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Face to Face with the Living God

by Ken Ballenger
Face to Face Ministries, Tucson, AZ

Exodus 33:7-11 provides an interesting study in one man's desire to have a face to face encounter with the living God. That was, of course, Moses, and scripture records in v. 11: "So the Lord spoke to Moses face to face as a man speaks to His friend." The Hebrew word for "face" is paniym, which means "before, at, or to the face of (in the sense of, in full view of, under the eye of, or at the disposal of). The same word is elsewhere translated "presence" such as in Genesis 3:8. After Adam and Eve disobeyed God, the Bible says that in fear they "...hid themselves from the presence (paniym) of the Lord God among the trees of the garden." In Genesis 32:22-30, Jacob had an encounter with God at a place he called Peniel, which literally means "the face of God." In verse 30, Jacob explains, "I have seen God face to face (paniym) and my life is preserved." Psalm 100:2 gives us a prescription for entering God's presence: "Serve the Lord with gladness; come before His presence (paniym) with singing."

Yes, singing is one of the pathways into God's presence. LaMar Boschman puts it this way: "God is not calling us to just be where He is. He is calling us to come before His face, into His full view, under His loving gaze. He longs to look full into our eyes. What He desires is not a passing glance or a fleeting sight, but an intense stare. Face to face is a term that speaks of intimacy with God. Many of Moses' companions feared this intimacy with God (Deuteronomy 5:4,5). Even today many Christians are afraid to get too close to God. They are accustomed to living their lives without God's presence. We seem to have our lives so well ordered these days. There is the secular, there is the sacred. There is a time for the secular, and there is a time for the sacred. Although most of us believe there is a time to be spiritual, we usually reserve that time for a church service. The rest of the time we live much as the rest of the world, doing what we want to do. The Christian life, however, is a new lifestyle. It begins the day we are made a new creation in Christ, and it must not end until we are in the ultimate presence of God. God is calling us to be spiritual all the time, to live in His face, to walk in the Spirit every moment of every day" (A Passion for His Presence. pp. 28-31. Shippensburg, PA: Revival Press, 1992).

How about you? Have you become accustomed to living your life without a continual awareness of God's presence? If so, ask Him to draw you close to Himself; and, then you will be able to say with the psalmist: "One thing I have asked of the Lord, that will I seek: that I may dwell in the house (presence) of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple" (Psalm 27:4).

John Piper, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, MN said: "Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn't. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.

"Worship, therefore, is the fuel and goal of missions. It's the goal of missions because in missions we simply aim to bring the nations into the white hot enjoyment of God's glory. The goal of missions is the gladness of the peoples in the greatness of God. 'The Lord reigns; let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!' (Psalm 97:1) 'Let the peoples praise thee, O God; let all the peoples praise thee! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy!' (Psalm 67:3,4) But worship is also the fuel of missions. Passion for God in worship precedes the offer of God in preaching. You can't commend what you don't cherish. Missionaries will never call out, 'Let the nations be glad! who cannot say from the heart, 'I rejoice in the Lord...I will be glad and exult in thee, I will sing praise to Thy name, O Most High' (Psalm 104:34; 9:2). Missions begins and ends in worship" (John Piper, from Let the Nations be Glad, quoted in "Missions Frontiers" magazine, May-Aug. 1996).

Did you notice what Piper said? "You can't commend what you don't cherish." Do you cherish God and His presence? Has worshiping Him become the number one priority in your life? If not, ask Him to reveal Himself to you in His glory, beauty, and majesty. You will then cry out with the Psalmist: "I will be glad and exult in Thee, I will sing praise to Thy name, O Most High" Psalm 9:2).

As we make the worship of God the priority in our lives, we'll sense a "rightness" in all of our other relationships. In other words, everything else in our lives will line up in their proper order behind worship.

David, Job, and others in the Bible understood the priority of worship, and they did it even when they didn't feel like it, or when their world was falling apart around them. We should learn a lesson from these great men of faith.

Psalm 91:1 says, "He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty." The Hebrew word for "dwell" is yashab, meaning "to remain or abide, to inhabit." To "abide" is the Hebrew word luwn, meaning literally "to lodge or spend the night." From these meanings we begin to understand that all of the wonderful promises that follow in this Psalm are contingent on our willingness to remain in "the secret place."

From the secret place, I can confidently "say of the Lord, 'He is my refuge (a shelter from the storm) and my fortress; my God, in Him I will trust'" (v. 2). From the secret place, we can trust Him to deliver us "from the snare of the fowler and from the perilous pestilence" (v. 3). In the secret place, we learn to "set our love on Him" assuring us of His deliverance (v. 14) and from there, "we call on Him" expecting His answer and assurance of His abiding presence (v. 15).

Is it any wonder that there is so much emphasis in the Word on cultivating an intimate relationship with the Lord? James 4:8 says to "draw near to God and He will draw near to you." As we daily seek the Lord in prayer and the reading of His Word, we'll begin to enter that "secret place" of intimacy with Him.

As I was reading Revelation 2 in my quiet time, I was moved by the Lord's indictment against the faithful, thoroughly orthodox church at Ephesus: "Nevertheless, I have this against you, that you have left (neglected, forsaken) your first love" (Revelation 2:4).

Even though outwardly the church at Ephesus was doing all the right things, inwardly, their hearts had begun to depart from their first love. Jesus told them if they didn't repent, He'd take away their lampstand, meaning they would cease to exist as His representatives in that city (because His presence, the Holy Spirit, would be removed from their midst). We know historically that's exactly what happened, as the church at Ephesus did not endure.

My pastor once stunned me with the statement he made while preaching on this passage: "God would rather have no church in a city than a church like Ephesus."

That's hard to accept, but I believe the text bears that out. Orthodoxy alone does not commend us to God. He wants a love relationship with His church. Nothing else will do. I hope you'll join me in a fresh commitment to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:37).

In writing to the church Philippi, Paul warned the believers to "beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation!" (Philippians 2:2). He was warning them to beware of the Judaizers who were always trying to sabotage the gospel of free grace with external religious ritual. In contrast, he went on to say that those who were the "true circumcision" (born again believers) were characterized, not by observance of legalistic religious ritual, but by "worship in the Spirit of God" (v. 3).

It's interesting that when Paul seeks to differentiate the true from the false, the first distinction listed is worship. Jesus said that "the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth" (John 4:23). What sets God's people apart from all others? Worship!

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