Fit for Worship
Why We Should Examine Ourselves before Entering the Presence of God
A friend of mine recently sent me a popular meme which contrasted two very different images side by side. The first was a crazy-eyed, snarling dog, its fur sticking out every which way, with the words underneath it: “Mom BEFORE church.” The second depicted the very same dog looking entirely different — now with its fur all neatly groomed and coiffed, smiling sweetly at the camera. The tag line: “Mom AT church.”
I couldn’t help but smile at this ridiculous yet uncomfortably real illustration. How many times had I turned up to church on Sunday like the epitome of the perfect mom — the perfect Christian even — when only minutes before, I was raising my voice at my children and behaving unreasonably toward my husband in my stress to get everyone out the door. Not to mention how I’d behaved the rest of the week prior.
More than I’d like to admit, honestly.
And all humorous memes aside, this is the reality for so many Christians who may portray a carefully managed image inside the church building but a very different — far less appealing — persona to the outside world.
Now while our fellow church members may be fooled by our inconsistencies, God certainly isn’t. So, as we prepare to enter the sacred sanctuary of His presence — within the church building or wherever else we choose to meet with Him — perhaps it’s time we, too, reflected on the question David asked in Psalm 15:1:
“Lord who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain” (NIV)?
Preparing for His Presence
In the book of Exodus, Moses ascended a literal mountain — Mt. Sinai — to meet with the Lord, and so, in David’s time, the ‘holy mountain’ was considered a designated place of worship — a place where God’s presence dwelt.
The Israelites however, did not simply wander up the mountain whenever they felt like it to meet with God. In Exodus 19:10 we read,
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. And you shall set limits for the people all around saying, “Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death”’” (ESV).
The meaning was clear: Such was the awesome holiness of God, that in order to witness His presence on the holy mountain, the Israelites needed to prepare themselves physically and spiritually in order to appear pure and undefiled before their God.
This context helps us understand the sacred nature of this meeting place. And so in Psalm 15, sometimes referred to as an ‘entrance liturgy’, David, too, sets out some ‘conditions’ for anyone entering into a spirit of worship. Conditions that did not refer to the state of our physical bodies, but the state of our souls.
So, who does David deem to be acceptable for entry before the Lord in His holy place? As we read in Psalm 15:2–5:
“Those who lead blameless lives and do what is right, speaking the truth from sincere hearts. Those who refuse to gossip or harm their neighbors or speak evil of their friends…Those who despise flagrant sinners and honor the faithful followers of the Lord, and keep their promises even when it hurts. Those who lend money without charging interest, and who cannot be bribed to lie about the innocent” (NLT).
We can sum it up like this: Our words, our actions, our character should all be honoring to God. In fact, our very life should be a fragrant offering to Him just as He poured out His for us (Ephesians 5:2).
The problem is, that’s much easier in theory than it is in practice.
The Need for Self Examination
1. A Posture of Humility
As I read through the list, I all too quickly see my failures and shortcomings. I am under no illusion that my walk is always ‘blameless’, that I always treat others with the respect and compassion and love that I am called to do, that I steward my finances with others in mind before my own interests and desires — the list goes on.
Based on David’s criteria, then, there’s no doubt in my mind that I am clearly not worthy to enter the Lord’s presence.
And yet, I think this self examination of our internal and external behavior helps us see just that — that while we are not worthy to dwell in His sacred tent, thanks to Jesus, we are given the privilege of His presence anyway. For His worthiness and holiness is enough for both of us. As Hebrews 6:19 affirms:
“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner Jesus, has entered on our behalf He has become a high priest forever” (NIV).
Jesus made a way for us to access the throne room of Heaven. He became the sacrificial lamb; He tore the veil that allowed us to stand in the presence of God spotless and undefiled. We are so undeserving of this gift of grace, and yet it is ours to claim anyway.
The world, on the other hand, tricks us into thinking we are actually quite a big deal. We start to forget how wretched we are; how desperate our need is for His saving grace. We appear arrogant, self-focused, or worse, ambivalent toward the One whose presence we dare to enter. We forget, to our great cost, Who we are meeting with, and why we need Him so.
Yet the only possible response we could have is one of humility. This is the posture our heart should take as we come before God in worship — that we are entirely dependent on Him; that apart from Him, we can do nothing, we are nothing.
2. Evidence of a Spirit-Filled Life
Self examination also helps us reset those areas of our lives that are not glorifying to God. As we read in James 3:9–11,
“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water” (NIV).
The way we live our lives and treat others is an outward expression of our love and devotion to God. Yet if we leave a trail of destruction with our tongues (or computer keyboards) on our way into the church building, what message are we sending both to and about the God we claim to worship with our lives? It is a sobering thought and yet one that God wants us to deal with decisively. As the Message translation puts it,
“If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God” (Matthew 5:23–24).
God sees and knows our every thought, word, and action, before we do. He is not fooled by our church persona — no matter how well practiced it may be. No, He sees us as we are, and though His love for us does not change, He also expects the fruit that comes from a Spirit-filled life. Before we enter into His presence, then, it is worth taking the preparation time to examine how abundant our fruit harvest may be, and in what areas we may need to seek His forgiveness, grace, and help.
Preparing for His Presence
So, who may dwell in the presence of the Lord?
Well, the truth is, thanks to Jesus, anyone can come before His throne of grace. But I think what this Psalm really gives us is a sobering reminder not to be glib or lackadaisical in our approach to worship, but to truly prepare our hearts and minds before entering into the presence of our King. To come before His Holiness with humility, gratitude, and repentance — and a fresh desire to glorify Him with every aspect of our lives.
Perhaps, then, the better question to ask ourselves is this:
“How am I worshipping God — not just when I’m in the church building, but with my everyday life? What is the condition of my heart, mind, and spirit as I enter this sacred place? And if there are areas of weakness in my witness, what must I do, in partnership with the Holy Spirit, to start closing those gaps?”
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