Elvis has left the building

This post was contributed by worship leader Mike Hale.

Early in the career of Elvis a concert promoter famously announced “Elvis has left the building” in hopes that screaming fans would begin calming down upon learning that Elvis had indeed exited the hall and would not be returning for another encore.  The promoter had brought Elvis to the fans in the first place and was now announcing his departure.  The phrase about Elvis became a punchline for whenever someone makes a dramatic exit.  (Need we note Elvis is pictured below?)

Sometimes a worship service is conducted in a way that implies the pastor or the worship leader is somehow by words or actions bringing the presence of God into the building.  I’m sure I’ve done that myself.  For example a person might pray for Jesus or the Holy Spirit to come into the room.

The implication is that God has come from far away to meet with us during the worship service and will then leave the building, awaiting the next invitation to come back when we ask again.

A better approach is a prayer for our Lord to continue opening our hearts and minds to the reality that he is already with us—that through the Holy Spirit we are bound in union to the risen and ascended glorified Jesus that goes before us as the Minister of the Sanctuary.  (Reminds me of the Paul Baloche song, "Open the Eyes of My Heart.")

We can pray for realization that we are joining in the ongoing worship of Jesus who is both worship leader and worshipper on our behalf—that we are already in heavenly places with Christ—actively participating in Jesus’ worship of the Father in Spirit.  The book of Hebrews reminds us of the powerful reality (not just a figure of speech) of our High Priest at the throne of grace.

That word “grace” is key in terms of worship.  Worship is a gift of grace.  Because of grace (because of the loving Father sent the Son for us) Jesus precedes us and is already in the room, and with the Holy Spirit has actually initiated our being there—has gathered us together in the first place.  In his freedom and by his choice he is with us as we pray and worship in the name of Jesus.

We do not cause him to be in the worship service or usher him into the presence of the people. We do not mediate/minister God to ourselves.  Instead, we can offer humble prayers asking for forgiveness for losing “sight” of God and for so often going our own way by resisting him and failing to see or take part in what he is already doing.  Offer prayers of thanks for the invisible presence of God, and pray for increased awareness of his goodness and love—for his compassion and mercy.

Has Jesus exited the building?  The risen Jesus made a dramatic exit from the sight of the disciples and entered the heavenly realm.  But he did this in order to send the promised Holy Spirit that actually binds all Christians everywhere to him and his ongoing ministry.  Though now invisible, Jesus has firm hold of us and will never leave or forsake us.  He takes us with him.  Beyond just being in the building, our whole life and worship are in him.  Pray for a greater sense of the reality of such healing, freedom and newness of life.

[Sharing in the actuality of Christ’s present life now through union with Christ is the theme of The Crucifixion of Ministry by Andrew Purves (InterVarsity Press, 2007).  Many pastors are familiar with this short 150-page book, but I highly recommend it for worship leaders as well.]

Your comments, critiques and recommendations are always welcome.