I hear the phrase often and I suppose you do too. One recent social media post featured a video clip of thunderous amplified music, computerized lights whizzing through environmental smoke, people jumping up and down frantically, and masses of glitter falling from the ceiling. The tagline: “God really showed up!”
Let’s be clear. We all want biblical and life-changing experiences of the power of God. More importantly, God wants us to have extraordinary and Christ-honoring experiences of His power. But, the “worship effects” we try to create and often tout might be a far cry from what He has promised and desires to provide.
Did God Really Show Up?
“God showed up” is one of many modern phrases that has crept into evangelical vernacular, especially in reference to the work of the Holy Spirit. In Appendix 2 of my book, Transforming Presence: How the Holy Spirit Changes Everything From the Inside Out, I identify a variety of these ideas with recommended vocabulary more consistent with New Testament teaching. Words create worlds, and when we speak of the person and power of the Holy Spirit our ideas should reflect the very words He inspired about Himself in the Scriptures.
When God Showed Up
There are many references to God showing up in the Bible. Just a few might help us understand what a moment like this looked like.
- In Exodus 33 when Moses desired evidence of the presence of God, the Lord placed Moses in the cleft of a rock and covered him with His hand lest Moses die by seeing God’s face.
- In 2 Chronicles 7:1-3, when the glory of God filled the Old Testament temple, the priests fell with their faces on the ground in humble worship.
- When Isaiah saw the holiness of the Lord, he declared, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5).
- At Pentecost, the Spirit was demonstrated in supernatural power to initiate the church and miracles occurred, all centered on the preaching of the gospel and salvation of the lost (Acts 2:1-13).
- In Revelation 1:17, the resurrected and glorified Jesus appeared to John, causing John to fall at the Lord’s feet “as though dead.”
Very often in Scripture, when God really “showed up” people were undone by their sin, fell on their faces in fear, and cared only about the glory of Christ and His gospel. They did not jump around in some kind of orchestrated, worked up religious group frenzy. (I should note that I am not against emotion. To the contrary, I wrote an entire chapter in Transforming Presence about the importance of biblical emotion.)
How God Really Did Show Up
Every true Christian would embrace the truth that God manifested Himself to mankind in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. Yet, for some this seems like ancient history, old news—even boring compared to the sizzle we can now create with our modern worship tools. Yet, the good news of God “showing up” and truly manifesting His glory in Jesus is the centerpiece of gospel worship and the power for real transformation.
- “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
- “He is the image of the invisible God.” (Colossians 1:15)
- “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” (Colossians 1:19)
- “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” (Colossians 2:9)
Jesus made it clear that the Father desires gospel worship “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). Jesus clarified the real purpose of the Holy Spirit, who is the source of biblical worship (Ephesians 5:18-19), when He declared, “He will glorify me” (John 16:14).
I fear that all too often we are “worshiping our worship” through our obsession with the external stimulation of our modern machinery rather than worshiping the Savior who is relevant to every culture, reaches all generations, and powerfully transcends any “worship” stimuli we can invent. As Michael Horton noted, “Vagueness about the object of our praise inevitably leads to making our own praise the object. Praise therefore becomes an end in itself, and we are caught up in our own ‘worship experience’ rather than in the God whose character and acts are the only proper focus.”[i]
How God Wants to Show Up
Today, we have developed an idea of God’s “external presence,” via manmade atmospheric effects or as some kind of “force” we summon through our singing. This idea is nowhere taught in the New Testament. At the same time, we virtually ignore God’s indwelling presence which was paid for, promised and provided by the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Christ’s finished work on the cross brought us into the power of the new covenant. His blood has forgiven and cleansed our lives, indwelling us by His Spirit, making us the temple of holy glorious worship (1 Corinthians 6:19).
The verses are far too many to note in this devotional, but here are just a few (emphasis added):
- “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” (2 Corinthians 4:6–7 [ESV])
- “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” (Romans 8:11 [ESV])
- “And there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Corinthians 12:6–7)
- “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13)
- “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4:12)
Too often we conclude that God “showed up” based on technological stimulation and superficial emotion. In truth, God has shown up and does show up in the beauty of the gospel, our passion for the glory of Jesus, our experience of the indwelling power of His Spirit, our manifestation of the Spirit’s gifts, and our Spirit-empowered demonstration of biblical love.
God does not want us to look for Him in the atmosphere of a building or the stimulation of a high-tech light show. Sure, these might be useful tools in certain contexts, but we cannot let the tools trump the truth.
Rather, He wants us to celebrate His Son and live in the reality of His glory indwelling us by the gift of His Spirit. He wants to “show up” as the Spirit produces real worship in and through us. He wants to “show up” as we manifest His life via the ministry of our gifts to one another. The invisible God wants to be made visible by the love of His Spirit demonstrated in our lives. Those are true, new covenant, “show up” moments.
If we are really convicted that we need God to “show up” in this broken world, we must remember that high tech programming and super-hyped events can easily become a cheap replacement for holy living via Spirit-filled, gospel-focused lives. Our world desperately needs God to “show up” in and through Spirit-controlled saints by the power of His resurrected life and for the sake of the gospel, not just so that the “already convinced” can enjoy a good worship vibe.
This article originally appeared here.