God is spirit, and His worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.
—John 4:24, NIV
We worship an invisible God, so it is hard sometimes to remember that He is present. God is not absent from worship and the congregation is not being entertained in some sort of community talent show. Picture a group of people worshipping an idol. Do they not all bow down, facing the idol? Do they not address all their prayers and petitions to the statue?
Some pour out gold from their bags
and weigh out silver on the scales;
they hire a goldsmith to make it into a god,
and they bow down and worship it.
They lift it to their shoulders and carry it;
they set it up in its place, and there it stands.
From that spot it cannot move.
Though one cries out to it, it does not answer;
it cannot save him from his troubles.
—Isaiah 46:6-7, NIV
So we should learn from pagans to talk to our God. We should not neglect to bow down and worship the Invisible, Immortal, Almighty One, just because we cannot see Him.
Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD;
let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before Him with thanksgiving
and extol Him with music and song.
For the LORD is the great God,
the great King above all gods.
In His hand are the depths of the earth,
and the mountain peaks belong to Him.
The sea is His, for He made it,
and His hands formed the dry land.
Come, let us bow down in worship,
let us kneel before the LORD our Maker;
for He is our God
and we are the people of His pasture,
the flock under His care.
—Psalm 95:1-5, NIV
At church, God is present as our Guest of Honor, seated high in the Royal Box, and He alone is the audience for everything we do during worship. We should each put our best foot forward for our Guest of Honor. Not that any of us should judge another’s appearance or fitness, but we should certainly not sit sullenly in grunge outfits like students kept after school for punishment! We should gather as if we are attending a ceremony to honor One whom we love best, to whom we are grateful, and to whom we know we can turn in times of distress.
Should we attend church dressed as rap artists or shipwreck survivors? By all means, if that is the best we have. It is true that God loves us the way we are, but scripture says not to put the Lord our God to the testMatthew 4:7, Deuteronomy 6:16.
We need some sort of minor campaign—primarily in deeds, secondarily in words—to make people aware that God is actually present in the church. Those who officiate can do that by their posture, gestures, and the way they phrase prayers—by localizing God, facing Him, and addressing Him directly. The congregation will catch on and they will follow suit. For example, I always end my sermons in prayer. On one occasion, I turned to face the same direction as the congregation, so that I was leading them, rather than praying at them. Part of my prayer went like this: “…and I ask, on behalf of myself and my friends here assembled that you send your Holy Spirit to equip us for this great task…”
Most churches lose sight of their invisible God—and if you read that sentence again, you’ll see the irony. Imagine if we get this ball rolling, and it gathers size and momentum and the congregation follows along unwittingly. Then a visitor will see not just a cuddly community, but a place where God is present and in the center of all things. Why should we leave it to cults to cultivate the presence of God among people?
No one ever fell on their knees and said, “Surely, a good community spirit is in this place!”