There is an old proverb that says, "We only prepare for what we think is important." And, it's so true. If we don't feel that the subject at hand is important, then we certainly won't prepare for it. However, if the issue is something that matters greatly to us, then we'll conscientiously do whatever is necessary to make ready for it.
Over the last several months we have been exploring the subject of worship and how it is the "key" to God's presence and the "secret" to true joy and happiness. Without being worshipers, we'll not be able to enter God's presence; and without His presence, we'll have no joy (Psalm 16:11); and without joy, Nehemiah 8:10 tells us, we'll have no strength. Truly, worship is the "key" to being able to stand in these end times.
But, there are some conditions or stipulations to entering God's presence and worshiping Him in the spirit. We must first have clean hands and a pure heart. In other words, cleanness is the "key" to being able to worship. Thus, the saying "we only prepare for what we think is important" also applies to entering the Lord's presence. If we think worship is important, we will prepare for it; if we don't, we won't.
Read Psalm 24:3-4 with this preparation in mind: "Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who shall stand in His holy place? [Only] he that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation."
James 4:8 expresses the same principle: "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands...and purify your hearts..."
These Scriptures tell us that the only path to the Holy Place (and God's presence) is having clean hands and a pure heart - i.e., being in the beauty of His holiness. By continually confessing and repenting of anything that is not of faith, the Lord cleanses our soul (clean hands) and gives us a pure heart. Scripture says that these two things are the only tickets inward!
Remember Psalm 66:18, which tells us that "if we regard iniquity in our heart, the Lord will not hear us." The reason He can't hear us is because sin separates, destroys, corrupts, divides, robs, perverts, damages, distorts, blinds, weakens, ruins and kills. If not addressed, sin can become an obstacle, a barrier and a wall between us and prevent our fellowship. Now, we won't lose our salvation when this happens but our communication with the Lord will be affected. Therefore, repentance - the desire to turn around and follow God - is the key to holiness. It's what allows us to truly worship the Lord in spirit and truth. (John 4:23-24) True repentance awakens a hatred of sin in our lives and results in a genuine fear of the Lord. Consequently, only confession and repentance will give us a clean heart, a renewed spirit and restored fellowship.
Thus, a person who is holy is simply one who is totally surrendered to God. (Exodus 40:15; Deuteronomy 18:5; Leviticus 21:6-8) Holiness simply means "one who is set apart unto God's service. It does not mean continual purity (only Jesus could maintain this), but a constant recognition of one's sin and the choice to deal with it.
If the priests did not wash their hands and feet in the lavers before they worshiped, or if they tried to offer "strange" incense (as in the case of Korah in Numbers 16), God would make their "inward condition" very visible. Either they would contact leprosy or, like Korah, they would be killed. In like manner, if we try to worship the Lord before becoming clean, before having a renewed spirit, and before putting on the beauty of His holiness, God's Spirit will be quenched and our worship polluted.
Holiness has everything in the world to do with our proximity to the throne.
Worship is the highest expression of our love for God. It's simply the paring down of our motives to "love" alone. Only love and holiness have access to the Lord's presence. Holiness means being cleansed enough to love God with all our heart, mind and soul and a vessel of His Love to others. Just as the priests reflected God's glory when they came forth from the Holy Place, we too should reflect the Lord's holiness after we have been with Him.
Fear of God
Therefore, until we are holy, we will be unable to "see" the Lord. Hebrews 12:14 confirms this: "Follow...holiness, without which no man will see the Lord." Simply having the Word of God in our laps does not make us holy; nor does scholarship, without application, sanctify us. The only real test of whether or not we are holy, is if we walk in progressive freedom from sin and self. The Bible calls this the "fear of the Lord."
"Fear of the Lord" means essentially two things: 1) To stand in reverential awe of who God is and 2) to hate sin. These two principles are irrevocably linked. In other words, we can't stand reverentially in awe of who God is until we really know Him and have an intimate relationship with Him. And we can't know Him unless we hate sin - i.e., flee anything that quenches His Life in us. So, knowing God intimately and walking in the fear of Him must go hand in hand.
