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Religion of Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Source: Daniel Gyebi

What if God shows up at our Church or place of worship?

Many Christians know about Jesus’ statement that “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them." (Matthew 18:20). There are no better places for this statement to hold true than in our Churches and places of worship during worship service. Even though by faith many of us believe it, some people have a hard time believing that the Almighty God who dwells in heaven will, at the same time, be present among humans within the four walls of a Church.

We are in Holy Week. Good Friday and Easter are a few days away. Many of us will attend Church services or participate in other Church activities. Some may do so as a reverence to God, a sense of duty, or to fulfill all righteousness etc. Whatever our motives, what if during our worship God actually shows up, in person or in spirit, unannounced, and his presence is well-known to all the worshipers? What would we do differently?

Before you start thinking about all the difficult questions you have saved for the day you meet God face-to-face, let’s hold off on the questions for a while and enjoy the sweet fellowship his divine presence would create. The goal of worship is to glorify and please God. God is the judge of whether we have achieved that goal. However, to help us understand and reach that goal, Jesus provided two basic criteria in his conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus told her: “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the spirit and in truth." (John 4:24). So there we have it: spirit and truth.

People often say that there is only one truth. However, finding that truth about God is not always easy unless you look in the right place - the Bible. If you are like Pontius Pilate who famously asked Jesus, “What is truth?” (John 18:38), you need to redirect your energy to the study of the Bible, for therein lies the truth. And so truth in the context of this article means worshipping God as he is revealed in the Bible. That is why Jesus prayed for the disciples that God should “sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17).

With spirit and truth as our guiding principles, let’s look at some of the activities that take place in Church or places of worship, such as prayer, songs and music, offering, sermon, Holy Communion, and the behavior of some members of the congregation.

Prayer. Prayer is one of the most important aspects of worship, but it appears to be the least favorite among many worshippers. Prayer is usually overshadowed by the euphoria of singing, praises, and sometimes, dancing. Some people rely heavily on pastors or Church leaders to pray for them instead of praying by themselves because they think they do not know how to pray or their prayers are not as effective. However, with God visibly present in the Church or place of worship, I believe those who think they do not know how to pray would find the strength and courage to push their pastors and elders aside and jump ahead of the queue to present God with a litany of their problems, needs, wants, and some extras. You know how to pray if you know how to say The Lord’s Prayer. You know how to pray if you know how to communicate verbally or silently with others. Just picture God at the other end of your communication process. Therefore, from now on, pray as if God is present, listening, and hearing your prayers because he is; and remember that “the Lord’s hand is not too short to save, nor are his ears too dull to hear.” (Isaiah 59:1).

Songs and music. Nothing brings worship alive than a good song or music. Hymns and songs, whether ancient or modern, contemporary or traditional, and songs and music of all kinds, spiced with various musical instruments, have lifted the spirits of many worshippers worldwide. However, there is one problem: excessive noise in the ears of those outside the worship environment. Many Church buildings in Ghana were not purpose-built. Some are converted warehouses, residential homes, and sometimes, improvised open air structures. As a result, little or no consideration was given to acoustics and sound isolation techniques in the design or construction to control the sound as much as possible within the buildings. In addition, many worship buildings are located in or near residential areas. Therefore, what is joyful noise to the ears of worshippers inside the worship buildings may be nuisance to those outside trying to sleep or going about their normal daily activities. We need a harmonious balance so that we do not unnecessarily antagonize our neighbors. It is incumbent upon us as Christians to make every effort to live in peace with all people (Hebrew 12:14).

Offering. Many of us go to Church with various sums of money in our pockets or purses, but when it comes to offering, we search hard for the least amount of money to put in the collection plate. And there are some who, upon realizing that they do not have a smaller currency denomination, may not put their large denomination in the collection plate at all or will ask the usher for a change or balance if they put a large denomination, as if God or the Church is uninterested about large denominations. Would it make any difference if we thought God was present and watching what we put in the collection plate? In the end, however, what is important is not necessarily the size of the offering, but whether God is glorified and pleased, and whether he looks with favor on us and our offering as in the case of Abel and his offering or does not look with favor as in the case of Cain and his offering (see Genesis 4:3-5).

