Is God “There” During Sunday Worship?
How we think of Sunday morning worship matters. I mean, after all: why do we gather?
Do you come to church simply because it’s just what you do, or perhaps because you feel as if it’s right? Do we come to gain something in a sermon—to enjoy (or hate) the songs we sing? And does it matter to God how we think of our gathering? Is he even there? Do we have to ask him to be there? Do we have to somehow reach a point where he shows up?
Worship Theology 101
These questions can fill the minds of both new and mature believers. The good news is that Scripture speaks into this idea by showing us how God interacts with his people. Through two accounts, we see that God participates in conversation. The dialogues between God and man that are recorded in Exodus 3 and Isaiah 6 show this clearly.
In worship theology, this dialogue is often referred to as “revelation and response.” This idea of revelation and response informs our Sunday morning gatherings, reminding us that they are times when God actually meets with us. It gives everything we do a sense of purpose and importance when we understand that God is truly among us. (1 Cor. 14:25)
Revelation & Response
In the account of Moses and the burning bush, we see an outline of dialogue that very much aligns with Isaiah’s interaction in the heavenly throne room in Isaiah 6. Both of these begin with God revealing himself, which results in amazement and worship. That means that the act of worship—our corporate call to worship–is something God initiates. He invites us to declare his praises simply by his existence, because he is worthy.
Through Exodus 3 and Isaiah 6, we see that the moment of adoration that Moses and Isaiah uniquely have helps show them their unclean nature. Isn’t this so true even for us? When we see the beauty of God, it reveals our unworthiness. Therefore, our response to this new revelation of our need for God, is confession. In the case of Moses, God allows him to remove his sandals and come forward. For Isaiah, this moment culminates when a seraph touches Isaiah’s lips.
In both these situations, God responds to our confession by offering mercy and grace. As believers today, we see this most clearly in the death and resurrection of Jesus. When we see the hope that comes from the gospel we can joyfully respond by worshipping the Lord because of the work of Jesus. In liturgical terms, this is the “assurance of pardon” — a time where we rejoice in the hope we have in Jesus. Despite our sinful nature, God has acted in great mercy and brought us back to himself.
Continuing with the examples from Exodus and Isaiah, after this assurance, Moses and Isaiah receive instructions from the Lord. Today, we most easily associate this instruction with a sermon. The purpose in this instruction—both in the Old Testament and today—is not to solely gain head knowledge, though. As 2 Timothy warns, we are not to live as those who are “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (3.7).
Rather, this knowledge is given so that Moses and Isaiah can be sent. God sends both men on a mission to live out the teaching and bring a change in the name of God. In the same way, when we gather, we are not instructed to merely keep the knowledge we receive to ourselves. Instead, Sunday morning worship should be seen as a sanctifying act that transforms us to be more like Christ. When we leave church, we should be different than when we walked in.
Worship as a Dialogue
The accounts of Isaiah and Moses give us insight into God’s role in our worship. We do not gather together with the mindset that “maybe we will hear from God today.” Christian, God is truly among you! When we view worship as Scripture would describe it, God is intimately involved in what we do when we gather.
We need not wait for God to arrive and move among us. No matter how early you sit in your pew, God is there before you, calling you to worship him. We have the opportunity each week, even if it is just for an hour, to join a worship service that has been going on between the Trinity for all of eternity.
Worship, therefore, is a dialogue between humanity and God that the Creator of the universe initiates with us. We have the privilege to be invited by the King of Kings to join with our brothers and sisters throughout all time, declaring God’s glory and finding hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ.