How do you react when you find yourself in the presence of the rich, the powerful, the highly educated, and the extremely successful? Do you find it intimidating? Imagine how much more intimidating it would be to stand in the presence of Absolute Perfection! That is our dilemma when approaching the God of the Bible. He is holy, holy, holy, and the whole earth is filled with His glory, leaving us only two possible reactions—holy awe and holy living.
1. Holy Awe. Isaiah is a good example of the first response for if anyone ever had it together, it was Isaiah. Respected as one of the most righteous men of his day—a model of honesty and integrity—what happened when he met the Lord? His self-esteem crumbled and every nerve in his body shook with fear, so much so that he cried out in Isaiah 6:5: “Woe to me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips…for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” Some versions read “ruined” instead of “undone.” But “undone” is the best translation for what Isaiah suffered was what psychologists call personal disintegration. At the sight of God’s holiness, his entire personality began to come apart.
To most of us, God reveals our sinfulness a little at a time, so that we gradually see our need for growth and change. But in Isaiah’s case, He did so all at once, leaving the prophet devastated. You see, as long as we compare ourselves with others, we feel pretty good about ourselves. Because even though you’re better than me in one area, I’m better than you in another. But when measured against God’s perfect holiness, the result is Stendahl’s Syndrome. When faced with the Holy, our only recourse is to fall before Him in repentance and awe.
I had such an experience my second year of college. Though I was raised in the church, I didn’t grow up believing in Christ. I wanted to believe, but because I’d never sensed His presence in my life, I grew up agnostic doubting that God was real. Then one day, the religion class I was taking at the University of Puget Sound visited a large Episcopal Church in Seattle. There was no preaching or altar call at the end of the service. But the atmosphere of that church was so reverent that at the end of the service, two of my classmates and I went forward to pray. There for the first time in my life, I felt God’s presence. It was so overwhelming that I not only dropped to my knees in repentance, but several days later, when a friend shared the truth with me about Jesus, I immediately accepted Him as my Savior and have been joyfully following Him ever since.
Have you had such an experience? If so, you know it’s both the sweetest and most unnerving experience in life—sweet because of how glorious He is and unnerving because of the way it exposes your sinfulness. But then, God is too kind to leave us feeling undone, isn’t He? For what did He immediately do to relieve Isaiah’s anxiety? He sent an angel to touch his lips and remove his sin. Then, having cleansed his sin, God called him into holy service. Isaiah recalls in verse 8, “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here I am. Send me!’” That is the second reaction we ought to have, not only holy awe, but also—
2. Holy Living. The Dutch have a saying for when there’s an awkward lull in the conversation. They say, “Er gaat een Domine voorbij,” which means, “A minister walked by!” The point is: Nothing kills the merrymaking quicker than the presence of a clergyman. Once the minister arrives, the fun is over. No more joking. No more laughter. Only solemn seriousness from then on. As a pastor, I used to feel badly about that. I’d be talking with someone at a party when they would ask, “So what do you do for a living?” “Oh, I’m a pastor,” I’d say. At which point, they’d become nervous and start apologizing for the colorful language they were using. So I’d try to put them at ease by reminding them. “Don’t worry about it! I’m only human too.” But no longer! Now I say, “Let them stew. Being ashamed of our bad language and bad behavior is a good thing.” (-:
Why do I mention that? First, to ask you: Has the presence of Christ made a difference in your life? After all, if the presence of a pastor can evoke such a drastic change in our behavior, what sort of changes should the presence of a holy God inspire? Second, to ask you: What impact are you making on those around you? I’m not suggesting that we who love Christ should walk around polishing our halos, trying to impress people with our holiness. That wouldn’t be true righteousness. That would be what the Bible calls self-righteousness, which impresses no one, least of all God. But if we do love Jesus, there ought to be an infectious goodness about our lives. Peter commands us, “Just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do! For it is written, ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1:15-16) You say, “That’s a tall order. How am I ever going to achieve that?” The answer is: Relationship. Nobody becomes like Christ through a “get-holy-quick” program. The only way to become like Him is by spending time in His presence, letting His glory gradually change you into His likeness.
Moses exemplified this principle. When leading the children of Israel through the wilderness, Moses got his marching orders by meeting with the Lord. But when he came away from speaking with God, what did the people see? His face shining with God’s glory! So Moses would put a veil over his face to keep the people from being alarmed by its radiance. And that’s the same way we become like Christ. Not by human effort and self-righteousness. It’s by spending time every day in His presence. 2 Corinthians 3:18 explains, “But we all with unveiled faces, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”
You say, “That’s what I want. In fact, there’s nothing I want more than to be like Jesus!” Then start spending more time in His presence. You may struggle in your efforts to pray and read your Bible consistently. Or like me, you may not always feel like you’re making a powerful connection with God. But don’t give up! Perfection isn’t necessary to obtain the changes you want. The truth is our efforts to connect with Him in this life will always be a struggle. That’s why it’s described as beholding His glory “as in a mirror.” As long as we have to battle the world, the flesh, and the devil, we’ll have difficulty focusing our minds and seeing Him as He is. But that’s OK. His glory is powerful enough to pierce the fog and effect the changes He wants. The key is to keep at it, taking time every day to be still and know that He is God. Take time to do that today. Pick up your Bible, pour out your heart to Him in prayer, and sing a song in worship of Him. He promises: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8)
(Next week’s study—The Unchangeable Faithfulness of God)