The Glory of God
Have you ever thought about what it would be like to encounter God's glory?
I'm not talking about a good feeling, a stirring conference, or simply a convicting message: but a sweeping, unrelenting movement of repentance, fasting and prayer. Call it awakening, revival, whatever you want... I believe something inside of us desperately longs for this.
Growing up, I never really understood the book of Ezekiel. It seemed like it was full of difficult-to-understand pictures, obscure references and details of things in the spiritual realm that were far beyond my mortal comprehension. Little did I know that I actually felt this way because Ezekiel contains some of the most intense, prophetically-charged visions of the Bible. These visions are literally pictures, dreams and images that flash before the author’s eyes as he is in God’s presence. These visions are given, provoked, or inspired by God’s Spirit so Ezekiel can in turn relay them to God’s people. For example, consider the final vision of the book:
“Then the man brought me to the gate facing east, and I saw the glory of the God of Israel coming from the east. His voice was like the roar of rushing waters, and the land was radiant with his glory. The vision I saw was like the vision I had seen when he came to destroy the city and like the visions I had seen by the Kebar River, and I fell facedown. The glory of the Lord entered the temple through the gate facing east. Then the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple."
Now the main gist of this vision is that Ezekiel sees a picture of the temple in Jerusalem and of God’s glory returning to that temple. It seems that God’s glory is physically manifesting in a very noticeable, undeniable manner: Ezekiel experiences a sight (v. 2, “the land was brilliant with his glory”) and a sound (“v. 2, the sound of his voice was like that of rushing waters”) when God’s glory comes. In other words, God’s glory in the temple was not simply a feeling that Ezekiel got or a sense of closeness to God: it was a physical, powerful, absolutely undeniable confrontation with God’s power displayed in its fullness. The Lord explains this experience by saying: “this is the place for the soles of my feet.” His presence is uniquely planted there. This picture captures my heart and attention because it sounds like what I have longed for throughout my life.
Ever since I was in college, my heart has burned to see a moment where God's people are fully confronted with the reality of Gods' presence.
A few years ago, I was preaching at a youth conference in Michigan. It was a three session event, during which each sermon led up to the final evening session. I was preaching on stage during the first session when I noticed in the back-right corner of the room a youth who seemed less than enthusiastic about being there. His arms were crossed, his face disengaged, and his general attitude seemed like he was upset. I gathered that his parents had forced him to come or that he was (more likely) coming to please a girlfriend. The latter turned out to be true. I later found out his name was Jeremy. This young man kept up his disengaged attitude throughout session one, session two, and even during the free time. We were almost to the end of the event when I had a few leaders of the event walk up to me and say, “Garrett, we feel like God is saying that Jeremy is going to become a Christian tonight.”
That evening, I made an invitation to surrender completely to Christ. The Holy Spirt was moving powerfully and the altars were lined. Students were even in the aisles, and as you approached the front, students couldn’t even find spots to kneel, due to the number of responses. During this, I looked up from the stage, and saw a young man hopping over pews in the sanctuary, in order to come to the front. “That’s a bold student,” I thought to myself. This kid continued pew-hopping, arrived at the front, and knelt down.
I was amazed: it was the obstinate youth I described before. It was Jeremy.
I saw tears streaming down his face.
His repentance was real.
I was in shock.
When God's glory shows up, it restores something we have frequently lost in America: the fear of the Lord. Frequently, when the glory of God shows up in the Bible, people respond in the same way, they fall upon their face. This physical posture is a representation of their heart's posture before the Lord: they have regained their awe, their wonder and their humility before God because their picture of God has been restored. This is exactly what happened to this youth at the event.
How many of us have lost the freshness of God’s presence? How widespread in our churches is a boredom, a numbness, even a callousness to encountering God? These things are the opposite of the fear of the Lord. This is the antithesis of what Jeremy experienced at this event. It is because we have lost the fear of the Lord that I believe we have lost God’s glory: our lack of fear is a symptom of the disease of complacency which results from not encountering God’s glory.
I mentioned that in Ezekiel’s day the people were living in exile. I believe that today, in America, the church-at-large is living in spiritual exile, because we have lost our fear of the Lord and the glory of God. And in the midst of this crisis, our Western-minded, American-dream obsessed culture has infected our churches and therefore given us a fake, would-be solution to this problem. We have attempted to simulate the emotional experience of God’s glory through artificial means: we have created church services with better sound systems, lights, smoke machines and funny emcees. While none of these things is wrong in themselves, they are sinful when offered to God’s people as a substitute for experiencing God’s glory. It is no accident that God’s glory was always revealed at the temple. God’s glory was an experience of power, while the temple was a place of cultivating God’s presence. His presence was constantly welcomed, invited, and prayed for in the temple. In the Global West, we have sometimes tried to simulate God’s glory (by offering powerful emotional experiences) without first cultivating a temple (teaching the people to live lifestyles of prayer).
We’ve tried to give people God’s power without God’s presence. That’s called performance.
Performance doesn’t build the fear of the Lord. In fact, it sucks it dry. Performance-driven culture in our churches creates cynicism, critical spirits, pride and attitudes seeking entertainment. All of this grieves the Spirit and prevents us from returning out of our exile. What would it look like to see a return of God’s glory?
Every single time God’s glory shows up the same Person is behind it: the Spirit of God is always the one revealing God’s glory. Most visions in the book of Ezekiel begin with the phrase, “The Spirit lifted me up,” or “the hand of the Lord was upon me.” It is these Spirit-led and Spirit-guided experiences which lead him to see God’s glory. We cannot initiate an encounter with the glory of God: it is distinctly outside of our power. We cannot cause or create a moment of power that is truly that awesome. We can, however, invite that experience. This happens when we create spaces that welcome the Spirit’s activity; or to use the Biblical analogy, when we create a temple.
As we said earlier, the Spirit always revealed God’s glory in the temple: that was the location of choice. The temple was by all accounts a place of constant worship, prayer, responding to God’s character and praise. It was a place of waiting before the Lord (in his presence), not just waiting on the Lord for answers to prayer. Essentially, the temple was a place where time in God’s presence was the first priority and completely un-rushed. We cultivate that type of temple, or that type of lifestyle, by pursuing a lifestyle of prayer, worship and praise. We must commit our lives to non-casual, un-rushed prayer as an invitation for God’s glory to be poured out. But just as nobody in Scripture built a temple quickly, so this lifestyle of prayer takes time to create. The physical temples in the Bible took years and even decades to construct: a lifestyle of prayer is no different. To truly establish a temple lifestyle, it may take five, six or even seven years of persistent prayer to simply lay a foundation. Is that something we are willing to commit to?
Pause for a moment right now, as you're reading, to spend time in prayer. Ask the Lord what it might look like for you to build a temple lifestyle of prayer, today, in your own life.
So many people I know are hungering for revival. They are believing for a day when another Great Awakening will sweep America and push us out of our exile. But this experience would undoubtedly come if we, as the people of God, commit to building temples: lifestyles of prayer that invite a sweeping return of God’s glory that restores our fear of Him. Will we stay in exile, or shall we return again to the Promised Land?