daily Broadcast

The High and Exalted One

From the series Less is More

If you were to survey the average Christian and ask which area of their spiritual walk they would like to improve, prayer would be a pretty popular answer. In this program, Chip picks up in his series, Less is More: Decluttering Your Time with God. He will share his struggles with focusing during prayer and explain how getting an accurate view of God utterly changed his approach.

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Message Transcript

Of all the areas of my time with God I need to declutter, it’s my prayer time. There are just different seasons when, you know, a lot is coming at me, I’m sure a lot is coming at you, your mind wanders, you try to pray, you say the words, you maybe go back to the Lord’s Prayer, you maybe pray Psalm 23.

You know, you start praying for people that you care about and all of a sudden, you know, the problems of the day and, “What are we going to do with our daughter?” “What about the bills that are coming?” Or, you know, “I’m not sure, you know, the economy, they are downsizing over here.”

And, I mean, my brain just gets flooded with thoughts and I will be sitting there and realizing I’m not sure when I stopped, but I was talking to God and I was engaged before His presence and then it’s almost like, at least inside my mind, somewhere along that time, I am over here figuring out a problem, coming up with a plan, feeling this inside drive: I need to get up, I need to get going, I’ve gotta take care of this, I’ve got to take care of that.

While I was praying I thought about, oh, I never got back to so-and-so. And, oh, this is coming up on the calendar and I told Theresa I was going to do this. Or – and it just bombards my mind and I find myself sometimes sitting asking God to forgive me for all the wandering and then, I feel so unworthy and like I’ve blown it so much and, Well, I better just, you know, I can’t really concentrate right now. I’ll pray a little bit later and I’ll go deeper later when my mood is better.

And I hate to admit that, I mean, after all these years of walking with the Lord. But those are times that my mind really gets cluttered. And my time with God - I showed up, okay? But I didn’t connect and I didn't connect deeply.

And so, there’s a verse that I have written down. In fact, I actually memorized this verse many, many years ago. And as I was reviewing it, this decluttering that we are talking about, there are times where there’s a passage that so speaks to me, every single morning for weeks I will read it first and walk through it.

And the passage is Isaiah 57 and verse 15. I’m not going to go into context too much. It’s pretty complicated. Just enough to say that Israel has abandoned God, they are worshipping idols, they have gone down very, very bad paths.

And then there’s this passage in Isaiah 57, verse 15 where he talks about there’s access when people are far from God, when they feel guilty, when they feel like they shouldn’t receive any mercy or help. And it goes like this, “For thus says,” a little old English there, “the high and exalted One who lives forever, whose name is holy, ‘I dwell,’” or, “I live [in] a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit in order to revive the spirit of the lowly and revive the heart of the contrite.”

Sometimes there’s one passage that focuses on who God really is in such a powerful way that as you ponder and meditate on it slowly and in a protracted way and really think about what it means, it begins to lift up your mind and your heart and your spirit above the noise, the clutter, the demands, the “who-am-I-supposed-to-pray-for?” And what about this? And what about that?

And then this passage not only has this high, exalted, clear view of God that I’ll talk a little bit more about, but it has this corresponding truth of there’s access, there’s a willingness, a tenderness, a desire.

There’s a part of God’s character that He is drawn to a certain kind of person that has a certain kind of attitude and view of themselves and their situation that, regardless of all the challenges of past sin, of however we have blown it in ways that we are just even sick and tired of looking at ourselves and saying, “Oh, how many times are we going to go through this over and over?”

And so, what I want to do in our time here is I want you to walk with me through this one verse and at the core of it is in our time with God praying, so often people are concerned about the words or how long you pray or emotions and what I want to tell you is that your view of God when you close your eyes, bow your head, or maybe you get on your knees or you’re taking a walk - whatever position that you’re in it is who you perceive God to be will be the most important thing about anything in your prayer life and it will help you declutter.

I won’t go into it, but for those of you that want a little, extra insight into what I just said, it’s Luke chapter 11. And it’s when the disciples come and ask, “Jesus, teach us to pray.” And read that carefully. And when you read it carefully, what you’ll see is, yes, He gives them the formula of: Here’s the right things in the right way, the right perspective.

But the thesis of Luke 11 is what He wants to do is change their perspective of who God really is. And so, He gives them a word picture and then He gives them another word picture and He helps them understand: If you could ever grasp that God is a Father, if you could ever grasp who He really is and how He wants to respond to you it would completely change how you talk to Him and how you relate to Him and your prayer life.

And then there’s this passage in Isaiah 57, verse 15. And I want you to listen now to some of the phrases. This is to a group of people that are far from God but inside this group of people there are these people who’re longing to walk with God, to turn to God and they failed and they have struggled. And he’ll talk about in the, verse before that, “Remove the barriers” - okay? Remove the barriers and then I want you to “… take those obstacles away and build up and prepare a road.”

In other words, I want you to come back to Me. Do whatever you need to do to reposition yourself. For this is the high and exalted One.

And then I just want you to think about, with your eyes closed, not if you’re driving, think about God as not some extrapolation of something powerful or someone powerful. I want you to think of, picture however you can in your mind of the universe being created. And that the personal, all-knowing, all-powerful Creator of the universe speaks and stars come into existence. He speaks and, I mean, energy goes forth and life is birthed. He is high and He is exalted. He’s holy. I want you to picture coming before a God who lives in unapproachable light.

I want you to fathom, just in your mind’s eye, that you’re going to come in and talk to a God who there are cherubim and angels that are hiding their eyes and hiding their feet and they’re just so overwhelmed with His majesty and His power that they cry, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of heaven.”

And that you are coming into the very throne room of God and you would be reminded that because of what Jesus has done, that He has blazed the trail, that your sins are forgiven, that you can come boldly before this throne and the throne is a throne of grace. The pathway is filled with mercy. This God so longs to know you, love you, help you, strengthen you, comfort you, forgive you, restore you that what he’s saying is, “Come to the throne of grace to find mercy in your time of need.”

But what I would suggest is somehow grace got cheap. Somehow mercy is, “Oh, yeah, God will forgive me. Oh, it’ll be okay.” No, no, no, no, no. Wait a second. I want you to declutter your soul, declutter your thinking, and imagine in your mind’s eye you are coming before the Creator of all that there is. And He is holy. And He is exalted. And He is above everything and everyone.

And then notice this: He lives forever. This isn’t just about now. This isn’t just about your needs, your relationships, mine, our situations. This is a God who lives forever. He is eternal. And He has created us in His image. He sent Jesus to redeem us that we could have eternal life. Not just a new quality of life of Him living inside of us where He takes up residence by the Holy Spirit, but where He takes up residence in us, forgives us, saves us, seals us for Himself, has redeemed us, and are you ready? You will live forever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever.

And that’s what is so scary about, in God’s great justice, everyone will live forever and ever and ever and ever. Some, and I pray all who would ever hear my voice, in a loving relationship because they put their trust in Jesus. And some forever and ever apart because they don’t want any part of God and they will do their own way, they want to be their own king. I don’t need God. I don’t believe in that. But even to those today He says, “Thus says the high and exalted One who lives forever, whose name,” that’s who He is, “whose name, whose character is holy.”

In ways none of us can or will understand, He is simultaneously and without any compartments, pure, holy, just, compassionate, omniscient, omnipresent, all-powerful. He’s eternal and He is approachable and tender and merciful. He is Jesus. Jesus is the icon of the invisible God, the exact image of the invisible God.

Jesus created all that there is in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether they are thrones or dominions or rulers or powers. Everything has been created through Him, Jesus, and for Him. And He is before anything and holds all things together by the word of His power. And this is this transcendent, holy, awesome God and, yet, He’s close and He’s immanent and we can know Him through Jesus.

When I begin to verbalize and picture that and come into the presence of that God, it causes me to shrink. It causes me to get perspective of myself like never before. It causes me to take these huge problems and emotional weights and relationships that I don’t know what to do with and financial demands and persecutions or struggles or things that I feel responsible to help and all of a sudden, I realize I am coming before a God who can do anything.

And He not only can do anything but He has already done insurmountably more than I could ever imagine. And for reasons I don’t know and you don’t know, He has set His affection upon us. And He’s not willing that any should perish, but He longs, longs and longs and longs to turn people from patterns and behaviors and self-will and rebellion and addictions that are bringing death and destruction to them and their bodies and their relationships and their families and just longs to forgive.

