Have you ever been in the presence of a couple who’s love, and expressions thereof, were so intimate, so pure, so… well, so ‘holy’, that it felt like your presence was an intrusion, and that you should avert your eyes or leave the room? That’s kind of like the feeling I have had at times when the ‘felt Presence of God’ would permeate a room of worshipers, and I would feel completely out of place. This actually happened once while I was watching a YouTube video of a live worship session (go figure). I was overwhelmed with the sense of ‘the Other-ness’ of God, His Absolute Purity, Unrivaled Perfection, Unequaled Holiness, and Unparalleled Love. And I was also overwhelmed with the awareness of my complete bankruptcy of it all, so much so that I simply wanted to hide from the Presence I was experiencing.
Remember Isaiah’s commission, when he stood before the Throne of God Almighty? Completely undone, he laments, “Woe to me!… 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” (Isaiah 6:5) Or what of Peter, when he realized that he was in the presence of no ordinary Rabi, after the miraculous (if not scary and weird) catch of fish on the lake (remember, Peter was an experienced fisherman1): “When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’”(Luke 5:8).
Well, in that ‘Presence’ I began to experience a sense of self-loathing, of shame and of guilt, knowing what my life was like at that point in time, knowing that I was not really pursuing Jesus singularly as I ought, nor yielding completely to the Spirit’s attempts to form His likeness and character in me. I began to withdraw, feeling so very unworthy to be in such a place… ever. I was actually grieving and in tears, but felt that I could not stay, that it was hypocritical to ‘worship in song’ when my ‘life of worship’ was, in my view, pretty non-existent. And as I began to draw away, I suddenly and distinctly sensed these words come to me:
To tell you the truth, I was a bit startled, but I sat still for a moment to pay attention to what I was hearing.
“Don’t stop; I don’t want you to stop worshiping.”
As I have taken time to meditate on all of this, I’ve come to realize that God was extending an invitation to me, an invitation to continue in and to pursue relationship with Him, because God is continually pursuing relationship with me. In fact, God has always been the initiator of intimacy, of relationship with His people. If we have any notion that we had something to do with it, think again. We are always the respondents to the overtures of God’s love towards us.2
The Apostle Paul makes an interesting statement in his letter to the Philippian church:
“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:7-14,)
Two observations: Paul considers all his personal ‘works of righteousness’ “garbage” in comparison to the one thing he truly desires– knowing Christ Jesus. But his pursuit of God is the result of God having pursued him first: “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (v.12) I actually prefer the KJV translation of this phrase, which reads “I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus” (KJV). God “apprehends” us in order for us to be in relationship with Him. God wants relationship, intimacy, closeness, much more than He wants service, work, or labor. Make no mistake; those who truly love God will follow after and serve Him (cf John 14:15,21) But it is because they love Him and are loved by Him; love is the motivation.3
But this raises a question for me: why would God Almighty, The Holy One, Pure and Un-defiled, desire relationship with fallen mortal creatures? To be honest, the greater part of this concept is a mystery to me, but I do have one thought to put out there. He chooses to pursue us because… He wants to. “Brilliant observation, Lemuel; thanks for that profound insight” (uttered with a twang of sarcasm while rolling the eyes). Yeah, I probably deserved that.☺ But let’s look at this a bit closer.
First off, we need to understand that God is relational. The very nature of God demonstrates this; He is (what we term in theology) Triune in nature. He is the Eternal God Who continually manifests Himself as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. One God, one “Substance”4; Three distinct yet equal “Personalities.”5 “God in Trinity” dwells in perfect unity, purpose, power, and love. Because of this we also understand that God is Self-Sustaining, which means He needs nothing. He is complete within Himself. Now, this might offend the sensibilities of some, but… God does not need you. Not one bit. He is Self-Sustaining, and He is Self-Satisfying. But one of the characteristics of Love is that it is giving, and it gives of itself, often sacrificially. God created Man to be in relationship with Him, to give Himself in love to them AND to receive love from Man.6 Relationship implies vulnerability, and vulnerability implies the ability to suffer rejection. God has CHOSEN to be VULNERABLE. He is Self-Sustaining, but His nature is to love, to give AND to receive love. I’m reminded of a line I heard in a movie once, that went something like, “Yes, I can move on, and I can live without you. I do not need you; I WANT you.”7 God does not NEED us, but He truly WANTS us.
“But He’s still a holy God; how can we possibly be in relationship with Him?” That’s the beauty of it all; God not only desires our fellowship, He has the power to do something about it… and He has, through the love sacrifice of Jesus Christ! God the Father sent His Son to pay the penalty for our sins and open the way for us to live in communion with Him. We cannot earn that place; there is no ‘work’ we are able to offer to get to that place. It is the free gift of God. Yes, we are called to follow Him in obedience, but it is the obedience of love. We don’t serve to gain a place of relationship, we serve from a place of loving relationship.
“While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:8-10
“For God so loved the world that He gave His One and Only (unique) Son, that whoever believes on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn it, but that through Him the world might be saved (rescued)” John 3:16-17
So, in answer to my sense of unworthiness and guilt, this is the invitation as expressed through the prophet Isaiah:
“Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that He may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.” (Isa. 55:7)
And I can very well hear Jesus say to me what He said to the woman caught in adultery, after He so wondrously rescued her from her accusers and would-be executioners:
“Has no one condemned you?… Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:10,11)
And to tell you the truth, I don’t think she went anywhere. I think she followed the Master, because she saw in His words and His actions an invitation, a welcome, into relationship with Him.
What else can I say? I will say as the psalmist said:
“You have said, ‘Seek My Face.’ Your Face, Lord, do I seek!”
So, while He gives grace and strength to me, no, I will not stop worshiping Him.
1. Peter and his partners had been fishing all night and caught nothing; then at the word of this Rabi from Galilee they nearly lost their nets because of the large catch of fish. (Luke 5:1-10) ‘Unusual’ would be an understatement.
2. EXAMPLES OF GOD’S PURSUIT:
*When the First Couple fell into sin, it was God who sought them out when they ran to hide.
*It was God Who called Abram into relationship with Himself, who is referred to as “the friend of God.”
*It was God who sought out Moses, through whom he called out and rescued the children of Israel; he is the prophet whom God personally defended, saying that he, unlike other prophets, “spoke face to face” with God.
*Jesus tells of the prodigal son who returns to be a servant; the Father, who was actively looking for his son, receives him as a dearly beloved one.
4. I use that term very narrowly. God is “the Un-created Creator.” “Substance” as we normally use it implies something that is made, but it is the only word I can think of to describe the mystery of God’s nature.
5. No time to unpack this, but the Bible is full of evidences of this. Still, it is part of the Mystery of the Godhead.
6. This is why man was given free will, the power of choice. There is no real love if there is no real choice, the ability to accept or to reject the offering of love and relationship.
7. Please forgive me, but I don’t remember what movie I heard this from. I’m good at remembering random quotes; not always so good at remembering where they came from.