Anyone can pray, but not anyone can ascend. “What does that mean?” you may ask. Well, as we embark on this study of prayer, it is important to understand that there are different levels of prayer. Picture yourself at the bottom of a mountain. There, you are at “prayer 101.” You are a child of God and have fellowship with Him, but perhaps your fellowship with Him is limited, shallow, even distanced at times. If that is the case, it might be time for you to ascend! In other words, take your prayer life up a notch!
Standing at the bottom of the mountain and ascending is like the difference between the children of Israel and Moses. All the Israelites remained around the base of Mount Horeb when the Lord made His presence known there. They were at level 1 of intimacy with God. Hey, at least they got to see the power of His presence, even though it was from a distance! But Moses took it to another level where the people were not willing or able to go. He ascended. But why did he get special privileges? What gave Moses the ability to ascend when the people couldn’t? Well, Scripture reveals in Exodus 19:24 that the Lord said, “Do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the LORD, lets He break out against them.” I believe that, while the Israelites did have to go through three days of purification to even be near the mountain, there was still a level of impurity in their hearts that prohibited them from being able to ascend. With that in mind, let’s examine God’s standards, found in the core Scripture that this series will be based upon. It is found in Psalm 24:3-6 (NKJV):
Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation. This is Jacob, the generation of those who seek Him, who seek Your face. Selah.
When I use the phrase, “Who will ascend?” I am really asking, “Who will take their prayers above the status quo level? Who will go higher with God than they’ve ever gone before? Who is daring enough to pray and actually expect things to change as a result of their prayers?” You have the choice to have a ground-level prayer life like most of the Israelites did, of you can take things up a notch. But if you choose to ascend, it will cost you. It is important to realize the qualifications listed in this verse. If you want to “ascend,” or “effectively pray,” you must have the following criteria, according to Psalm 24: (1) clean hands, (2) a pure heart, (3) no idolatrous behavior, and (4) no deceitful behavior.
Anyone can pray, but not anyone can actually ascend with their prayers into the holy Mountain of God. What do I mean? I simply mean that serious, intense intercession is not for the spiritually squeamish. All Christians are given the gift of being able to pray to God; in fact, even unbelievers can pray to God, should they so desire. But the gift of serious intercessory prayer that yields astronomical results is a whole other category of prayer. This category is reserved for the believers who have adopted a Psalm 24 lifestyle. So, when I talk about ascending, I am not speaking of everyday token prayers that people everywhere pray. No, I am speaking of ascending the mountain of God with a spirit of intercession that has the power to change things!
Clean hands represent a lifestyle of external holiness in actions. A pure heart represents a lifestyle of internal holiness in thoughts and motives. No idolatrous behavior means that God is number one in a person’s life and that before Him there is no other. And no deceitful behavior means that one’s lifestyle is characterized by integrity and honesty—uprightness in all things.
Now, you may be thinking at this point that those are some pretty strict qualifications. Well, you’re right. But what does the next sentence say? “He shall receive blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.” As believers, we must look to God to give us the strength to have clean hands, a pure heart, a priority on Him, and a lifestyle of integrity. We cannot do that without His power at work within us. God is the One Who gives us blessings. God is our Righteousness.
In last week’s stories, I do not claim that my prayers were answered because I was perfect in those four areas. In fact, I remember specifically lacking in some of those areas in both of those instances. Yet, I believe God supplied for my lack and made His power to be at work in me anyways—because I was living with the goal of climbing the mountain set before me. There was no turning back. The point I am making is this: In order to ascend in our prayer lives, we must live a Psalm 24 lifestyle. And when we are lacking those characteristics, we must look to God to provide forgiveness and the extra strength we need. He gives us the extra power we need, but it is still up to us to do our part.
If you need more Scripture to back this up, look at Psalm 66:18, which says, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear.” Look also at 1 Peter 3:7: “Husbands, likewise, dwell with [your wives] with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.” Husbands who do not rightly honor their wives risk having their prayers hindered! Consider also James 4:3, which states, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.” Those who ask for the wrong motives will find their prayers being in vain. These are just a few examples of how the Scriptures make it clear that not all prayers will be answered or even heard by God. Again I say, anyone can pray, but not anyone can ascend. Only those who are willing to pay the price are those who can ascend. People described in the three verses above are like those who stand at the bottom of the mountain and walk around it in circles. They are walking, and they are moving, but they are not ascending. While they do have prayer lives, they are at level 1, at best. It’s time for them to take it up a notch! It’s time to ascend.
In this series, we will examine three specific biblical characters who were among the most effective intercessors in all of Scripture. Interestingly enough, all three of them physically ascended into the hill of the Lord at least once in their earthly lifetimes. And do you know what the result is for those who ascend all the way up the mountain of God? The result is a mountaintop experience! It is for this reason that I am tying together this emphasis of effective prayer with “mountaintop experiences,” as they are called. Any time I have prayed and received a tangible answer to that prayer, I have considered that a mountaintop experience. We will examine some very real, very significant mountaintop experiences in the Bible, as well as the characters who lived to tell about those experiences.
So hold on, grab your gear, and prepare to get a little bit dirty as together we discover how to ascend into the Mountain of the God.
Where is your prayer life at right now? Are you ascending and moving forward? Are you at the top, having a mountaintop experience? Or are you at the bottom of the mountain, at level 1? Wherever you are at, I challenge you today, as I also challenge myself, to examine your life according to Psalm 24. Are your hands clean? Is your heart pure? Watch out for idolatry and deceit. This crucial step must be dealt with now before we move forward any further in this series. If you’re serious about taking your prayer life to a new level, then examine your hands, your heart, and your life right now. Repent of your wrongdoings, and let the Holy Spirit do His mighty work in you.