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The Right Approach To An Awesome God

By Leroy Eims

Issues: The Lord of the universe invites us into his presence. Do we nonchalantly breeze in, or enter with reverence and humility? From a new NavPress book—Prayer: More Than Words.

Illustrated by HILBER NELSON

LET’S SUPPOSE YOU fall off a bridge. It is night. The water is ice cold. You panic—you are a poor swimmer, and you can feel yourself being pulled under by the current of the river and the weight of your wet clothing. Your shoes fill with water. You know this is the end.

Then, to your amazement, you see a man leap off the bridge. He swims to you and pulls you to shore. You are safe.

You both lie exhausted on the riverbank for a while. Then he takes you by the arm, helps you up to the road, puts you in his car, and takes you to his home. All the way you are babbling your thanks to him.

You arrive at his home and pull into a three-car garage. For the first time you notice the car you are riding in is a top-of-the-line Cadillac. As you get out of the car you also notice the other two cars—a Mercedes-Benz and a Porsche.

The man does everything he can to make you comfortable. When you enter his house, the servants surround you, hurry you to a bedroom, and provide you with a hot shower and dry clothing. They take you to a room with a warm fire in the fireplace and a hot meal waiting. You are stunned by the splendor around you: huge chandeliers, thick carpets, magnificent furniture.

If you later spoke to others about this man, what would be the tone of your remarks? Would you speak of him as some guy who happened along and helped you out of a jam? Or would there be a touch of awe and wonder in your remarks?

In view of the man’s kindness and courage, you would probably speak about him differently than you would about your next-door neighbor. And when he occasionally called you on the phone to ask about your health and to see if there was anything more he could do for you, you would speak to him with courtesy and respect.

Now picture a man who has been out of work for months. Day after day he hits the streets answering help-wanted ads, but to no avail. Then one day he is interviewed by a lady in the personnel department of a large company. She is interested in his background and qualifications. After an in-depth interview she tells him to wait for a few minutes.

The man is on pins and needles. His hope, dashed so many times in recent weeks, begins to rise. He begins to sweat. His heart beats faster. Soon the lady returns and asks him to come with her. The boss wants to talk with him.

Did she say the boss himself? Yes, the owner of the company—Mr. Big.

How do you think the man will walk into that office? Do you think he’ll breeze in, toss his hat at the hat rack, blow a cloud of smoke from his cigar, and say, "Hi ya, big shot"? Or do you think he will go in humbly, grateful for the boss’s consideration, and excited at the thought of even meeting him? These two stories relate to a modern attitude toward prayer that I believe is unhealthy. Yes, we must emphasize that God is a loving Father, and that prayer is personal communication with a God who longs to have us call to him. But when the Bible says to come "boldly" to the throne of grace, it does not mean brashly.

The very thought that the Creator of heaven and earth and the sea and all it contains should ever permit the likes of us to come into his presence should fill us with a sense of gratitude, awe, and reverence. Yes, he is our Father, but there should be something more than a casual "Hi, there" when we come before him. Prayer can become too formal and ceremonial to be real, but it can also become too casual to be real.

Let’s look in the Bible to find the balance between these two extremes.

LIKE FONDNESS FOR A ’69 FORD?

Psalm 33:8 is a good place to start: "Let all the people of the world revere him." What does it mean to "revere" God?

Is it the attitude our family had toward the Ford we bought back in 1969? It was big, roomy, and a gas hog—though when we bought it that didn’t matter, since gasoline cost around thirty cents per gallon. When we decided eleven years later to try to trade it off for something smaller and less expensive to operate, the very thought of getting rid of the old thing caused emotions to run high. Never mind that it was in the mechanic’s shop for frequent repairs, the trunk leaked, and it didn’t run well in winter. We remembered that it had taken us to grandmother’s house, to the mountains of Colorado, to the beaches of Florida, to our son’s soccer games, to Sunday school and church. We definitely had a sentimental attachment to the old buggy.

Is that something of what it means to hold God in reverence? No, the meaning is rooted in the word fear, as the first part of Psalm 33:8 indicates: "Let all the earth fear the Lord."

A reverent fear of God will lead us to a lifestyle of obedience and praise, which God definitely deserves. Psalm 89:6–7 develops this theme.

For who in the skies above can compare with the Lord? Who is like the Lord among the heavenly beings? In the council of the holy ones God is greatly feared; he is more awesome than all who surround him.

Who or what can be compared to the greatness, the power, the majesty of God? Can you compare the faucet in your kitchen sink to Victoria Falls? Can you compare a local greenhouse to the Amazon Jungle? Can you compare a little boy’s plastic toy to the space shuttle Columbia? No—and nothing can be compared to the Lord.

This truth prompted the writer of Hebrews to say, "Let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:28–29). You and I cannot serve God, worship God, or rightly pray to God unless we have an honest, godly reverence and fear for him.

The Bible teaches that all believers are priests unto God (1 Peter 2:9; Rev. 1:5–6), but even priests must not presume upon God. Recall the Old Testament incident of the sons of Aaron:

Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.(Leviticus 10:1–2)

What was their sin? Apparently these two young priests went presumptuously into God’s presence, disregarding his prescribed method of approaching him.

There is a lesson here for us. Yes, I know there is a difference between the laws of the Old Testament and the grace of the New Testament. You and I will not be struck dead with fire from God if we walk into church chewing gum, chatting with our friends, and wearing jeans. Hebrews 10:19–22 points out that we have "confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us." We can therefore "draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith." Yet we must not come to him carelessly.

SHOUTS FROM EVERY NATION

Reverence speaks of an attitude of humility and expectation, and of our acknowledgement that the Lord reigns. God is King. The universe is at his command. These very thoughts should shake our thinking and cause us to exalt the Lord.

