Access To the Throne: How to REALLY Talk to Almighty God

Men have always wanted to find God. They have built temples and asked for signs. The Bible provides a detailed record of that quest for access to the Almighty, and it discloses a God who is far above his creation. It was a given that the Creator of all things would be majestic and powerful, and people in the Bible approached their Creator with fear and trepidation. That’s why it seems unusual that the writer of Hebrews challenged us with this:

“Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, so that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16, NIV)

A Crazy Idea

To the Hebrew mind, access to God was impossible. Having the ability to come boldly before the Great, Awesome, and powerful YHWH was unthinkable. Moses was more intimate with God than any other man, and yet God told him in Exodus 32 that “no man may see me and live.” Because of that, Moses was only permitted to get a glimpse of God’s back as He passed by.

access Moses

Dealing with God was life-and-death business, not something to be approached casually. Hebrews 10:31, perhaps mindful of the death of all Egyptian first-born sons, or the slaughter of over 200,000 Assyrians, says, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God.”. In Jewish worship, only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies, and that only happened once a year. It was such a sacred place that they tied a cord around his ankle so that if he was stricken dead while performing his duties, they could drag him out without going in themselves. Dealing with a Sovereign God who had the power of life and death was not something the Jewish people took casually.

God With Skin On

The ministry of Jesus and the advent of Grace changed those dynamics. The idea of YHWH becoming a man was abhorrent to Jewish leaders, but Jesus illustrated Godly character in human form. He lived differently, and he even died differently.

When Jesus died on the cross, Mark says, “The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Mark 15:38, NIV), indicating a radical change had taken place within the world of Hebrew worship. In our current cultural world of accessible, casual worship, it is difficult for us to even imagine the gravity and the sanctity that the Jews had regarding God’s presence or being in the Holy Place.

Worshipping the Lord, I think, meant something different to the men Jesus lived among than it does to us. I often think that our current trend of worship has lost much in terms of reverence and respect, and I hope I am not too cavalier about what being in church is really all about.

access church

Lost in Translation?

(Hmmm…Since worship was so sacred and awesome, I wonder if they felt the same way about confession and repentance? Perhaps we can be too casual about those today as well. Maybe our prayers of repentance are serious business as well.) In any case, the New Testament makes the case that believers are allowed to interact with God in a totally new way. It says that we have intimate access to the Almighty. We no longer have to approach Him through a human intermediary. Isn’t it refreshing to think of a Creator who loves us, who allows us to be intimate with Him?

If you want to know what that looks like, try noticing the way Jesus interacted with the Father. He spoke to Him often, privately and publicly; he prayed for long stretches of time. Jesus seemed to be intimate and familiar with His Father. Like Jesus showed us, we can go directly to our heavenly Father. Even though He is the most awesome, powerful force in the universe, we can approach Him anytime we want to seek grace and obtain mercy. When is the last time you really thought about God’s dreadful, fearsome power? And when was the last time you went boldly before His throne?

Boldly Go

This principle was commonplace, you can trace it back to early days:
No matter how intense the chase,
No member of the human race could dare to look upon God’s face,
Or walk into the Holy Place! But then our Advocate made his case,
Removed our sin and our disgrace — He took us into His embrace:
From the Highest Throne to the lowest place,
Each one of us can access grace.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

The Idolatry You Should Forsake: Worship Like You Mean It

An Accusation You May not Like

Most of us would scoff at the idea that we would practice idolatry. We are sophisticated church-goers who live in the twenty-first century! And yet most of us engage in it without even feeling guilty about it… “Now while Ezra was praying, and while he was confessing, weeping, and bowing down before the house of God, a very large assembly of men, women, and children gathered to him from Israel; for the people wept very bitterly.“ (Ezra 10:1, NIV)

Ezra returned to Israel from exile in Persia to rebuild the temple. Upon arriving, he learned that the people who had remained in Israel had taken up with local women and local gods. They were bowing down to little idols and figurines in supplication and praise. He became utterly convicted because Israel was practicing idolatry and worshipping lesser deities instead of God. In the Jordan area people worshipped the sun, and local gods who were thought to govern fertility or rain.

Idolatry and Desire

Before you smile and say, “How quaint and ignorant”, consider this: Pagan worship was very connected to carnal desires that all men have. (And yes, in the ancient world, temple-goers/worshippers were men. Women stayed at home.) So at the temples or High Places, all kinds of lustful and sensational activities drew the men deeper into “worship”. Besides sacrifices, temple practices included dancing by temple priestesses and repetitious music which was designed to help men achieve a catatonic state of ecstasy; there were also stimulants and temple prostitutes to add to the local worship experience. (In Greece and Rome, men consorted with young boys and frolicked in bath houses.) Understand this: When a man said, “Honey, I’m going to worship at the temple”, he had more than prayer on his mind…

In our modern world, we may feel a little smug because we don’t bow down to little statues, but trust me—we practice idolatry pretty much every day when we put any other thing or desire in front of our love for God. We love our stuff. We covet. Our motives can be selfish. Be honest now, does anything ever get between you and God? Ever have ANY desires that you want more than Him? Any things you want to do more than you want to worship God? Yep, those things aren’t little statues, but they ARE idols. So, take a little inventory. What do you worship? (Hmm, a question much like, “What’s in your wallet?”)

idolatry

Something to Cry About

Ezra was so stricken with grief over the danger of sin that he confessed and wept openly before the whole assembly. There are a lot of verses from the Bible that we use to express optimism and joy. We rejoice in our salvation. We know that Jesus came that our joy might be full. One of the fruits of the Spirit is joy. But when is the last time that you went to church and had a good cry, and wept openly in front of God and everybody?

