“Come Rest on Us:” The Epicletic Impulse of Contemporary Worship Music

The last decade has seen a number of CCLI chart-toppers whose lyrics that invite and invoke the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Most famously, “Holy Spirit” written by Bryan and Katie Torwalt prays: “Holy Spirit you are welcome here/Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere.” Similar petitions are echoed in Maverick City’s “Come Rest on Us,” Kari Jobe’s “Breathe on Us,” “Open up the Heavens” by Vertical Worship, and “Spirit of God” by Phil Wickham. “Holy Spirit” has remained in the CCLI Top 50 for over seven years, indicating a widespread resonance of its’ epicletic expression that, while once reserved for use in Pentecostal traditions due to a belief in the arrival of God’s manifest presence during worship, now transcends denominational lines. The purpose of this paper is to explore whether these songs can be faithfully used in a non-Pentecostal, Evangelical context.
In this paper, I will argue that these types of worship songs must be understood in a historical context of epicletic prayer that, throughout church history, is found both inside and outside its original Eucharistic, transubstantiatory context. Secondly, this paper will consider epicletic songs within their Pentecostal origins where the epicletic song is both the petition for and the efficacious sign of God’s manifest presence through a reconciliatory “sacrifice of praise” (Heb 13:15). Ultimately, this paper argues that the epicletic impulse reflects a human longing to be relationally assured and supernaturally transformed in the presence of Christ and therefore opens up possibilities for a valuable type of corporate expression.

Offering a constructive critique, the paper proposes a reimagined role for epiclesis in worship, grounded in a robust liturgy that aligns with a gospel-shaped understanding of God’s presence. It underscores the potential of sung epiclesis to express lament, to facilitate a historical remembrance of the Holy Spirit’s role in the gospel narrative, and to cultivate a transformative longing within the congregation for Christ’s bodily presence in the New Creation.