I was once standing outside the Outrigger Hotel on Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, waiting for a Navigator representative to come by in his car to take me to preach to a group of servicemen. All of a sudden a drunk came lurching up to me, waved a handful of money in my face, and declared, "This rules the world!"

Without giving it a great deal of thought, I turned to him, waved my Bible in his face, and said, "You’re wrong. God rules the world."

He took one look at that Bible and immediately changed his tune. "Of course," he said, "I know that. I’m a good church-goer," and he began trying to convince me of his true religious nature. I was not impressed, and I’m sure God wasn’t either.

But it’s true, isn’t it? God rules the world. And on the basis of that awesome fact the psalmist tells us to "exalt the Lord our God and worship at his footstool" (Psalm 99:5). As we humble ourselves and cast ourselves at God’s feet, we truly reverence and exalt him in our hearts. A humble heart is a prerequisite to a reverent heart.

Moses said, "Who among the gods is like you, O Lord? Who is like you—majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders!" (Exodus 15:11). The Egyptians and many other ancient nations had a myriad of gods, and often the great men of the earth looked upon themselves as gods as well. But Moses exalts the Lord to an infinitely greater place than these.

The prophet Isaiah saw the Lord, and described him as "seated on a throne, high and exalted," with creatures around him calling out, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory" (Isaiah 6:1–3).

Isaiah did not become puffed up with pride because he had been chosen to experience these glorious things. Instead he was abased and humbled:

"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."

I’m sure the Spirit of God used this vision to develop in Isaiah a greater sense of reverence for the Lord.

In Malachi 1:11 the Lord gives a clear prediction that all the nations on earth will one day praise and reverence him:

"My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations," says the Lord Almighty.

In every part of the world, disciples will shout the wonderful works of God, and worship his name.

In Rev. 5:9–10 we see the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy, as these words are sung to Christ: "With your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth."

The chapter ends in an exhilarating climax: "ten thousand times ten thousand" angels singing praise to the Lord, and "every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!’"

Here is a picture of reverence—profound humility and godly fear in the awesome presence of God.

Fix that magnificent picture in your mind, and then think about this: One day you will be ushered into the presence of our unchanging and everlasting God. How do you picture that moment? Do you see yourself sauntering into his presence preoccupied with secondary things? I’m sure that’s not the case.

Here’s the point: Whatever attitude you see yourself manifesting on that day should guide you today. If you see yourself in an attitude of profound reverence then, let a spirit of profound reverence prevail now as you approach the throne of grace in prayer to your loving heavenly Father, the Lord God Almighty.

HUMILITY: THE KEY TO POWER

A humble spirit and a powerful prayer life go hand in hand. God delights to fill the life of the humble with good things. But he is unable to fill a life that already is full of arrogance and pride.

Prayer is a powerful weapon in our struggle against Satan. In Scripture he is called a dragon, a snake, and a lion—portraying his hatred, his subtle cleverness, and his strength. But all his power is overcome as the Christian humbles himself before his God. The dragon’s fiery scream and the serpent’s hiss and the lion’s roar cannot drown out the quiet pleading of a humble heart.

Jesus told his disciples that he was "gentle and humble in heart." Humility is a Christ-like quality. It is little wonder then that the meek and lowly have a special place in the heart of God. They remind him of his Son. We are not surprised when we read, "He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way" (Psalm 25:9).

The meek and lowly are not puffed up with their own resources, their own abilities, their own wisdom. The truly humble fully realize their dependence on God, and that his promises are sure.

Look up these verses and see what the following people had in common: Abraham (Genesis 18:27), Moses (Numbers 12:3), David (2 Samuel 7:18), Isaiah (Isaiah 6:5), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:6), the Roman centurion in Matthew 8:8, Mary the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:38), John the Baptist (John 1:27), and Paul (Ephes. 3:8). They all possessed humility. It was therefore no accident that all of them were marked out by God to receive great things from him, for their lives demonstrated humble dependence, humble adoration, and humble gratitude. "Humility and the fear of the Lord bring wealth and honor and life" (Proverbs 22:4).

Some things cannot be mixed: Oil and water. Clay and iron. Pride and humility. The Bible uses such terms as "of low estate," "of low position," and "lowly in spirit" to describe those who are humble. But pride goes in the opposite direction: "lifted up with pride," "puffed up," "high-minded."

The humble lead themselves lower. The prideful try to go higher.

Jesus was an example of this in John 13 when he "got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist." You do not need a stepladder to wash a person’s feet. You don’t go up—you kneel down.

This scene helps answer some of the most profound questions ever asked. What is God like? Look at Christ in the upper room. What should man be like? Look at Christ in the upper room.

It would be hard to find two more different men than the two Jesus mentioned in his parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9–14). One thought of himself as a very good man. The other was ashamed of himself. One was admired as the essence of God-fearing respectability. The other was hated as a crook.

Both went to the temple to pray. As we listen to the Pharisee’s prayer, it is obvious that he felt no need to confess any sin or cry out to God to supply his physical and spiritual needs. He had everything. He had it made.

His attitude left a bad taste. What should have been a sweet savor ascending to God’s throne became a stench in the nostrils of God.

But look at the tax collector. What a contrast! In his own eyes he was the greatest of sinners. So he quietly crept to a corner where he could earnestly plead for mercy. He probably didn’t realize he was touching God’s deepest heartstring.

Jesus said, "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Luke 18:14).

God’s concern for those who pray in humility is clear. "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit" (Psalm 34:18). What an encouragement for all who realize their need for God’s forgiveness and grace and mercy!

From "Reverence and "Humility," chapters three and five in PRAYER: MORE THAN WORDS by LeRoy Eims (NavPress, 1983).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

LEROY EIMS is deputy president of The Navigators, and travels throughout the world as a popular speaker on discipleship.

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