Now, I know we feel that we can cry out to God when misfortune strikes, when life seems unfair, or when we are hurting over something that has happened to us or someone we love…That is an appropriate time to cry, but that is not the kind of crying Ezra is talking about here: When was the last time you wept in a worship service because of something YOU have done (or haven’t done) before God? When were you inconsolable in worship, not because of some bad circumstance, but because you realized the magnitude of both YOUR offense to God and the price He paid for your redemption?

Where Do You Spend Time in Worship?

I think our worship today often falls short of what it could be in terms of being transparent and repentant before the Lord, particularly in churches where expression is frowned upon, and God’s Spirit is limited to what time the local NFL game starts. Perhaps that’s because many of us are only partly committed to worship, and EACH OF US falls short of being truly repentant and vulnerable when we go to church. Could it be that we worship our own sense of decorum more than we worship the Lord? Do we worship appearances more than transformation? James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

True Worship = True Emotion

Ezra led the people of Israel by confessing, weeping, and bowing down before everyone in the house of God. The large assembly that gathered around him expressed their fellowship by weeping bitterly alongside him, by sharing his conviction over how he had fallen short of true commitment to the Lord, and being repentant over his sin. When is the last time you wept bitterly over your sin? When was the last time the whole church bowed before God in genuine emotion to confess and express true repentance?

Here’s the problem: I’m pretty sure that I’m not ready to go blurt out my sins in front of everyone at church. And I’m pretty sure most of you aren’t ready to hear me do that, either. But perhaps I can take some steps in that direction by being more honest in my confession before God, and a little more distraught about the idolatry in my life. I bet if enough of us did that BEFORE church, we’d have a different experience when we got there.

No Shame in His Game

Ezra bowed, and prayed and cried with love that couldn’t be denied–
No pretense here, no foolish pride, just honesty from deep inside.
And all the people wept and prayed, forsook the idols they had made,
Left the coolness they displayed, and bowed in grief and awe, afraid…
Israel joined–no one declined–to leave their idols far behind.
What about YOUR secret mind? If you looked closely, could you find
Some altars of idolatry that none suspect, and none can see?
Confess and weep. Repent and see that if you pray transparently,
Your worship wouldn’t be so lame, your church would never be the same
And You won’t check the time in worship, waiting for the Cowboys game…

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Worship Might Just Be Better Than a Trip to Walley World

Thankful Praise

How often do you experience the thrill of true worship? In the Psalms there were references to anticipation, joy, and gratitude: “Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endures to all generations.” (Psalms 100:4-5 KJV)

The 100th Psalm was probably part of the liturgy in the temple at Jerusalem, something familiar to all who worshipped there. Also, as people made their pilgrimage from surrounding towns to worship in Jerusalem, they sang or chanted Psalms 119-133, which are called the “Song of Ascents” or “Songs of Steps” because they were walking uphill towards the Holy city, anticipating the things they would experience there.
Today, those kinds of behavior–road trips, music, and joyous anticipation are reserved more for athletic events, or maybe the Griswold’s excitement about going to Walley World…

worship walley world

More Than Even a Spectator Sport

To make a true comparison, picture how excited sports fans or families planning their Disney World extravaganza can get. Well, the pilgrims’ anticipation sung about here in the Psalms would have been even greater than the Griswold’s! If you have ever looked forward to a vacation, or planned a journey, then you know they were thinking about things they would see, points of interest, good things to eat, and new experiences. But there was an added dimension as well: these pilgrims were also thinking about worship.

They were going to the temple to worship Almighty God, and experience the hustle and bustle of the temple courts, the sights and sounds of sacrifice, the songs of other pilgrims, and the mystery and pageantry of the Levites performing their office. For those pilgrims, it was memorable, perhaps the experience of a lifetime. That is why they could say that they entered the gates with thanksgiving, and came into God’s courts with praise!

True Communion

They would affirm in that worship everything they believed, and they would experience a depth of communion with the Lord that would stay with them in their daily lives from that moment on. Can you think of any worship experience that has done that for you? Are there moments of reverence or communion that sit as touchstones in your heart, reminders of what true worship is?

In most temple services, they would sing this Psalm, a hymn of thanksgiving. As they sang about being thankful, they were reminded of God’s goodness. They would bless his name. They would recall His mercy, and they would reflect upon His truth. I bet in days following, perhaps on the trip home, they would hum this song and remember all that God had done for them…

Raise Your Expectations

How often do we just go to church, ho-hum, without any anticipation or expectations? Have you ever thought about starting, today, and getting ready for your next worship experience? What are you thankful for today? Are you basking in the Lord’s mercy? Does His truth mean something to you? What song is in your heart? “For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endures to all generations.” That included the pilgrims. It includes OUR generation as well. Take a moment now and anticipate your next opportunity to worship, and give thanks! Enter into His courts with praise!

A Glad Song

Enter His courts with gladness; come into His house with praise!
Worship the Lord with all your heart and walk in all of His ways.
Sing to the Lord a new song; shout, and lift your voice!
Exalt the Lord and His Holy name, and let your heart rejoice!
His mercy is everlasting; His word is alive and true;
The Lord of hosts has come to redeem all things and make them new!
Worship the Lord with gladness, and enter His gates with praise:
Humble yourself before the Lord, and follow Him all of your days.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread