James 4:8 says, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you...” This verse has been very important to me in the past year. Something I've been learning through drawing near to God, is that God desires us to do this in a particular way.
Recently, I stumbled upon a story in Leviticus 10 that has been extremely sobering for me. It helps point us in the right direction of how we are to draw near to God. R.C. Sproul summarizes this story well and here is what he said:
“There is an incident in the biblical record that causes abiding consternation for many of God’s people. It is the story of how two of the sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, were slain suddenly by God.
Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace. (Lev. 10:1–3)
Aaron, of course, was the older brother of Moses and the first high priest of Israel. God had consecrated Aaron and his sons to the holy vocation of the priesthood. It was in the context of their priestly service that two of Aaron’s four sons, Nadab and Abihu, each got a censer—a kind of vessel that was used in antiquity to contain the incense that was burned as an offering before God—put fire in them, put incense on them, and offered what the book of Leviticus calls “unauthorized fire.”
What is “unauthorized fire,” or, as it is rendered in other translations, “profane fire” or “strange fire”? We use the word profane to refer to that which is less than holy, but the word profane comes from the Latin profanus, which literally means “outside the temple.” So, in a literal sense, Moses, as the author of Leviticus, is saying that the fire that Nadab and Abihu introduced to the altar had not been purified or consecrated. For that, God took their lives.
On the surface, it seems that this was cruel and unusual punishment. These young priests clearly violated some prescription that God had set forth for the offering of incense in the holy place, but it may have been no more than a prank or a mischievous innovation. Was it really necessary for God to rebuke their action so decisively?
To understand this incident more fully, we have to go back to the book of Exodus. Just before God gave His Ten Commandments, He told Moses that He soon would come to him in a thick cloud so that the people might hear Him speaking and believe (19:9). To prepare for that stupendous vision, God commanded the people to consecrate themselves (v. 10). He also set strict borders around Mount Sinai, saying that whoever touched the mountain would die (v. 12). When God came, “there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled” (v. 16). God called Moses to ascend the mountain, but before revealing His law, God sent Moses back down the mountain to repeat and expand the warning. He said:
Go down and warn the people, lest they break through to the LORD to look and many of them perish. Also let the priests who come near to the LORD consecrate themselves, lest the LORD break out against them. (vv. 21–22)
So, at the very formation of the nation of Israel, God laid down the fundamental laws of consecration for the priests. He warned them that if they were not consecrated or if they violated their consecration, He would “break out” against them. Nadab and Abihu violated the holy law of the priesthood. When they did so, God killed them, reminding Israel of the sanctity of His presence. That is why Moses reminded Aaron, “This is what the LORD has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” When he heard this, Aaron “held his peace.” Even amid his grief, he knew his sons had committed a grave offense against Israel’s holy God.
One aspect of the modern church that most saddens and concerns me is that believers are no longer encouraged to have a healthy fear of God. We seem to assume that the fear of the Lord is something that belonged to the Old Testament period and is not to be a part of the life of the Christian. But fear of God involves not simply a trembling before His wrath, but a sense of reverence and awe because of His glorious holiness.
Even though we are living on the finished side of the cross, the fear of the Lord is still the beginning of wisdom (Ps. 111:10a). God is still a consuming fire, a jealous God (Deut. 4:24). When we come into His presence, we are to come as children, as those who have been reconciled, but there is to be a godly fear inspired by respect for the One with whom we are dealing.”
Upon reading this passage and hearing R.C. Sproul speak on this topic of “Strange Fire” I was immediately convicted with the way I can so flippantly draw near to God. There is a right and a wrong way to draw near to Him, and we must remember this.
So often, I can enter the presence of the Holy God without a healthy fear of Him. I can so easily enter his presence without thinking about how much grace and mercy and justice is involved in that moment. It cost The Father the life and blood of His son, so that I could rightly come before Him in prayer and in worship. It is so important for me to realize just how irreverent and disrespectful it is when I approach the throne of God so lackadaisically? How easy is it for us to pray without truly thinking about the words we are saying or who we are saying them to? God desires our hearts not our rituals or vain words. He does not accept worship that is not genuine. He knows our inner most secret thoughts and our deepest desires. The most abominable thing we can do is to put on some sort of spiritual facade in front of the omniscient God as if to fool Him into accepting our half hearted worship (the wrong way of drawing near). Genuine worship (the right way we should draw near) leaves no room for pride, only sincere humility, selflessness, and a proper fear of the Holy God.
Drawing near to God the right way is going to take practice and it is going to take consistency. We must daily be consciously entering the presence of God through prayer, reading His word, and meditating on what He reveals to us. The more God reveals about His character to us, the better we can fear and worship Him. The best way to draw near to God is to walk constantly with Him. This means that in every aspect of my life and in every little part of my day, my desire is that I would be aware of Gods presence. This isn't easy for me, and I have never met someone who says this is easy for them to do either. So often I can start my day without recognizing how much grace God has given me to live another day, without thanking Him for his mercies that are new every morning. What I have been learning recently to combat this, is to try and keep my life from being separated into many different categories. I desire to be aware of Gods presence in every aspect of my life. If I am out on the river fishing, I don't want to leave God at home. Be with Him in every moment. Try and be aware of God's presence wherever you are and in whatever you are doing. Again, I want to stress to you all that this is difficult. I have not mastered this practice yet nor have I even come close to doing so, but I know it is what we must all seek to do, if we desire to draw near to God.
In closing, let us recognize that we will probably never worship God or draw near to him in the purest way that He deserves this side of Heaven, but that does not mean that we should not try to do this as best as we can. God desires our sincere worship and our honest affection, and He loves it when His people strive to do this well, even though we may fall short. Before we pray, take a second to breathe, to think, and to recognize how precious it is that we can pray before the most Holy, set apart God. Before we read and meditate on the word of God, let us recognize how amazing of a gift it is for us to have the revelations of God we have from His word. When we come together as a church on Sunday, truly meditate on the words that are sung and spoken during the service. In proper reverence, seek to have the truth stir your heart into a genuine deeper desire to know, love, and to worship God. This is the proper way we draw near to God.