Over the past several months, we have been studying why worship is the single most important thing a Christian can learn to do. Worship is critical because it is the "key" to joy and our being able to withstand the trials that God allows into our lives. Without being worshipers, we won't be able to enter God's presence; and without His presence, we won't have any joy; and, without joy, we won't have any strength. (Psalm 16:11; Nehemiah 8:10)
Worship is the purpose of our calling because the Bible tells us we become "like" what we worship. (Psalm 135:18) Thus, if we want to become more Christ-like - more conformed into His Image - we must learn to worship more. (Romans 8:29)
Let's review the definition of worship again, so that we will all be on the same page: Worship is acknowledging that Christ is God. It's humbling ourselves and exalting Him. It's acknowledging that we believe what He says in His Word: He is Lord. And, because of this, we want to offer ourselves back to Him as a love gift. In other words, worship is a two-way communication: we come into His presence by loving and adoring Him; He, then, makes Himself known by communicating His Love back to us through revelation, insight, joy and peace.
The "essence" of worship, however, is that it must be done "in the spirit," not in the flesh. John 4:24 tells us that "God is a Spirit; and those that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth." In other words, we must be in the same nature as He when we worship. Our spirit must be free to be united with, joined with and one with His Spirit. The definition of worship that I love, and that describes this union perfectly, is: "catching fire with the Love of God." You can just picture two separate objects being consumed with each other. Consequently, if our heart is clean and open (there's no sin), then our spirit and God's Spirit can join, unite and become consumed with each other .
So, the bottom line is that there are some conditions or stipulations to entering God's presence and worshiping Him. Psalm 24:3-4 and James 4:8 both tell us that we must first have clean hands and a pure heart. In other words, for that moment that we worship, we must be clean, pure and holy, with no sin. Remember, sin separates us from God. [As believers, Christ will still be in our hearts, but His Spirit will be quenched or "greased over" by sin. (Psalm 119:70)]
The Four Cleansing Steps
The following, then, are a brief overview of the specific cleansing steps to putting off our "sin" and "self" and putting on Christ so that we can worship the Lord in the spirit. (If you want an in-depth explanation of how these essential steps can change your life, I would really recommend taking a look at our little book called, The Key.)
1) The first essential step we must take in order to be a cleansed vessel, is to recognize and acknowledge the negative thoughts and emotions - the self-life - that we are experiencing. We want to "take our thoughts captive," look at them and allow God to give us His insight. We're not to vent these things nor push them down into the hidden part of our soul, but simply ask the Lord to expose what's really going on inside us.
This is what the priests did at the Lavers of Bronze in the Inner Court of Solomon's Temple. The lavers themselves were made of a woman's looking glass (mirrors of polished metal). As the priests bent over the lavers to wash their hands, what they actually saw was their own reflection (their own true selves) in the mirrored lavers.
The priest's actions are symbolic of what the Lord requires us to do. We are to ask Him not only to expose what's going on in our surface (conscious) thoughts and emotions-things that we can see, but also to shed light on the hidden things in our soul-the things we cannot see. Our surface emotions can often be just the symptoms of a much deeper cause. If the real root problem can be exposed, and subsequently gotten rid of, then the surface emotions will not occur again either. If we only deal with the external emotions, however, and never the root cause, the surface problems will come back and back and back. Therefore, it's essential that we always ask the Lord to expose any root cause.
Now, whenever I find myself hurt, angry, resentful, envious, critical, self-centered, prideful, ungrateful, anxious, afraid, confused, bitter, judgmental or filled with any ungodly emotion, I try to stop and get alone with the Lord so I can go through these steps. Jesus is the only One who can expose and cleanse my sin. And, thus, He's the only One who can really heal me.
2) The second essential step to renewing the spirit of our minds is to now confess and repent of all that the Holy Spirit has shown us and, in addition, to unconditionally forgive anyone else involved.
Confession simply means "owning" our negative thoughts, emotions and actions and acknowledging that what we have done, either ignorantly or knowingly, has quenched God's Spirit in us. Because it's sin, we must, therefore, confess "ownership" of it. Repenting is choosing to turn around from following what our negative thoughts and emotions are telling us and, instead, choosing to follow what God wants.
This critical step of confession and repentance is our own responsibility. As 1 John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins, [then] He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins..."
This is the step, however, that many of us leave out when we give things to the Lord. Certainly, we've relinquished our hurts, fears and doubts to God, but often we've forgotten to admit our own responsibility in the situation. And this is why so many of the things we've given to God, often come back. If we don't do our part by confessing and repenting of our sin, God is hindered from doing His - taking our sins away "as far as the east is from the west." (Psalm 103:12)
A part of this second step is that we must also unconditionally forgive anyone else for whatever ill they have done to us. Unforgiveness is one of the many things that quenches or "greases over" God's Spirit in us. And, if we hold on to that unforgiveness, it will hinder God from working in us and through us. Therefore, the way we release God to work in our situations is by unconditionally forgiving the other party, whether or not they have asked for it! Now, don't misunderstand me, we are not pardoning these people. We don't have the authority to do that. That's God's responsibility. When we unconditionally forgive them, we are simply releasing them to God, so that He can then judge them righteously, and so that our response to their sin won't become a stumbling block in us.
