Thursday, July 10, 2014

Worship: The Repentance Threshold

In the noted passage below, the prophet Isaiah finds himself in the very presence of God. His experience is an analog for what we've been discussing starting with the last post concerning worship, so let's look into it...
"In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”     Isaiah 6:1-7  (NIV)
I said in my last article that we must stop everything we're doing and know that God is in order to worship. When we let this faith perspective predominate our thoughts and action, let it consume every other concern, we find ourselves becoming very aware of God's presence. As we recognize and acknowledge God's presence by faith, our awareness of him clarifies and the light and glory of God shines upon the heart and mind of the worshipper. The worshipper, in effect, "sees" God in a fashion analogous to Isaiah's.

In the light of God's presence, the worshipper "sees" God, but that light also shines revealingly on the worshipper. He or she becomes aware of God, but consequently also becomes aware of his or her own shortcomings, flaws, and sinfulness. The light of God reveals God, but also brings into stark contrast the darkness and shadows of the human soul. In that circumstance, Isaiah's cry was, "Woe is me!"

There is nothing that so reveals the heart as the mouth. Jesus said that every empty word that spills out of it was bound to be judged. In God's presence, the reality of this, I think, struck Isaiah where he stood and became his undoing. How could a man of unclean lips hope to survive in the presence of God, the "holy, holy, holy"?

Our response is much the same as we come into the presence of God in worship. We're not only God aware, but in the glaring light of his glory we are self-aware as well. Our every failing and fault is illumined and we're struck by how much we're truly at odds with God, unlike him and unworthy of him. Our hearts melt at the contrast. All that one can do in the face of such a crushing revelation is to decry one's unworthiness with remorse.

In God's presence, we see the absolute wonder of God but we also see by that light all that's ungodly about ourselves. Godly excitement turns into godly sorrow. It would be depressing if that was all the further it went. In the light of God Isaiah was undone, but not done, and neither are we though we may fall crumpled in his presence.

Our sorrow, our regret and remorse do not carry the day. Just as the angel told Isaiah, "Your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for," so do we have a token of assurance of redemption and reconciliation. Despite all that we are and all we are not, we're touched by the grace of God and remain in the light of God's presence just as Isaiah did. The awareness of sinfulness was not the cue to drop the staff and woosh away the sinner like a bad act in a vaudeville show.

There is in God's presence a grace that can deal with what ails us. A grace that can take the stains upon us and wash them away, and allow us to stay, welcomed and accepted in the very presence of God. The awareness of weakness, of failure, of sinfulness is never comfortable, particularly in the glaring light of God's goodness, but it is therapeutic. Instead of being swept under the carpet to fester, our sinfulness and weakness is brought out in the light, recanted, and then swept away.

When we pause to recognize God's presence, and by faith become absorbed in the reality of his existence, we will find not only the thrill of seeing God but the agony of seeing ourselves by his light. Our wonder turns into discomfort. That is no reason to avoid his presence, though that might seem easier or more preferable to the flesh. As wonder turns to discomfort, so discomfort turns into joy when we allow our transparence in his presence to be touched by his fire.

It is my conviction that we cannot grow apart from this experience, certainly not to the depths God would have us to. The experience of God's presence in worship changes us like the experience of God's presence changed Isaiah, so long as we are willing to step across the repentance threshold. So pause to recognize God, embrace the painful conviction that may well ensue, acknowledge the ruin of your waywardness, and God will cleanse you and leave you standing before him afterward, ready to be spoken to.