Saturday, July 12, 2014

Worship: Arise in the Presence of God

Our series so far: Pause, Repent and now, Arise.
In my thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God... 
Then there came a voice from above the vault over their heads as they stood with lowered wings. Above the vault over their heads was what looked like a throne of lapis lazuli, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. 
This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking. He said to me, “Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.” As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me.    Ezekiel 1:1, 25-2:2  (NIV)
Worship, we've established, is about dropping everything to acknowledge the presence of God. However, as we become aware of the presence of God, we also become aware our unworthiness to be in his presence. Ezekiel's experience of God's presence is instructive: when he saw the glory of the Lord, he fell facedown. I think it's the natural experience of the sinner, the knowingly unholy, to the holiness and wonder of God.

We saw Isaiah decrying "woe is me" in the last article in this series, in this post we see Ezekiel falling facedown. It seems to me, we know we are not worthy of God's presence, when God's presence overshadows us. If worship were merely about getting into God's presence, the experience would be over almost as soon as it started. God would show up, we would be undone, the experience would be over.

But as remorseful and repentant as we may be inspired to be in God's presence, in that experience another inspiration germinates shortly thereafter. The Psalmist said, "If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?" Like Isaiah having the coal put to his lips, Ezekiel's experience was also that there was life in God's presence after repentance. God said to Ezekiel, "Stand up!"

Our place before God is not that of the beaten down, the forlorn, or the undone. If that were the case, fellowship, relationship and worship would cease. Imagine a little toddler meeting Grandpa for the first time. Grandpa is strange, and scary, and the little toddler, rather than responding to Grandpa's beckons, hides, cringing behind Mamma's skirt. If things ended there, where would the tea parties, or the riding on shoulders, or playing at the playground with Grandpa be?

God is not interested in merely putting the fear of God in us. He wants us to stand up, so we can look at each other. So he can share stuff with us. So we can relate.

And there is help in the effort. We're told in Ezekiel's case that, "the Spirit came into me and stood me up." I must admit, that as a Pentecostal, I love that part of the story. As we go further into the process of worship, the Spirit blows into our time in God's presence and stands us up so God can share with us.

I'll never apologize, as a Pentecostal shepherd, for making sure my congregation has the time to pursue a course of action in their meetings that at least has the potential of being worshipful. The flock needs an opportunity to pause, to get real in God's presence and face their need to change, to be lifted by the grace of God into his lap, as it were. They have not come together to listen to good music or to complain about music that isn't liked. They're not there to go through the motions of worship, almost liturgically, as if somehow the sequence of actions taken was sufficient just because they were taken.

When we come together to worship we do so to acknowledge the presence God, to let that presence be our undoing, and to let that presence stand us up thereafter to interact with God. When we worship, we may fall down, but God will call us to arise before him.

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