3) Once God has revealed our ungodly thoughts and emotions and we have confessed our responsibility in them, the next essential step is to give everything that the Lord has shown us, that is not of faith, over to Him. God will not violate our free will by forcibly taking these things from us; we must willingly sacrifice or choose to hand them over.
We are told in Romans 12:1 that we must present our bodies to the Lord as a "living sacrifice." In other words, God wants us to give Him - to sacrifice to Him - everything that is not of faith, so that it can be purged and cleansed by His Blood.
This is exactly what the priests of Solomon's Temple did at the Brazen Altar as they sacrificed their offerings to the Lord. Second Chronicles 7:1 gives us a vivid picture of just what happened: "Now when Solomon had ceased praying, the fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering [i.e., absorbed it on the Brazen Altar] and the sacrifices; and the glory of the Lord filled the house."
Being a living sacrifice means offering God the best of what we have to offer - ourselves! His Word tells us that offerings like this rise to Him as sweet smelling savor.
Now, most of the things that we give to the Lord are "of the flesh" and, usually, will go away immediately or at least within a few days, if we are faithful to go through these cleansing steps. However, some of the things that the Lord might expose will be long-standing strongholds of the enemy. And he won't let these things go easily. So don't be dismayed if certain thoughts and feelings seem to reappear even after you have given them to God. The truth is that the Lord takes our self-life the moment we give it to Him, but often our feelings don't align with those choices for awhile. And this is where Satan tries to make us think that God is not faithful and that He has not taken our sins away. Satan wants to use these "in-between" times - between the time we give ourselves to God and the time the Lord finally aligns our feelings with our choices - to try to destroy us. God, on the other hand, lets us go as long as He knows is wise, to test us and to strengthen our faith. The question He is constantly asking us is: "Will you trust Me? Will you trust Me in spite of what you see, think or feel?"
Another important reminder is that we must not only be cleansed in order to worship the Lord in the spirit, but also in order to respond the way God would have us to others. In other words, never take a stand with someone or confront someone unless you are a cleansed vessel. If you are not clean, it will be "flesh" out there, not the "spirit," and the encounter will go poorly. Believe me, I know. I've tried it a hundred times the wrong way and it doesn't work! "Self," no matter how polished it is, does not accomplish anything! The other party will immediately sense our judgmental attitude, react from his defenses, the truth will be hidden and we'll sink even deeper into the pit than we were before.
If we can get clean first, then we can respond from God's Love and His Wisdom; the other person will sense our unconditional acceptance, respond from his heart and the situation will have a chance to turn around.
4) The fourth essential step in dealing with our sin and self is that we must read His Word and replace any lies with His Truth. God is the only One who can cleanse, sanctify and heal our souls completely by His Word.
Remember, it was at the Molten Sea in Solomon's Temple - a huge bathtub that held 2000 baths - that the priests immersed themselves bodily in order to receive a total cleansing. They had gotten all "blood splattered" at the Brazen Altar where they sacrificed their offerings. Now they needed a complete bodily bathing in order to be thoroughly cleansed. In like manner, after we have confessed, repented and sacrificed all to the Lord, we, too, are "bloody" and "torn apart" and in desperate need of God's complete healing power. Only reading or reciting Scriptures from the Word of God can totally restore us at this point. In other words, only the Lord can wash us "with the washing of water by the Word." (Ephesians 5:26)
It's very helpful to memorize appropriate Scriptures, so that if we are away from our Bibles, we can still put the Word of God back down in our innermost part where the lies have been. Scriptures like Psalm 51, 1 John 1:5-10, Galatians 2:20 and 2 Corinthians 7:1 are good ones to memorize.
After we have done all four of these steps: recognized and acknowledged our sins, confessed and repented of them, given them over to God and read His Word, we can be confident that the Lord will cleanse us, align our feelings with our faith choices and perform His will through us.
At this point, just like the priests in Solomon's Temple, we have "changed our clothes"; we have put off our sin and self (our body has been cleansed and our spirit purified) and we have put on the "beauty of [Christ's] Holiness." (1 Chronicles 16:29; Psalm 96:7-9; Psalm 29:2)
Now we can boldly enter the Lord's presence and worship Him in the "beauty of [His] holiness." Hebrews 10:19, 22 confirms this: "Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus...Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water."
This is what John means when he says the true worshipers will "worship the Father in spirit and in truth." (John 4:23-24)
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To be continued next month: "Entering His Presence." This article has been excerpted, in part, from Nan's new book Private Worship: The Key to Joy. See here for details and other products from The King's High Way.