I don't want to nitpick, or make anyone an offender for a word, but I think that many times vocabulary, the way we phrase something, can reveal a lot about our presuppositions on the topic we are addressing. For example we may use the phrase 'honestly' ("Honestly, this particular problem is really bugging me.") in our conversation and not realize that subconsciously we are implying that there are times when we don't tell the truth. I know it is a common figure of speech and is generally not taken literally, but it should give us pause when we translate this principle into the spiritual realm.
So, here is what has been bugging me a bit...
Over the last few years I have been in several situations where a group of us will be praying and someone will invite God 'into' our meeting, discussion, gathering, etc. The first time I heard the phrase, I have to admit, it took me by surprise. I frankly had never thought of inviting God into whatever was going on at the moment. After that first time, I became more and more aware of how often I heard similar language when in prayer for something. Slowly I began to understand that this was not an uncommon approach to committing something to the Lord. In fact, 'inviting God in' seemed to be quite a common practice among evangelicals...
So why does it bug me?
I guess because it implies that God is not in what we are doing until we invite him in. He is somewhere outside, waiting for an invitation to participate in what we are up to. By extension, that would imply that what we are involved in is all our own doing, that we are the initiators and the substance of that endeavor and we are then inviting God to participate in what we have started.
This seems totally upside down to me...
Shouldn't it be that we are involved in what God has initiated, is the substance of, and the ultimate end of? Aren't we to be co-laborers with him rather than he being a co-laborer with us? Aren't we to be those who have the privilege of participating in God's eternal purpose rather than him participating in our temporal one? Shouldn't it be that we are responding to God's invitation to be part of, rather than vice versa?
To me the following verse is the scriptural encouragement to being more careful in our language...and our thinking!
For where two or three are gathered together unto my name, there am I in the midst of them. Matthew 18:20 (emphasis mine)
If you look at the language of Matthew 18 you see several very interesting things:
"...are gathered together..." Something outside these folks is acting on them to bring them together. It is not their idea, initiative, plan or program that has attracted them. They did not get together on their own and decide to invite God to the party. Rather, the Holy Spirit is working powerfully to draw together those whose hearts are sensitive to his leading. It is God convening the gathering of his people according to his purpose and intention.
"...there am I..." Again, this is so contrary to 'invitational' theology that has God on the outside waiting for an invitation to come in. Here, Christ is right there in the middle,waiting for us to respond to his invitation! Wouldn't this perspective powerfully change the dynamic of our gathering together if we were cognizant of it? What if we were not coming together hoping for his presence, but rather gathering to his presence instead? Wouldn't that add power and expectation to our times together?
"...unto (or into) my name..." This is such a powerful phrase because it brings kingdom reality into our relationships. Strong's Expository Dictionary indicates that the Greek word εἰς, eis, is "A primary preposition; to or into (indicating the point reached or entered), of place, time, or (figuratively) purpose (result, etc.)" Take hold of what this is saying for a moment! By responding to the call of the Holy Spirit to gather to him with others, we have reached the point of, or entered into, purpose! We are right smack dab in the middle of our purpose because we are right smack dab in the middle of his purpose -- and it involves all of us, together, at that very moment!
"...where two or three..." Here is the kicker...this does not just apply to 'church.' Notice that this reality applies to as few as 'two or three.' This reinforces that God is inviting us to participate in the kingdom reality of his presence and purpose every time we engage with another. It is true when I am together with my spouse, my children, my family, my friends, co-workers, neighbors, and acquaintances. Each and every time I am with someone, it is an invitation into God's purpose and intention and therefore every moment of our time together if fraught with eternal significance -- for both of us!
So, what's the big deal?
Bottom line, God does not need to be invited in! (Frankly, it is more than a bit demeaning to envision him standing outside, like the hired help, waiting for us to open the door and invite him in to bless our mess!) Rather, we need to take hold of the amazing reality of his abiding presence, being sensitive to the moving of the Holy Spirit, so that we can take full advantage of our having been gathered together!