I confess, to my shame, that I have never really, really wanted anything. Now that does not mean I’ve never WANTED anything. It means I have never really, really, REALLY wanted anything. Certainly not enough to fight for it, nor in fact – and this is where the “to my shame” bit comes in – put any real effort into getting or doing something.
Maybe it’s something to do with my melancholy personality. Maybe it’s something to do with my upbringing (not that we had everything handed to us on a plate, because that certainly wasn’t the case in our family when we were growing up). Maybe it’s because my mind keeps jumping all over the place, and I have trouble thinking of one thing for very long. Maybe it was because of fear.
Actually, probably it was because of fear. Fear that if I tried as hard as I could for something I would end up discovering that I wasn’t good enough, or strong enough, or smart enough, or whatever enough.
I’ve been watching a DVD series called ‘Jazz’. It chronicles the history of Jazz from its earliest beginnings through to the end of the 20th Century. It looks at the lives and talents of the greats in Jazz: Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughan, and on and on; and one thing they all seem to have in common is this burning desire to, not exactly ‘make it’, but to be the best, so that jazz could be the best. Music does not have private ownership of this desire. Almost all aspects of life have an example of someone who overcame because they just would not quit until they were the best. When I was in Bible College, part of my stage two, practical assignment was as a driver for a visiting American Christian Women’s Basketball team. One of the girls on the team used to practice dribbling until her fingers bled. She wanted to be the best. And the legend was that, if she had the ball, you could not take it from her. That’s wanting something REALLY bad.
Let’s look at some scriptures where the writer talks about ‘wanting’.
Psalm 42:1-2, “As the [running] deer pants after the water brooks, so my soul pants after you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?”
Psalm 63:1 says: “O God, you are my God; early will I seek you: my soul thirsts for you, my flesh longs for you in a dry and thirsty land, where there is no water.”
Psalm 84:2, “My soul longs, yes, even faints for the courts of the LORD: my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.”
Isaiah 26:9, “With my soul have I desired thee in the night.”
How hungry are you for the presence of God?
We have lost something in our Christianity in the last 50 years. When I was growing up you put on your Sunday Best to come to church. We also used to dress up to go to the movies in those days but the movies aren’t anything special anymore; the novelty’s worn off. Maybe it’s the same with church? As a child I remember seeing people sitting quietly in the pews preparing themselves for worship. But we’re beyond that now aren’t we? We don’t need to examine ourselves before coming into the presence of God because Jesus is our BFF (Best Friend Forever).
Do you ever feel that we’ve lost something?
What we’ve lost is the fear of the Lord and an awe regarding His holiness. We live in a faith of familiarity. And while that familiarity has not led to contempt, I do believe it has led to presumption. And presumption, where a holy God is concerned, can be a very dangerous thing.
Leviticus 10:1-3 says: “And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which he commanded them not. And there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said unto Aaron, This is it that the LORD spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace.”
The instructions were to take a censor of burning coals from the alter of sacrifice and use THAT fire for the incense. What was so different about THAT fire? The difference was, THAT fire came from heaven (Lev 9:24). That’s what made it acceptable to use. the smoke from the altar of incense would return back to heaven.
Moses actually lost the right to enter the promised land for a similar offence. When he struck the rock and said in Numbers 20:10: “must WE bring water from the rock?” God said, “Because you failed to sanctify me before the children of Israel you shall not bring this congregation into the promised land.”
One offence after 40 years of faithful service and he is denied the right to lead the Hebrews into Canaan. We need to remember that God is God. In Isaiah 55:8-9 He says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways.”
Let’s see if we can get a glimpse at the holiness of God.
“In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphim: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts. Then flew one of the seraphim unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged. Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.” (Isaiah 6:1-8)
Isaiah has the correct attitude before God. When he sees God’s holiness he also sees his own wickedness. “Woe is me, I am a man of unclean lips and I live in the midst of a people with unclean lips.” In modern language when he sees God, he says, “I’m dead! I’m a dirty filthy rotten sinner and the people I live among are also dirty filthy rotten sinners, and I’ve just seen God. I’m dead.”
In John 16:8, Jesus says that when the Holy Spirit came He would “make the world conscious of sin, and of righteousness, and judgement.” I’m pretty sure that’s what Isaiah got in one quick download.
I want to look at these seraphim for a moment. God is a holy God; the more sin you have, the further you distance yourself from Him. This is why Jesus came; to take away our sin so that we would be clean enough to come before the father.
These creatures, these mighty seraphim are right beside the throne of God, flying just above it. With two of their wings they covered their face as if unworthy to look upon the One on the throne. With two of their wings they covered their feet (or in fact lower bodies as it says in Ezekiel), this was the usual token of reverence in the presence of Eastern monarchs. These mighty creatures were humble in the presence of Almighty God. And they continually cry out “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty!” They’re still crying that out nearly 1,000 years later in Revelation 4 when John sees them. In fact, John says they rest not night and day from crying out, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty who was and is and is to come.” Who are they talking about? Jesus!
What is Peter’s reaction when first confronted with the Holiness of Jesus?
“Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net. And when they had this done, they enclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake. And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord’.” (Luke 5:4-8)
What was the reaction of the beloved disciple when he sees Jesus in Revelation 1:17? He collapses in awe. And yet we rock up to church with a “howdy doody Jesus” attitude, almost as if we’re doing Him a favour by coming.
The church has lost its power and authority because we have lost the fear and awe of the Lord. And I do mean fear. When it says in Proverbs 1:7 “The FEAR of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” the Hebrew word is yir-aw and in all 45 instances in the Old Testament, it is translated as ‘fear’. As in dreadful, or, exceedingly afraid.
I want to leave you with a question. Could it be that in our presumption, and our attitude towards grace vs. obedience that we have, as a consequence, lost our understanding and reverence for, and hunger for, the holiness of God?