And then get this next section. I mean, this to me is what was so mind boggling. It says, “I live,” one translation is, “I dwell.” In other words, where is it that God has freedom to be who He is? I mean, think of that. An all-knowing, all-powerful, holy, unapproachable light. Where in the world could He dwell? And it says, “I dwell on a high and holy place,” speaking of the absolute purity of heaven. And that makes sense, right? These huge, powerful, angelic beings cry out day and night that He is holy.

And then the next part of this passage is almost hard to grasp intellectually. He says, “I dwell in fullness, in power, in freedom. My name, who I really am, expressed on a high and holy place.”

And then notice the second place, “And also with him or her who has a contrite and lowly spirit.” The Hebrew words here literally are the idea of being crushed and bowed down. It’s just, you bring nothing to the table - overwhelmed with your sin, with your failure. It’s this sober assessment.

And what this passage is teaching is there’s a place that God dwells. There’s a place where He manifests His presence. There’s a place where His power is evident, where the light shines forth through Him. There’s this place where God, in His fullness shows up. One, is in heaven where it’s pure.

And the other is when He finds a man or a woman or a student that has a contrite - the idea is, “I’m sorry. I’m crushed. I sense in my deepest aspects of my soul, I know I don’t measure up to a holy God. I know I have impure thoughts, I know I still lust, I know I shade the truth. I know I do image management. I know I do things that project that I’m better and holier and kinder than I really am.

I’ve had secret thoughts.” But if everything in our souls are laid bare before the eyes of Him who sees all, it brings you to a place of a contrite and lowly spirit.

And then there’s this magnificent, magnificent purpose clause. He says, “I dwell,” not just visit, “I dwell with him or her who is contrite and lowly in spirit in order that I may revive the spirit of the lowly and revive the heart of the contrite.”

You know, God knows what is going on in your life today. He knows where, in your spirit, you just, you feel like there is no hope. Your relationships, you just feel, there’s no hope. You look at a dead-end work situation or a child that you love or a parent that is dying or a cancer that you’re facing right now. And it’s just, your spirit is crushed.

And God says: Come, return, cry out to Me. That’s where I dwell. I’ll meet you who have a broken, contrite heart. Those that have a lowly spirit. I want to renew you. I want to strengthen you. I want to restore.

He’s not put off by the things I see in myself that are ugly. He’s not some small, little God that can’t take care of the really big, big problems that you’re facing. And don’t get me wrong. Does it mean that He will do what you want? That He’ll do it the way that you want? We are made for eternity and the Scripture says His understanding is unsearchable. God always brings about the best for His children. And He always does it in the wisest manner. And that means the best possible results by the best possible means for the most possible people for the longest possible time.

So, a good God who knows all things actual and possible, is on your team, wants to help you. And He sees, you know, the old illustration, He sees the beauty of the tapestry that He is making in your character and how it impacts every single person here and all around the globe.

And often what we see is the backside of that tapestry with the threads going this way and the knots here and the knots there and the struggles there. And what I have now learned after walking the Lord for over fifty years is some of the hardest knots, strings, dark threads, pains, injustices, betrayal, my own failure – as I have learned to lean in despite those things – I have had the privilege of seeing Him weave those with some golden threads of grace and mercy to create in my life, in spite of me, some very beautiful things.

So, I just want to encourage you if you happen to be one of those who struggle when you’re meeting with God and your mind wanders or you feel like you’re, you know, you’ve kind of gone through your list and I have prayed about this, this, this, this, and that and kind of gone through the motions and don’t feel like you’ve connected deeply, feel like maybe you’re unworthy or feel like maybe in the words of the great J.B. Phillips book, your God is just too small, let me encourage you Isaiah 57:15.

On this day, no matter what you’re facing, I’m going to encourage you to write down that verse. In my translation, “Thus says the high and exalted one who lives forever, whose name is holy.” And then God speaks, “I dwell on a high and holy place and also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit.” Why? “In order to revive the spirit of the lowly and revive the heart of the contrite.”

Say that over and over in your mind as you drive, at least going to or from work. Read it maybe before a meal. Read it again before you go to bed. And maybe you’re a slow learner like me and you may find yourself having to write that on a card. And I’ve read it every day for weeks and that has sort of launched my prayer time. So, I remember what a great and awesome God that I am actually talking to and how holy He is. And at the same time, that as I could be more and more honest with myself, if I could be genuinely lowly in spirit and contrite, He will dwell with me in that same way. And my testimony, very, very imperfectly, is I am experiencing that more and more.