I was a guest musician at a church in Winnipeg, engaged in the familiar liturgies of a pre-service prayer huddle. One person prayed for the congregation's safety in inclement weather, another for the technical aspects of the service, and a third kindly remembered my family back home.
When my turn came, I must have used a phrase like, "God, we invite you here among us." I clearly recall the minister's prayer, which followed mine: "We know we do not have to request your presence, because there is nowhere you are not. So we celebrate the fact you are already here with us now."
My head stayed bowed, but my face burned. This guy is correcting my theology with his prayer!
The service went as planned. But throughout the evening, I was mentally defending my choice of words. Of course I know God is everywhere—I've read Psalm 139! I was requesting an extra measure of his presence, an outpouring of his Spirit. Or, if you want to be more precise (and clearly you do), I was praying that God would help us to be open to him. Aren't we just arguing semantics?
I never articulated any of these thoughts to the minister. But the dialogue I've had with him in my head ever since has gradually refined my thinking—a case of iron sharpening particularly dull iron. I now believe that pastor's gentle correction was necessary.
If the psalmist is right—that there truly is nowhere we can go to flee God's presence—why do we act like his attendance is intermittent? And why do we assume it's dependent on us?
"Halfway through the retreat, God showed up," we say. As if he wasn't there before we were, drawing us to that time and place.
"Lord, we welcome you to come," we pray. As if he needs us to usher him into the world he created. As if ...