As I was preparing my message for this past Sunday, staying on track with our them of “Telling the Story” as well as preparing for our revival services, I realized something. As I was studying the passage in Exodus 19 where God is telling the people to prepare themselves for their encounter with Him, I thought to myself: “These people have been encountering God all along their journey through the wilderness. He had been leading them with the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. He had been giving them miracle after miracle to meet their needs and speaking to them through Moses. What is so different about this encounter?” That’s when it hit me. God wanted to meet with His people and speak to them like He met with Moses. Doesn’t it make sense? God has always wanted a close, intimate, personal relationship with His people. Think about the Garden of Eden and how God came down to walk with Adam and Eve. Think about his relationship with Noah and Abraham and now Moses. This is what I believe: God longs to meet with all of His people face-to-face on a regular basis, but very seldom are we prepared spiritually to do that. The people of Israel weren’t, so He gave them instructions on how to prepare themselves.
When you read the story, the instructions almost seem like God just plucked a few things out of the air to force them to jump through hoops to get ready. Wash your clothes. Put up a boundary. Abstain from sexual relationships. I mean, come on. “Can you get any more random than this,” some might say. But think about it. This is a big deal. Coming into the physical presence of a Holy God for the first time. Hearing His voice for themselves and not through a mediator. If nothing else, the threat of death for touching the mountain should have told them something. But here is what is going on. God wants the people to go through these outward actions as a symbol of their inward motivations – to understand that it is the heart that must be right as we come into the presence of God. How do we know our hearts are right with God? Absolute obedience to His commands. Anything less reveals that we have a heart issue.
So how do we prepare for an encounter with God in the 21st century? I believe using the principles that I see in the practices God gave to His people. The three actions lend themselves in some way to all three of these principles, so I will not try to delineate which goes with each one, but this is what we need to do:
- Separation. We must be separated from the world and worldly things. Now hang on. That doesn’t mean that you have to sell your house and all your possessions and move into a monastery. Look at the story in Exodus 19. Do you notice what God did when He wanted to talk to Moses and the leaders of Israel? He called them away from the rest of the people. And then when He wanted to speak specifically to Moses, He separated him even further from the leaders of Israel. I want you to notice something here. God had spoken to Moses in the camp many times before, but in order for Moses to experience God’s supernatural presence, he had to climb the mountain. If we are going to experience the presence of God in our lives, then we are going to have to be willing to pay the price to spend some time alone with God. What are you willing to give up in order to encounter the supernatural presence of God?
- Seeking God with our whole heart, with every aspect of our being. That’s what Jeremiah 29:13 is talking about, and that is what is required. Let me ask you a question: have you ever been homesick? I don’t know if there is anything that feels worse than being homesick and not being able to return home. That’s the situation of the people of Israel, in Jeremiah’s day. They were in exile, separated from everything they loved, including, at least in their own minds, their God. So, He says to them, “When you get to the point that you cannot stand it any longer and your heart is consumed with a desire to experience my presence, then you will find me, and I will take you home.” But that is the key. We have to want Him with all of our hearts. Have you gotten to the point that you want to meet with God more than anything else in this life because you know that He holds the solution to all of your problems in the palm of His hands?
- Submission. Oh, man, is that hard or what? But that’s the requirement. James 4:7, 8 says, “Submit yourselves to God. Draw near to Him, and He will draw near to you.” James is talking about coming to God in repentance, renouncing all the practices and teachings of our former lives outside of Christ. Surrendering our wills to His will. Simply saying, “Yes, Lord. Whatever you say.” The question is, have you come to the point in your life that you are willing to say to God, “Whatever it takes to come into your presence, Lord, I will do.”
Only when we are willing to come to God on His terms can we ever expect to experience His presence and His power – and we definitely need both in this 21st Century world. To listen to the message that this blog post comes from, click on this link.