as when we read our Bibles the OT is full of visitational theology so it is easy to step back into it. To stay in a habitational framework takes ongoing reminders. I find much of our modern worship is also worded in such a way that has people looking for God to “walk in the room” instead of asking Him to reveal himself already with us.
    Great article!