“Joshua told the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do amazing things among you.’”
The Israelites were camped on the east bank of the river Jordan, ready to invade the land of Canaan. But they could not cross the flooded river; and God kept them waiting for three days, in order to prepare themselves. All the people were to purify themselves and consecrate themselves to Yahweh, because they were embarking on a holy war. The invasion was being undertaken at His command, and as His agents. And it would be initiated with a dramatic demonstration of Yahweh’s power (Joshua 3:14-17).
Before any major new venture (political, military or spiritual – and the entry into Canaan was all three) we need to prepare ourselves properly. Our God is an awesome God; He is not at our command, but we are His to command. We cannot expect to see His power manifested amongst us if we treat Him casually or take Him for granted. We must be people who are committed and dedicated to Him.
Prayer and fasting (Acts 1:12-14)
Here is a similar situation in the New Testament: Jesus has told His disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit. So they wait… for ten days, until the festival of Pentecost. And during those ten days, they spend their time praying together.
A decade or two later (Acts 13:1-3), the church in Antioch meets for worship and fasting (how many modern churches combine these?), and during this time the Holy Spirit makes His will known to them: a new missionary initiative to the Gentiles is about to begin. Paul and Barnabas are thus commissioned by God, but they do not set out without further prayer and fasting on their behalf.
But God takes the initiative (Galatians 3:5)
This is the other side of the coin: we can’t ‘work up’ an encounter with God simply by doing certain things like fasting. The work of the Spirit does not depend on us being sufficiently ‘holy’ or on finding the right ritual formula; it is, like our initial conversion, entirely the gift of God. Our part is solely to put ourselves at His disposal.
Prepare to meet your God… (Exodus 19:10,11)
Having arrived at Mount Sinai after six weeks of travelling across the wilderness from Egypt, the Israelites were about to ‘meet’ their God for the first time. Any state visit is a rare and awesome event; how much more did they need to prepare themselves for the King of kings! Clean clothes express an attitude of sincerity and respect; it is how one should approach a king. The Christian’s ‘best dress’ is holiness – in both attitude and behaviour (II Corinthians 7:1).
Repentance (Mark 1:1-4)
The prophecy of Isaiah (Isaiah 40:3-5) calls on God’s people to prepare themselves for His coming. So before the Son of God, the long-awaited Messiah, came amongst His people, the way had to be cleared: John the Baptist was sent ahead of Him to awaken the conscience of the nation and convict them of sin. John had to convince the Jews that they were as ‘unclean’ in God’s sight as the Gentiles. The baptism that he demanded was a public acknowledgement of past sin, a symbol of cleansing, and a commitment to begin a new life. Those who believed John and submitted to his baptism were more likely to recognise and respond to Jesus, while those who had despised John’s message also rejected Jesus (Luke 7:29,30)
The Day of the LORD (Amos 5:18-20)
Continually oppressed by foreign powers, the Israelites looked forward to the day when God would assert His sovereignty over the whole world (and assumed, of course, that they would be on the winning side). But Amos could not share their complacency. The Day of Yahweh will be a day of judgement – and not only for unbelievers, but also for His own people. We may think that we are ready – but will we be caught out? Do we really know Him? (Matthew 25:1-13) Do we realise what we are praying for when we pray, “Your Kingdom come”?
Taking God seriously (Ecclesiastes 5:1)
This principle of preparedness does not apply only to ‘special’ occasions; it should be a continual attitude of mind. Worship is a serious business: it is no light matter to approach an awesome and holy God, and repentance is an essential precondition (Matthew 5:23,24). This doesn’t mean that we necessarily have to be solemn – there is joy in His presence (Psalm 16:11)! But we need to be aware what a privilege it is to be the children of the King (Hebrews 12:28,29).