The past few weeks we have been discussing the importance of spiritual preparation before worship. We have talked about why it is important, how we do it, and this week we are going to close out our conversation by establishing the difference that our preparation makes.
When we stop to think about it, worship is a rather challenging activity. We are seeking to encounter and interact with an invisible deity. We speak and listen to a God that we cannot visibly see audibly hear. Therefore, I would go out on a limb to say that it is impossible to overstate the importance of adequate preparation for authentic worship. In fact we see how highly preparation to encounter the presence of God was held in Scripture in Exodus 19:7-20. The account found in Exodus says,
Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. All the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses reported the words of the people to the Lord. And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever.” When Moses told the words of the people to the Lord, the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death. No hand shall touch him, but he shall be stoned or shot; whether beast or man, he shall not live.’ When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.” So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and consecrated the people; and they washed their garments. And he said to the people, “Be ready for the third day; do not go near a woman.” On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.
In fact, we know that this isn’t the only account in Scripture where people have prepared to encounter God. In Joshua 3:5 God instructs Joshua to prepare. Joshua 3:5 says,
Sanctify yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.
Want more out of worship? Prepare.
In Psalm 24 David cites the personal qualifications of those who may comfortably go into the presence of the Lord. His point is that no one may simply barge in on the royal Lord. It takes a prepared heart.
Psalm 24:1-6 says,
The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers. Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation. Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob.
So… we know that preparation for worship is important, but what difference does it make? What results can we expect to see from our preparation?
- Gain Heavenly Perspective.
I have found that it is FAR too easy to get caught up in the small things and begin to “create mountains out of molehills” within the church. In a single service there are so many things that we can critique: the level of lighting, the song selection, the volume level, the seating layout, the length of the sermon, etc…
We even see someone caught up in the logistics of worship instead of the point in John 4 when Jesus is seen speaking to the woman at the well.
Take a look at that encounter in John 4:7-26,
A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
In that passage the conversation turned to worship. The woman’s concern was where the worshiping was done (on Mt. Gerizim or in Jerusalem), but we see that Jesus was concerned about how and in what spirit it was done (in spirit and in truth). The phrase “in spirit and in truth” carries several levels of meaning, but through all its meanings runs the thread that teaches us the preparation of our spirit is more important than external circumstances or the location of our worship. Because of who God is, how we worship matters!
It is through this passage, and others, that I conclude that for the most part the external things/ logistics don’t matter. It is also evident that it is possible for every factor and logistic to be perfect/ without complaint and for us to still miss out on authentic worship. Our preparation will likely be the key that makes the difference.
In Ecclesiastes 5:2 Solomon states,
God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.
In actuality, this is a statement of perspective, not actual distance. God is all-knowing, Creator, perfect, above all, and infinite. God is God and we aren’t. God is in heaven and we are on earth.
It’s all about perspective.
One of the great benefits of preparation is gaining a proper perspective of God.
With this perspective we not only gain a view of the throne of God, but we also gain a view from the throne of God. Once we have entered into God’s presence, we look down on our world from his perspective. We find that what we thought was a mountain was a molehill after all. What seemed great and mighty in the world’s eyes turns out to be small and insignificant in God’s eyes.
When we prepare and encounter the very presence of God we begin to see life from his perspective. When we worship we gain a view of the throne of God, and hopefully from the throne of God.
- Wash Ourselves Beforehand to get the Most out of our Time.
Ever feel like by the time you feel as if you are in the presence of God that particular portion of the service is over?
Why does it take so long for us to get to that point?
In Old Testament times, the tabernacle in which the Jewish people worshipped and prayed consisted of several parts: the outer court; the inner court, and the Holy of Holies. The general “public” was restricted to the outer court. The priests had access to the inner court where they would make sacrifices on behalf of the people. But only the high priest could go behind the veil that separated the inner court from the Holy of Holies.
The room known as the Holy of Holies was the most sacred area of the tabernacle of Moses and temple of Jerusalem. The Holy of Holies was constructed to very particular specifications as found in the chapter of Exodus 26. Feel free to take a look at that chapter on your own… the details are SO specific! God takes His spirit serious!
The Holy of Holies was accessible only to the Israelite high priest. Once a year, on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the high priest was permitted to enter the small, enclosure to burn incense and sprinkle the blood of a sacrificial animal on the mercy seat of the Ark. By doing so, he would be providing sacrifice and atonement for the sins of the people of Israel. The Holy of Holies was separated from the rest of the tabernacle/temple by the veil in order to prevent in accidental views of the presence of God.
Habakkuk 1:13a says,
You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong.
God’s eyes are literally too pure to look on evil, and He can tolerate no sin. The veil and the elaborate rituals undertaken by the priest were a reminder that man could not carelessly or irreverently enter God’s awesome presence, but instead he must prepare. Before the high priest entered the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, he had to wash himself, put on special clothing, bring burning incense to let the smoke cover his eyes from a direct view of God, and bring sacrificial blood with him to make atonement for sins. After all of that preparation the high priest still had to wear bells on his ankles and a rope around his waist in order to let those on the other side of the veil know that he was still alive and give them a way to remove his body if he wasn’t.
Hebrews 9:6-7 says,
These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people.
In order to qualify and survive the privilege of meeting with God, the priest had to undergo certain rituals of purification. Today, we qualify to be in God’s presence not on the basis of rituals, but on the basis of our righteousness in Christ. We are all called to intimate fellowship with God, however, going beyond the veil and communing with God at the deepest level requires that we be prepared.
The priests didn’t rely on another leader to prepare them to encounter the presence of God. They took it upon themselves. They washed, scrubbed, prayed, fasted, etc… in order that they might be given the privilege. What or who are you waiting on?
Unfortunately our time together as united worshippers is limited… so we must pre-wash in order to be ready to enter in!
Preparation makes a difference! I challenge you to try it!
Our preparations in no way make us any more acceptable in God’s eyes. We can’t earn love. Jesus bought our ticket… he provided our way.
Hebrews 6:19-20a establishes this,
We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf.
Because of this we should prepare and enter in. Hebrews 10:19-23 says,
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.