"My son, if thou wilt receive My words, and hide My commandments with thee; so that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding; yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; if thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; then shalt thou understand the Fear of the Lord, and find the Knowledge of God."
"Fear of God" does not mean fearfulness of God or being afraid of Him, but walking, speaking and acting in such an intimate relationship with Him that we are in continual awe of what He is doing in our life. And because of this intimacy, we are constantly watching for and fleeing anything that would hinder or quench it.
"Fear of God" is caring more about what God thinks than about what we think.
Consequently, in order to worship the Lord as He desires, we must first become free from sin, even if it's only for a few minutes. "Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands...and purify your hearts...." (James 4:8)
How is this personal cleansing process accomplished? What must we do in order to surrender ourselves completely to the Lord? Can we just yield ourselves to the Lord once in the morning and stay cleansed all day long, or is more required?
Jesus tells us that everything in His Word is there for our learning, our understanding, and for us to apply to our lives. Here again, we can gain more understanding of what God desires by exploring the priest's worship services in Solomon's Temple. This worship service, to me, is the model or the pattern that the Lord had laid out for us in Scripture in order to deal with our sin, be reconciled to God and allowed to enter His presence. What specifically were the priests required to do?
If you remember, upon entering the Inner Court, the priests encountered three pieces of furniture - the Lavers, where the priests washed their hands and feet (Exodus 30:19-21); the Brazen Altar where they gave their sin offerings to the Lord; and, the Molten Sea where they bathed bodily. These are the same three cleansing steps that God wants us to implement in order to wash ourselves from "the filthiness of [our] flesh and spirit" and be enabled to enter His presence.
"Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." (2 Corinthians 7:1 ) See also Psalm 15:1-2.
Thus, what we are about to learn is not something I've made up or something I read in a self-help psychology book, but the actual steps that the priests took in order to approach the Holy Place and worship the Lord. Following these steps will allow us not only to deal with our sin and self, but also to worship Him as He desires.
We Must Be Believers
First of all, it's very important to understand that unless we have asked Jesus into our hearts to be our Savior and have been born again by His Spirit, these steps will not work. In other words, in order for this cleansing process to work, we must first have a brand-new spirit (or power source or life source) within us that will produce something different than what we naturally think, feel and want to do. John 3:5-6 validates this: "...Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit."
Non-believers can always make a choice, but none of them have the authority or the power to go against how they really feel or what they really think, because they don't possess a supernatural power within them (God's Spirit) to perform anything different. Believers, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, do!
A Christian, one who has Christ dwelling in his heart, has God's authority and God'spower to override his negative thoughts and feelings and say, "Not my will, but Thine." (Matthew 26:39) God, then, in His timing and in His way, will not only align his feelings with what he has chosen by faith, but also give him the power to do God's will in his life.
Putting Off our Sin and Putting On Christ
Therefore, not only must we be believers in order to enter God's presence, but we must also be clean. In other words, we cannot just walk into the Holy Place any time we feel like it. God is holy and will commune only with those who are holy. He cannot abide where there is corruption, sin or self. Consequently, in order to worship Him as He desires, we must first put off any sin and self and put on Christ.
Over and over again throughout Scripture we are exhorted to put off the flesh and to put on Christ. (Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:8-10) Thus, the practical application of just how we do this can be patterned after the three steps that the priests took in the Inner Court of Solomon's Temple in order to deal with their sin and be reconciled to God.
Listen to Psalm 51, "Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me."... "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow"... "Create in me a clean heart, O God: and renew a right spirit within me." (verses 2, 3, 7 and 10)
Next month, we will give a brief overview of the specific cleansing steps to putting off our sin and self and to putting on Christ. (If you want an in-depth explanation of how these essential steps can change your life, I would really recommend taking a look at our book The Key.)
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To be continued next month: "Personal Cleansing Steps." This article has been excerpted, in part, from Nan’s new book Private Worship: The Key to Joy. See here for details and other products from The King’s High Way.