We have come to desire a good time at church more than an encounter with the Holy One.
Many churchgoers have a rather odd illusion about God. They think the closer you get to Him the better you’ll feel about yourself. I guess they don’t read their Bibles much or closely.
As soon as sin came into the world what’s the first thing Adam and Eve did? When they heard God walking in the garden they “hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God…” (Genesis 3:8). Hmmm. When Abram was 99 years old and God appeared to him to tell him that He was entering into a covenant with him what was Abram’s response? Did he run to hug God or shout “Hallelujah!”? No, he “fell on his face” (Genesis 17:1-3). When God descended upon Mt. Sinai to give Moses the Ten Commandments how did the people respond? “[A]nd they stood far off and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us…but do not let God speak to us, lest we die” (Exodus 20:18-19).
When Joshua was confronted by the “commander of the army of the Lord” as he contemplated how to commence the battle of Jericho did he salute him or shake his hand and usher him to a war table for consultation? No, “Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped…” (Joshua 5:13-14). When the prophet Ezekiel came face to face with God’s glory he wrote a rather vivid and lengthy description of what he saw which concluded with his response to it all: “And when I saw it, I fell on my face…” (Ezekiel 1:4-28).
And then there is Isaiah. The prophet who Jesus quoted more than any other. I cannot summarize it so here is his encounter found in 6:1-5:
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “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!”
Odd isn’t it? He sees a vision of the very throne room of God and rather than shout and sing he cries out that he is lost!? When Peter hauled in the great draught of fish after telling Jesus it would be useless to go back out, why, when he and his companions filled both their boats with the catch, did Luke say, “when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord’? The first thing Peter does when he understands who Jesus is is to ask Him to go away? Or what about the Apostle John who took seeming pride in declaring in his own gospel that he was the one “whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23) and yet when surprised by Jesus on Patmos he wrote “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead” (Revelation 1:17).
Do you see what I’m talking about? If you really want to draw close to God you better prepare to fall on your face in despair. What you will find out if you are truly interested in coming into His presence is how holy He is and how unclean you are (I already know what Hebrews says about coming boldly to the throne. But if you read carefully it is not due to your goodness but Christ’s substitute). Here is my concern with many in today’s Church. There seems to be an absence of genuine awe, humility, or reverence for God or His holiness.
Some people are going to take this blog wrong. They are going to assume that I am suggesting there is only one way to worship or acknowledge God and that is some highbrow highly liturgical kind of worship service. Not at all. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be shouting, singing, and praising of many different kinds. But where is the posture of prostration gone in today’s Christianity? Do you remember the words of King David in Psalm 51? “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (v. 17). Don’t you think Jesus had that statement in mind when He said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” in the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:4)?
The failures of today’s modern Church (as evidenced by the sordid direction culture is going with much of the Church’s blessings) are linked directly to our unwillingness to recognize the holiness of God and fall on our faces before Him. We aren’t the legalists the Pharisees were but many in our midst carry the same arrogance they demonstrated to Jesus.
We have come to desire a good time at church more than an encounter with the Holy One. We demand affirmation turning our backs on correction or illumination. I keep hearing how we desperately need revival but wonder why church folk don’t want to pay for it. Second Chronicles 7:14 is routinely quoted but rarely practiced. “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves…” No need to go any further. Don’t ask for or expect a mighty revival if you don’t humble yourself. End of story. It will not happen. How about this from James in the New Testament: “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” Sure, we all think that is great but we intentionally decide not to continue reading:
“Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:8-10).
I wonder if people really want to get close to God today? The holiness of God is a burning fire (Hebrews 12:29) of purity. Every step towards that holiness hurts. But we have been invited to step forward and if we do in humility and on our knees and even our faces in heartfelt repentance, we are welcomed by Jesus Christ Himself.
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped. (Revelation 5:13-14)