Invoking the Presence of the Holy Spirit

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One of my favorite passages in the Bible is found at the very end of Matthew. It gets me though the hard times, the good times, and all the times in between. It reminds me of my source of comfort, joy, and power. You’ll find Matthew 28:20b at the end of the Great Commission, where Jesus says, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Jesus is with me through the person of the Holy Spirit, living in me. He is always present, wherever I go. He moved in when I asked Him to, confessing my faith in Christ, and He has never left me. David understood that God was always with him. Read Psalm 139:1-12—“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” and Paul clearly expresses this truth in 1 Corinthians 6:19, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?”

God with us. Isn’t that the entire point? We were created to be together. And that’s why Jesus came and died—so we could be reunited with God, so that the relationship that was broken in the Garden could be restored.

God is with me personally, but He is also with us corporately. Consider Matthew 18:20—“For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” I think it’s safe to assume that your church has at least two or three members, and that you are gathering in Jesus’ name. The Spirit is there, dwelling in His people.

Why, then, do we sing worship songs asking the Holy Spirit to come?

Here are a few examples:

What are we really looking for? God’s abiding with us, with all that implies? Or are we seeking a “spiritual experience,” where we’re overcome emotionally? Do our hearts long for God’s glory? Or simply to be with God?

Experiencing God’s glory is an unforgettable experience. It’s incredible, truly overwhelming, as He is far beyond our understanding. But we are shortchanging ourselves if we seek the experience rather than the One who gives it.

Of course, we want the Holy Spirit to be at our worship services. I realize the problem is largely a matter of semantics. Surely the intent behind these lyrics is a desire to be closer to God, but perhaps we need to rethink how we express that desire. The issue isn’t whether or not God is among us, but whether or not we realize it. As Kari Jobe wrote in her song Holy Spirit, “Let us become more aware of Your presence.”

Instead of asking the Holy Spirit to show up (or even commanding Him, in some cases), why not simply thank Him for being there? One of the Holy Spirit’s roles is to come alongside us, to comfort, to convict, and to guide us in our worship. We are asking Him to do things He has already done.

Words matter. When we phrase things in this way, it sends an unintended message, especially to new believers who are still learning basic theology. I recently saw one comment from a worried churchgoer who believed that her assurance of salvation depended on her daily invitation to the Holy Spirit! She had confused indwelling and filling—Christians are indwelt at their moment of re-birth, but we are filled as we submit, yielding to His control, something we do on a daily basis.

The ironic thing here is that in instances when the Holy Spirit does descend in power, He overturns our carefully orchestrated worship service. Instead of some songs, prayers, and a sermon, the service continues for hours as people repent in weeping. If we truly examine our hearts, we may realize that we prefer the Spirit to submit to us, and not the other way around. Most churches—most Christians!—aren’t really prepared for God to show up and take over. Are you? Am I?


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