Approaching the Throne

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
    you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise.

Psalm 51:16-17

When we come before the Father in our one-on-one time with Him, most of us understand that the weight of sin, shame, and guilt drop off of us. We are washed clean from sin, set free from shame, and no longer carry the guilt we came in with. But those aren’t the only things that we shed in His presence.

A couple years ago, I had this internal vision (a movie that plays in your mind’s eye) while praying. I walked up glass steps and found myself on an elevated platform. It was a long, thin aisle that led to the throne of the Lord. It was crystal clear. There were throngs of angels to my right and left “standing” on a lower level. Imagine a stage at a rock concert that has a runway jutting out into the audience. Now imagine the lead singer out on the runway surrounded by the crowd below him but still elevated on the platform. That’s what it looked like.

As I walked toward the throne on this clear, elevated runway, I could tell that I had “gear” on. Imagine a belt full of weapons and other items that you might see a 17th century Musketeer wear. I had a sword at my side and a scroll tucked in the back part of my belt. I also had two glowing spheres, one blue and one green. And there was a cloak-type-thing on my shoulders.

As I walked to a certain point, I wasn’t allowed to go any farther. An angel informed me that if I wanted to keep approaching the Lord I’d have to take off all the gear. I understood instantly that this gear represented gifts of the Holy Spirit, spiritual weapons, and things I had been given to fight the good fight of faith. It was also the armor of God (Ephesians 6:14-18). Yet, in order to get closer to the Father, I had to shed it. I couldn’t come into His presence with all the gifts and spiritual armor I had been given over the years. I had to come with nothing–just a white robe and nothing else. I had to come simply as a son.

Isaiah 64:6 says, “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” We often think of our sin as filthy rags. But the closer we approach the throne of grace, even our “righteous acts” are like filthy rags. We must unload all of our burdens, including all the good things. When we come before God, we not only unload our sin but also our responsibilities that come from family, work, and church. We unload our gifts and our talents too! We come with nothing to offer but ourselves.

We are striped down until all the things that we identify ourselves with are gone. We are left only with our two core identities. We approach God as a creation of the Creator–a human being–and a re-creation of the Redeemer–a child of the Father.

Are you ashamed of something in your spiritual life? The good news is that you don’t have to carry it with you into God’s presence. He invites you to lay it down.

Are you proud of something in your spiritual life? I’m so glad, but God invites you to lay that down as well. If you want to draw nearer to the throne of God, you must shed all the good things too. The closer you get to God, the less you can take with you.

City of the Living God

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel…

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”[Deuteronomy 4:24]

Hebrews 12:22-24, 28-29

When we worship God we get to enter the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. We get to walk among thousands upon thousands of angels who have gathered to joyfully worship the Lord. We get to approach the throne of grace with confidence knowing that Jesus has made a way by His blood.

Can you picture it?

As you walk toward God’s throne, surrounded by cheering angels, you are clothed in garments of white. The aisle to the throne is as clear as a crystal sea. The angels, as servants of the King, all know that a child of the King has entered the throne room. Royalty has walked in and they all act accordingly. You are an heir of an unshakeable Kingdom, a co-heir with Christ.

As you approach God on His throne, your pace slows. Your steps are careful. You are reminded that this is not only the King of Kings but also your Heavenly Father. You stop. You know this is close enough. The rest of the distance from you to Him is for Him to walk if He decides. He is a consuming fire, and you can feel His power from here. You bow down with your knees to the ground to honor the One who deserves all glory and honor.

You bow your head in reverence and awe. You don’t bow as a slave bows to a master. You are not afraid. You don’t bow in shame and guilt. His eyes see through you, but it is not a stare of disappointment or judgment. It’s a gaze of pure love. He loves that you bow your head in reverence, but He doesn’t want your head to stay bowed. As a loving Father, He signals to you to lift your head. He doesn’t want the top of your head but your eyes looking back at Him. He loves to see your face. The joy and pride of a proud parent fills His countenance.

As He stands to His feet, all the angels–the cherubim, seraphim, and all the other heavenly beings–drop to their knees in worship. As He walks the transparent aisle toward you, He signals you to your feet. You’re not sure you should be standing so your personal angel has to tell you to stand up. You stand before pure love and pure light walking toward you.

Self-limitation is an act of love and had He not reduced His own glory and power in this moment, you’d be fatally consumed immediately. And you know it. You can feel Him dial down His presence and majesty in order to draw near to you. It’s what He did in Jesus and here He is doing it again…just for a moment with you.

He has a smile that makes you smile. When you see His smile it’s so contagious you can’t help but feel joy well up from your gut and overtake your face. He puts His left hand on your right shoulder. You instinctively know that if His power wasn’t sustaining you in this moment you’d collapse under the weight of His glory.

He doesn’t have to say a word. Somehow everything that needs to be communicated is already being said, heart to heart, mind to mind. And somehow He’s not speaking one word at a time but instead it feels like He’s downloading whole ideas instantaneously. These thoughts would take a long time to explain using words but somehow the ideas come all at once.

He draws even closer. He wraps you in His arms. He transmits a love that is intoxicating and overwhelming. Tears burst from your eyes, and your heart feels like it is about to explode. It’s like your current heart wasn’t meant for this amount of love. You need a new heart, one with the capacity to hold a fraction of what is coursing through you in that moment.

The encounter ends.

Grateful is such a small word for what you feel in the aftermath, but it’s as close as you can get to describing the feeling. You have come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and you are in awe!

Third Heaven

Sometimes we forget that the apostle Paul had an incredible vision of heaven similar to John’s vision where John saw “a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it” (Revelation 4:2). Anyone who’s read John’s book of Revelation can understand why Paul considered what he himself saw and heard there “inexpressible” (2 Corinthians 12:4).

When Paul writes about his vision of being taken to heaven, he talks about it in the third person. He sort of mocks the Corinthians who were following false apostles that loved to boast about themselves. So as a response, Paul boasts about having this vision right at the start of his ministry but talks about it as if he is talking about another man.

He writes, “I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell” (2 Corinthians 12:1-4).

Paul references it happening 14 years ago. I’m not sure whether this vision happened right after his conversion while he was still in Arabia (Galatians 2:17) or after he had gone back to his hometown of Tarsus (Acts 9:30). Either way, it was before his first missionary journey. And part of what fueled his ministry was not only his encounter with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-6) but also this vision of heaven.

Paul calls what he and John saw “the third heaven.” This begs the question, “What are the first and second heavens?” Many people believe that the first heaven is the physical universe that we can see in the sky…the sun, the moon, the stars, the other planets, etc. The third heaven is the throne room of God. The place where the fullness of His Presence resides, where His perfect will is always done, and where heavenly beings worship and serve God continuously. So what is the second heaven?

Many people believe the “second heaven” is the place where Satan and his fallen angels were sent after they were expelled from the third heaven (Revelation 12:9). It is the spirit realm around the earth where spiritual warfare happens. The second heaven is where the angel that was sent to Daniel was fought against and detained by the demonic principality over the Persian Kingdom in Daniel 10:13. It is why Satan is now called “the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient” (Ephesians 2:2).