God has made Himself approachable to believers through Jesus. The veil has been torn so that we may enter the Holy Place. The office of High Priest has been filled for eternity by the heavenly (Heb. 4:14), compassionate (Heb. 4:15a), impeccable (Heb. 4:15b) Son of God who perpetually intercedes on our behalf (Heb. 7:25). Because of Him we are exhorted to approach the throne of grace with confidence (Heb. 4:16) that we may find grace, mercy, help, and rest to fit our needs. We were estranged; we have been brought near (Eph 2:13). We were God’s enemies; we have been reconciled in peace (Romans 5:10). We have been bought back and brought back that we might render to Him the worship He deserves.
The tendency of our time is to take our access to Him for granted and with it, I think, there is a tendency to take for granted that God in His true nature in some way like us. It becomes natural to look away from the true nature of the Holy One–the One before whom Isaiah became undone, the One before whom Saul wilted on the road to Damascus, the One whose glory melted Nadab and Abihu the sons of Aaron and struck down Uzzah each for lack of reverence. He is the Holy One; He is unlike us; He is completely other in regard to our perceptions and our realm of experience. We can only know of Him what He chooses to reveal to us. Even as He is Immanuel, the slow-to-anger-abounding-in-love, patient, compassionate God, He is also above, outside of, apart from, and beyond all that we are know. Does our usual manner of worship really reflect this?
Like many other areas of Christian life, God’s approachability and His holiness present us with a delicate balance. We have been told to draw near. And yet it is with good reason that love for God and obedience to God are so often coupled with fear and awe of God. Too often, I believe, we make the position of cozy, warm friendship with God the starting point. Instead we should remind ourselves that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom/understanding/knowledge. It is our starting point. The worst thing that could be said of man in Scripture is, “There is no fear of God before their eyes (Genesis 20:11, Deuteronomy 25:18, Psalm 36:1, Romans 3:18, etc.).” So it is from this initial position of fearing God that we enable ourselves to be invited in by Him:
- Psalm 25:14 The secret of the LORD is for those who fear Him, And He will make them know His covenant.
- Psalm 31:19a How great is Your goodness, Which You have stored up for those who fear You…
- Psalm 33:18 Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him, On those who hope for His lovingkindness,
- Psalm 103:11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.
- Psalm 103:13 Just as a father has compassion on his children, So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.
- Psalm 145:19 He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him; He will also hear their cry and will save them.
There is a fine line between confidence resting in faith and arrogance leading to presumptiveness. Relationally, we have reason for confidence as we approach Him. He has made us His sons and daughters, He has called us His friends, and He is preparing us as a Bride for His own Son at the end of the age. But positionally, there is an impassable gap between our man-ness/created-ness and His God-ness/Creator-ness. As creatures of the sole Creator, we worship Him. As subjects to the one King, we serve Him. Positionally, we have no place to approach God, plop down, and make ourselves comfortable; instead we come before Him–confident because of His faithfulness–with a proper allotment of fear, and we allow Him to speak the blessing of comfort over us. Too often our routine in preparation for corporate worship looks something more like this: We come in, say hello to our friends, do some social catch-up, talk about some football, and then sing when the music begins. Instead we should approach Him in fear and trembling, lay ourselves bare before Him, and allow Him to speak the comfort over us that we so often prematurely grant ourselves. One does not casually set himself at ease in the presence of a king; rather he waits for the benevolent words of the king, “At ease.” Jesus spoke similarly of this in a parable:
“When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” – Luke 14:8-11
There is a mandatory element of personal humiliation in proper worship. To come before God in worship without first taking earnest consideration of who we are (which leads to humble confession) and who He is (which leads to exalting Him in praise and thanksgiving) is the equivalent of what Paul warned of in 1 Corinthians 11:27-29 regarding the Lord’s Supper: “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly.” I will not speak for you, but too often for me, weekly corporate worship becomes a casual ritual, bordering almost on mundane. And so I bring dishonor on myself as I fail to engross myself in mind, soul, and spirit completely with the only rightful Recipient of worship. Thankfully, we serve a kind, faithful, compassionate, and patient God who sees us just as we are, who knew us fully before we were made, and who has committed Himself to be our Teacher, Guardian, and Overseer all the way to the completion of the good work that He began in us. This is a God worthy of all the praise, thanks, celebration, and adulation that we have.