“Therefore, repent and return to God, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” (Acts 3:19)
We had a flat on the van yesterday morning before leaving for church. Life seems to be filled with little hindrances! Before I could change the tire, I had to remove several boxes of stuff in the back of the van so I could get to the tire tools and spare.
In a similar way, to get to the place of worship there are almost always moral and spiritual issues and hindrances that need to be effectively dealt with. Later, during the worship service, we sang the song, “Prepare the way for our Redeemer…Make ready your heart, make ready your home, make ready the people of God…Prepare the way!” While singing I was struck by the fact that there is a divinely ordered protocol to experiencing the presence of the Lord in true worship. He has set the rules for approaching Him! I had the sense that there were many people in our midst whose hearts were not prepared. They were attempting to worship Jesus without submitting to the divine protocol.
It’s like we want to worship God but try to bypass the fact that there are spiritual flat tires and boxes of clutter in the way. We hope that we can sing for a while and feel God’ presence and then move on…without dealing with the stuff. I think that this is what often happens in the setting of “corporate” worship. Many people feel the “glow” of group worship, experiencing some level of release and peace, all the while sidestepping the fact that their consciences are not truly clear before God. They have been rude and unkind to people in the preceding week. They have sinned in their thoughts. They have lusted, lied, or been jealous or spiritually lazy. But they have not truly acknowledged this. They may have even yelled at their wife or kids on the way to church! And now they are standing in the sanctuary desiring to worship God. But they try to do so without addressing the need of repentance and cleansing from sin!
Worship can be spontaneous and easy if the heart has been set right with God. A heart that has humbly acknowledged and repudiated it’s own evil, can easily receive the times of refreshing from God’s presence. The gentle dove of the Holy Spirit bears witness to the humble and believing soul. But the hard heart that refuses to deeply recognize it’s sin has to really work hard at producing the emotions of worship. And I wonder if these emotions are truly spiritual.
I’ll never forget when a casual church attender named Claire walked into church one Sunday. Her face seemed to be glowing. It was so obvious that she was experiencing something of the presence of the Lord even before “church” started. I commented on what I saw. She answered by telling me how she had met God in a new way a few nights before. In a nutshell, here’s what happened. She had been keeping her sin bottled-up inside. She was not really wanting to acknowledge and confess her many sin issues to God, being content to blame others and hide behind self-justifications. But she had been becoming increasingly miserable in her overall life. Finally one sleepless night she crawled out of bed and got on her knees and started acknowledging her sin to God. One by one she confessed her sins. Every sin that popped into her mind she openly and even verbally confessed and renounced before God. She said this went on for ten to fifteen minutes until she could think of nothing more. At that point she said there was an amazing peace. She had “prepared the way of the Lord” through repentance.
What happened next blew her away. She said that it was like the roof of her apartment was removed and God’s glory came down in her bedroom. She was instantaneously filled with a joy so full that she wanted to jump and shout. And this lady was NOT a Pentecostal and had never been around overly emotional expressions of worship. To keep from waking the children she went outside in the middle of the night and actually verbally expressed her spontaneous praises to God as tears of joy streamed down her face. Times of refreshing had come from the presence of the Lord. The Holy Spirit was bearing witness to her spirit.
Sunday after Sunday I greet people coming to worship. I see on their faces that they are morally compromised. Some have been arguing with their spouses on the way to church. Some are full of resentment and unforgiveness toward family members or coworkers. Others have compromised their integrity by viewing inappropriate things on the internet. Our sins are too numerous to list here. The good news is that Jesus came to save sinners! But the bad news is that you have to own your sin. You have to admit it, confess it to God, and call it what He calls it. This is how we “return to the Lord.” But the reward for truly returning to God is worth it all! And don’t think that this is just for people who have not really met Jesus yet. This is a spiritual discipline that even the oldest saints need to practice regularly.
Have you ever experienced times of refreshing from the Lord after a time of repentance? I’d love to hear about your experience. Drop me a note.