Through prayer, we enter in spirit into the throne room of God. There, in His presence, we grow in the knowledge of Him; beholding Him with the eye of faith, we are transformed into His likeness. Choruses about longing to see Him and hear His voice often warm our hearts as we prepare for corporate prayer. We approach His throne like children approaching Santa’s cozy presence at Christmas.
Have we, however, considered the biblical reality of Him whose presence we enter, the Holy One of Israel who is all light, and in whom is no darkness at all? While we have the freedom in Christ to come boldly, knowing He will receive us in love, we still come to the Holy One. Like Esther before her king (Esther 4:11; 5:2), He would have every right to strike us dead if He had not extended to us the golden scepter through the death of Christ.
In fact, examples of those who entered the holy place in an unworthy manner demonstrate the sober possibilities. Nadab and Abihu entered presumptuously, and fire from the Lord’s presence consumed them (Lev 10). King Uzziah, whose previous record shone bright among the spotty history of Judah’s kings, entered the holy place in pride and lived out his days as a leper (2 Chron 26:16-23). In both cases, the offense was irreverent offering of incense, which John compared to the prayers of the saints (Rev 8:3-4).
Even those to whom the Lord appeared by His own choice met Him with fear and trembling. Isaiah saw the Lord we sing of so flippantly, “seated on a throne, lofty and exalted,” with the covering seraphim proclaiming His holiness. Isaiah’s response? A curse on his uncleanness, recognition of his own impurity in the face of such splendor. Rather than minimizing his sin, he bewails it and receives the cleansing of a live coal on his lips (Is 6). Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Gideon, Daniel, John, . . . all fell to their faces in the presence of the Almighty, realizing that merely to survive the encounter was a gift of His grace.
Are we ready for this? As I sing the songs, as I pray, “Hallowed be Thy name,” am I ready for a burning coal of fire upon the unclean places of my life? Am I willing for Him to mark all my impurities with the cross? Sin cannot enter His presence. Will I submit to the necessary cleansing and let Him clothe me with His righteousness? If unwilling to accept the pain of seeing my own sin, I merely go through the motions of true prayer, playing around the outer fringes of the tabernacle without ever truly entering. “Men love darkness rather than light” (John 3:19). Alas, the easy way of hiding in the shadows spares me the flaming coal, but also the joy of cleansing and communion with the Father.
These sins I seek to hide all proceed from the great sin, that of enthroning my Self as ruler of my life. As long as I cling to them, I take my way instead of the Lord’s, exalting my own will. This attitude follows Satan’s attitude – which prompted his fall from heaven - of seeking God’s place for himself (Is 14). Clinging to my own way in pride, whatever form that may take for me personally, is the chief obstacle to truly knowing God. As A.W. Tozer writes, “Sin has many manifestations, but its essence is one. A moral being, created to worship before the throne of God, declares, ‘I AM,’” a prerogative belonging to God alone" (The Knowledge of the Holy, 46). How tempting to avoid true prayer because I don’t really want, “Thy kingdom come.” I must step off my throne to approach His, and if some area in my life is marked, “My will be done, my prayer life inevitably cools.
This deception comes so subtly it may pass unnoticed. “Because man is born a rebel, he is unaware that he is one. . . . He is willing to share himself, sometimes even to sacrifice himself for a desired end, but never to dethrone himself” (Ibid, 46). So I busy myself with going about the externals of prayer, Bible study, and Christian service, all the while denying the unreality of my communion with the Father, and the sin and guilt compound until I am ashamed to return, even though finally ready to exchange my will for His.
I need not remain in that state, however. The throne of the Most High God, whom “no man can see and live,” is also a throne of grace (Ex 33:20). He is faithful and righteous to forgive and cleanse the sins of any who acknowledge the need of such cleansing (1 Jn 1:9). The faithful Father runs to welcome home the child who comes to his senses and steps off the throne of his life. Enrobing the forgiven one in the righteousness of the Son, He ushers us into His presence with perfect love casting out our fear. When we approach His throne in the proper way, as sinners only accepted because of Christ’s death in our place, we receive mercy and grace to help in our time of need (Hebr 4:16). This alone is our confidence: God is propitiated; His wrath is satisfied. No matter how great my sins, no matter how long I have resisted or hidden from Him, I can return knowing He loves me no less than before I wandered.
All praise to the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved (Eph 1:6)!