We sometimes talk about encountering God, and bringing God's presence to the congregation during worship. A free worship session, for instance, allows worshippers to talk to God, with the worship leader’s teaching, the music, the lighting etc. creating a favourable environment. As the musicians translate their worship, emotions, and personal encounter with God to music on stage, it is important for them to better understand what the Bible says about encountering God.
For this we look at John’s and Isaiah’s personal encounters with God. John, God's mouthpiece in Revelation, was exiled on the island of Patmos, where he then heard a "loud voice like a trumpet" (Rev 1:10) behind him - it was Jesus. The book of Isaiah does not mention the circumstances in which Isaiah encountered God, only that he “saw the Lord seated on a throne…” (Isaiah 6:1).
The Awesome God
What John and Isaiah saw were nothing short of majestic:
And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone "like a son of man,"dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. (Rev 1:12-16).
I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory." At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. (Isaiah 6: 1-4)
God is certainly awesome, powerful, and mighty. In Rev 7:12 a worship song goes "Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever". These are descriptions of awesomeness, befitting the Creator of the heavens and earth.
But sometimes we take God's presence lightly when we worship Him. For example, we sometimes worship God to ask Him for something. We worship Him with an image of Santa Claus in our heads. Instead, we must recognise that He is the King of Kings, the Almighty One, seated on high.
Responding in Humility
When we come face to face with God’s splendour, we also look inwards, and realise how short we fall of God’s glory:
“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead” (Rev 1:17).
"Woe to me!" I cried. "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).
Encountering God, we are faced not only with His mighty presence, but also see our own inadequacies in the light of His holiness. We cannot see God and live because of our sin; we can only fall onto the floor and beg for forgiveness. Just as Jesus taught in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, we need to be humble before God.
Jesus told this parable: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'
"But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'
"I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18: 9-14).
Faced with God, we encounter God’s glory and power, and humble ourselves before Him. In response, God reaches down, touches us, and cleanses us from our sin.
With John, Jesus personally touched him, and comforted him: "then he placed his right hand on me and said: 'Do not be afraid...'" (Rev 1:18). With Isaiah, God forgave his sins: "Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, 'See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for'" (Isaiah 6: 6-7)
Facing an awesome God, we also face our sins, but yet by God's grace He chooses to forgive us and restore the relationship with us. It is a two-way interaction, we fall to the ground pleading for mercy, and God, in all His power and holiness, reaches down to us, picks us up and forgives us. This is truly a God of love.
Worship is one place where we talk alot about encountering God. We allocate time for free worship, to allow the congregation to come face to face with God. From John's and Isaiah’s encounters with God, we realise that facing God entails i) a recognition of God's awesomeness, ii) humbling ourselves in our inadequacies, iii) allowing God to come and touch, forgive, and restore us. This is what an encounter with God truly means.