The other day, we had a family over to our house for supper. Things were going pretty well, but it got really awkward during our meal. My wife and I actually refused to serve them because they didn’t have the common courtesy to let us know we were welcome in our own home. In fact, until they gave us permission to do work and serve them, we all just awkwardly sat there.
You are likely confused by the previous paragraph. Why in the world would we be so offended that our guests didn’t let us know we were welcome in our own home?
But you likely aren’t confused by singing worship songs or prayers to open worship services that let God know that He is welcome in the place. But that’s just as strange to me. Why in the world would we tell the One who owns the place that He’s "welcome in this place"?
I suppose I understand part of the reason why we do this. It’s part of having a humble posture toward the Lord. It’s our way of saying we don’t want to run from God and want to have a relationship with Him. I think it’s also our way of saying, along with Jesus, “Not my will but yours be done.” So, I get it. But it’s a bit awkward and probably a bit backwards theologically.
God owns the place, not us.
This well-meaning act of calling God into our presence betrays our man-centered theology. It assumes that we own the place and are inviting God into our world. But He isn’t the guest who needs to be welcomed, we are.
Thankfully, this is what God does in the gospel. If it wasn’t for God’s grace mediated to us through Jesus, our prayers for God’s presence would be a terribly stupid thing to ask for. We’d be swallowed up by His glory. But, because of Jesus, the dwelling place of God is now with man. When you show up to church on Sunday morning, you aren’t making God your honored guest. You are gathering with others and celebrating the fact that the omnipotent and omnipresent God has reconciled Himself to us. If you are gathering with other believers, you don’t need to invite God to show up. He is already there.
The way we speak in our worship gatherings should reflect a careful passion for proclaiming these truths. Because of the work of Jesus, God is never on the outside of our gathering. He doesn’t depart the gathering place every week and come back only when we invite him in. This isn’t our church, it’s His. This isn’t our stuff, it’s His. Our posture towards God should be one of a thankful and humbled beggar, and not of a host.
Revelation 3:20 seems to throw a bit of a wrench into all of this. When Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock…” he isn’t talking to the heart of an unbeliever. These words are written to a local church. So it seems that what needs to happen is these believers really do need to welcome Him in.
The picture given to us in Revelation 3:20 is of the church in Laodicea, so messed up and self-sufficient that they think they own the place. To use the analogy from the beginning, they showed up at Jesus’ house for supper and ended up booting him out, locking the doors of the house, and pretending they owned the place. I suppose in this instance repentance would look a bit like opening the door and welcoming the Lord into His own home.
But, if we were in such a place, I don’t believe we would sound quite so triumphalistic and confident in our prayers of welcoming the Lord. Instead, we’d be snot-faced crying and repenting about the fact that we let our hearts get in such a self-sufficient state that we somehow managed to lock the owner out of His own house.
This is why I say as a general rule, I think it’s a bit awkward to welcome the Lord into the presence of the people He has already purchased. Maybe, instead of saying, “Lord, you are welcome in this place!” we could go for a humble prayer of thanksgiving. “Father, we thank you that because of Jesus we are reconciled, we acknowledge your presence and your work in us. Because you own this place, have your way in us.” I doubt it’d make a hit worship song, but it might be a little more faithful to the storyline of the Bible.