In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.
And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”
Simply put, worship is being in and reacting to the divine presence of God. In these eight verses in Isaiah, we see a picture of what worship looks like. We start off with curiosity. We see God, and the sight draws us into His presence. He is majestic, enthroned in a lofty place. His servants, the angels are ministering to Him. And all the while, they are singing a song of praise to His majestic greatness. The scene we see draws us in for a closer look. We want to see all that is taking place. We want all that God has for us.
We see His glory, and it provokes in us a curiosity to see the entire picture. We want to see the Angels minister. We want to see His robe that fills the temple. We really want to hear Him speak. But when He does, the sound echoes through the universe in a thunderous roar that makes us take a step back. It is then that we realize that we are not in some made-up little world. We are in the divine, majestic and powerful presence of God. We are frightened. He hasn’t called us into His presence, so we choose to pull back. We don’t realize that He is waiting for us to take that step into His sanctuary, to experience first hand His power and His glory.
But, we can’t take our eyes off of the scene. We are filled with wonder. Awe overwhelms us as we look into the sanctuary. Without realizing what’s happening, we begin to step towards the door. We walk closer to the threshold. We begin to feel His might and His power as it radiates from His throne.
Then, like lightening, it strikes us. We’re inside the door of the Holy Temple of God. Not just the little church door we came through to get here, but the sanctuary. God’s presence. We get a little nervous. We see Him enthroned, and we feel His presence, and we feel His righteousness. His righteousness has such a holy factor to it that we can feel it. It makes us a little jittery. We step back. We stay in the sanctuary, but we step back, against the wall. Then we see it. We see our reflection in a divine mirror that shows us the innermost parts of ourselves.
Our soul cries out. “I am not worthy to be here!” We see all those things that we keep hidden. In this place, there is nothing that is hidden from God. He knows and sees everything. We believe that we are ruined. We are not holy enough to even be this far into the sanctuary of God, even though we stand at the brink of the threshold. We see how little we are. How petty our little concerns are. We see just how small the big important things in our lives really are. We recognize our unrighteousness. We stand there, mesmerized by His presence, knowing that e are not worthy to be there, but we can’t move.
We can hardly stand as His voice shakes the foundation of the sanctuary. It thunders across the room, and out into the universe. We hold on for dear life! We see the glory of His presence that fills the whole earth, and we fall on our faces because we see the broken vessel that we are. We need His presence. We need His power. We cannot stand in this room, even next to the wall without it. We fall on our faces and shout; `Woe is me!’ Not only are we human but we are carnal and sinful in nature, frail and helpless. We recognize the sin in our life. We recognize the sins in the lives of those around us. How can we help but notice it? It looms around us casting a shadow in direct conflict to the clear picture we see of His glory. We cry out; `I am a sinner, from a sinful people!’ We want to escape. We want to run. But, the scene has us transfixed on His power and glory.
We don’t understand all that is going on. Here we are, horrible, rotten sinner that we are, basking in the glory of the Almighty, All- Righteous and Holy God. Little insignificant us, standing in the presence of the Self- Existent One who created the universe. We can’t stay here much longer, and He knows it. We can’t be in His presence without being made pure. Without being cleansed.
Without uttering a sound, He sends an Angel to purify us. The Angel pulls a coal off of the altar, and places it on our lips. It stings. It hurts. The Angel tells us that our iniquity is taken away. We are amazed! God, the Self- Existent One has forgiven us. Little ‘ol me. He has purified us. Made us worthy to stand in His presence. We get more courageous. We step closer to the throne. We see the full view of what s in the sanctuary.
We see God’s throne. We see the altar. We step closer and closer. Each step brings us nearer and nearer to the very throne of God. We notice we aren’t stepping back anymore. We notice that we are bolder in our actions. We have been purified. We have been made worthy to be here.
He speaks again. This time, the thunderous roar doesn’t knock us down. We have been prepared for His voice. We have been made strong so that we could stand. He speaks. He asks a question; “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” The question is simple enough; God is looking for people to do the work He needs to get done.
But, we remain silent. We know that in this worship experience we’re having the power of God is present and real. We saw who we were, and we aren’t quite sure that we will remain holy. We have confessed our sin, and have been made pure by the coal from the altar. But we hesitate. He doesn’t repeat the question; He just waits for our reply.
We know we should do something. God needs help, and we seem to be the only one around. We may be uncertain, ‘is He really talking to me?’ As we stand in His presence, we begin to feel worthy. We begin to believe that we can do what He has bid us to do. In the split seconds that pass, we retrace our experience. We remember how He called us into His presence by stimulating our curiosity. We remember how He revealed Himself to us, and how we recognized His majesty and glory. We remember how unworthy we felt when we finally entered the sanctuary and saw ourselves for who we really are. We remember being repentant and remorseful as we confessed that we were broken, and sinful. We remember how, even though we did not ask for it, He sent the Angel to the altar to retrieve the coal that touched us and made us whole.
As we stand there, all these things come to our minds. The words begin to form in our throats. We’re not sure about what He will ask of us, but from this experience, we can see that He is faithful, and has the power to help us do whatever it is He is asking of us. He is God. He is Majestic Ruler. He is the One who forgives. We are the lost, the hopeless, the ones in despair who, without Him, have no hope.
We feel His power sweep through us once again. We feel the cleansing that has taken place. We find the worthiness within us to do as He wills. The words that were forming in our throats begin to touch our tongues as we drink in the scene before us. Finally, in obedience to His will, we open our mouth. We raise our hands to Him, and say yes. It is at this point, we realize that He has enticed us into this experience of Him. We couldn’t have done this on our own. We couldn’t have ascended to the heights of heaven to catch just a glimpse of what we have just seen. This was His plan. His idea. We were just reacting to Him in the way He desired us to. This is when we realize what worship is all about. It’s not walking into a room and singing some nice songs about God, it’s all about being in His presence. Seeing His glory. Seeing our sinfulness and longing for regeneration. It’s about Him coming to us to forgive us. And it’s about Him, speaking His will to us, and giving us the opportunity to respond to His voice.
In worship, we see God’s great power, His love and His mercy. We hear His voice, and we respond. We see the purity of His holiness, and beg for pardon, and we see Him giving us that pardon. We hear His voice, and are filled with His power, and answer the call He has laid before us.
Michigan native Eric Bicknell served in the Salvation Army for 28 years before joining MCC Detroit and later, Praise Fellowship Christian Church. A collector of Christian hymnals and sheet music, he specializes in Salvation Army music and at one time had accumulated more than 250 hymnals.