Sermon. Those who deliver sermons believe that their preaching is based on the Word of God and inspired by the Holy Spirit. Even so, the Apostle Paul commended the people of Berea because they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures to see if what Paul said was true (Acts 17:11). Paul was not offended that the people might be second-guessing what he preached. Instead, he was confident enough to subject his preaching to scrutiny by people who were below his level of intelligence of the Word and maturity in the Lord. However, if God shows up as part of the congregation and is listening to the sermon, he would be the real-time, truth-checker. He would judge the truth and accuracy of the sermon and know whether the style and substance promote or detract from the primary mission of Christ to save mankind from sin and reconcile us back to himself.

For these reasons, all the gimmicks some people think they need to display in Church or worship service to influence others to come to Christ are unnecessary if they are not based on the truth. If, for example, a person feels compelled to fake healing or other miracles, or sugar-coat a bitter Bible lesson in order to induce someone to covert to Christ, truth may be lacking and any conversion based on a foundation of lies may not stand the test of time.

What about Holy Communion, also called the Eucharist? Some Churches exclude from participating in the Holy Communion any worshipper who is not a member of that Church, who has not been baptized in that Church, or who is not “holy” enough. They forget that in the Last Supper or the first Holy Communion instituted by Our Lord Jesus Christ himself, he did not exclude anyone, not even Judas whom he knew was going to betray him the same night. They also forget that there is power in the body and blood of Jesus Christ, represented by the bread and wine, that can change every sinner who opens his or her heart to receive the Lord in faith. Would God, present in the Church, exclude or discriminate against anyone who truly and in good faith desires to dine with Him in the worship service?

Congregations’ behavior. Order and discipline in the house of God are important for effective worship. The behavior of some members of the congregation such as listening or talking on cell phones, surfing on the Internet on smart phones, texting, passing notes, engaging in side bar conversations, and sleeping during Church service would be greatly minimized or completely eliminated. As worshippers, we have a responsibility to comport ourselves and actively participate in the service by following the order of service and minimizing distractions. If you came out of a Church service and thought the service was boring or not worth your time, it was probably because you considered yourself as a spectator watching others perform to your delight, or failed to recognize the presence of the Almighty and the fact that the worship was about God, not you or anyone else.

What if we knew ahead of time that God was going to show up at our Church or place of worship? What difference would the advance notice make regarding how we prepare for worship that day? The Church would be packed! We would most likely invite our family members, neighbors, friends, and even our enemies in the hope that God would change them (not us); wear our best attire; show up on time; and demonstrate our best behavior during the worship service. God would be happy if we did these things now instead of waiting for the opportunity to meet him face-to-face.

God has revealed himself to mankind in many ways in the Bible. God revealed himself as spirit talking to Moses on the mountain to deliver Israel from bondage in Egypt (Exodus Chapter 3); as Jesus walking with two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke Chapter 24); and as three men discussing with Abraham on their way to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis Chapter 18). God continues to reveal himself in various forms. That is why Paul advises that we should not forget to entertain or show hospitality to strangers because by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it (Hebrews 13:2).

The good news is that God actually shows up whenever Christians gather in his name at Churches or places of worship to worship him in spirit and in truth. God could be that stranger sitting next to you in the Church pew, or behind you or in front of you. God could also be a familiar face in the Church that you have taken for granted because the person may not be a pastor or Church leader. Believe that God is present and watching, act it, and focus on God with your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and see the difference in your worship experience this Good Friday, Easter, and beyond.

Prayer is the key. May God grant us the grace to seek Him daily through our prayers.

Dr. Daniel Gyebi, Attorney-at-Law, Texas, U.S.A., and Founder, PrayerHouse Ministry, Kumasi, Ghana.

PrayerHouse Ministry is dedicated to providing a quiet facility for Christians to pray individually by themselves without any intermediary priest, pastor or any other person. This is a free service. No money is demanded or accepted. One facility is located at Kyerekrom / Fumesua, near Building and Road Research Institute Offices, one mile off the Kumasi-Accra Road and next to a house called Grace Castle. If you are interested, please contact Agnes at 027-7423815. Another is located at Kantinkyiren, at the junction of Kantinkyiren and Konkori, off the Kumasi-Obuasi Road, branching left at Trede junction. Contact Kwadwo at 020-8768461 / 0246-989413