But the high places were not removed from Israel. Nevertheless the heart of Asa was loyal all his days. (2 Chronicles 15:17)
King Asa presents us with a startling example of a common condition of the heart of many believers. It’s very easy to read and focus on the second part of today’s verse and to gloss over the first half, as if somehow, God will completely overlook the omission providing the heart is ‘loyal.’ The fact that the first part is included in the Bible makes it relevant. He would not have done so, and we must certainly take careful note of it. The nevertheless – which means ‘in spite of’ – makes it doubly relevant. It raises an important distinction between the ‘low place’ of our daily lives and the ‘high place’ of worship.
A heart loyal to God may not always reach the high place of worship and total surrender and obedience.
Before we dig into this, it’s important to debunk the prevalent myth of the high place of worship. It’s not some super-spiritual level of worship or supernatural experience that produces goose bumps and an excess of ‘spiritual’ emotion. It’s not the hype that so often surrounds the matter of worship, whether corporate or individual, which presupposes some kind of hallowed and holy experience.
The high place of worship is, quite simply, the place of total surrender and obedience to God. There can be no doubt that it is a place of transformation and restoration. These are intrinsic, but they are not the goal. They are the effects rather than the purpose. It is, first and foremost, the place of humility and absolute honesty before God. Before we can be transformed, we must first recognise that we need transforming. Before we can be restored, we need to first acknowledge that we need to be restored.
It’s tragic that most of our worship is measured by the ‘feel good’ response, the need for self-gratification, because we replace the real thing with our version of emotional experience. Our hearts may well be, like Asa’s, in the right place. We may well be loyal as he was. But we limit ourselves in the matter of the high place of worship by never moving beyond the place of natural human experience.
Asa was loyal, there’s no doubt about it. It’s recorded in the Bible that he even demoted his mother from the position of queen mother because she worshiped Asherah. But God makes it very clear that his loyalty did not produce complete obedience. Asa worshiped God, but he never fully entered the high place of worship. He was obedient in the obvious things, those which could be easily seen and identified and dealt with, but he never went up the mountain.
To understand this, we should have quick look at Deuteronomy 12:2–4: You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations which you shall dispossess served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. And you shall destroy their altars, break their sacred pillars, and burn their wooden images with fire; you shall cut down the carved images of their gods and destroy their names from that place. You shall not worship the LORD your God with such things.
While this was a very literal command to the children of Israel from God concerning the physical evidence of idol worship, we need to understand that it had a spiritual significance that is very relevant to all of us as Christians. It provides a critical insight into the matter of the high place of worship. The message is very simple: It’s possible to go in and ‘possess the land,’ to ‘inherit the promises,’ to live our daily lives as the children of God, to remain loyal and, to all appearances, live obedient lives, and at the same time, to ignore the basic command of God to remove everything that sets itself up against the unhindered worship of God.
This is why Asa is such a good example to us. His worship and obedience were limited to the things close by, the things that were easily seen and dealt with, but he never went up the mountain. It’s a simple fact that many times, God spoke to His people on the mountain top. Not always, of course, but mountains featured very significantly in His important dealings with Israel in one way or another. Even today, there is something about a mountain top that makes us feel closer to God, that removes the clutter of life and lifts us above the ‘daily grind’ and so enables us to focus much more clearly. Go up a mountain, and we begin to grasp the meaning of the high place of worship.
For one thing, getting up the mountain is never a simple process. It’s about making a decision, first of all. Then it’s about preparation – travelling light, ditching all the things that will weigh us down and slow our progress. It’s about re-evaluating what seems important against the pursuit of God alone. Even at the foot of the mountain we need to look at our priorities and decide whether or not God is more important. We’ll never move upwards to the high place of worship if we’re anchored by worldly priorities.
Then there’s the actual journey, never an easy one. The first stages may be manageable, and we may even be lulled into a false sense of complacency. These are the times when the ‘Asa days’ are clear and easily remembered. We may carry the assurance that all is okay, that we can stay right where we are and enjoy the gratification of God, imagining that we’ve reached the summit and are enjoying the full measure of the high place of worship. But, sooner or later, we’re going to encounter a rough patch, a steeper slope, a place where we’re forced to climb with deliberate determination rather than taking a pleasant stroll through nature.
As we climb, something happens within us. We’re continually challenged by our weaknesses, our wrong perceptions, our assumptions, and our desires. We’ll face the temptation to rest, even to camp where we are. We may be tempted to turn back. We may question the sense of what we’re doing, may challenge our desire to move upward, may even question the logic of pursuing a deeper knowledge of God. It’s imperative that we take hold of the truth that the high place of worship is never reached easily. Our decision, our commitment, needs to be continually evaluated and affirmed.
The real truth is that the journey upward will never be a ‘feel good’ experience. It will push us to the limit, challenge all of the things we hold dear and which are important to us. By the time we get to the top, we will have had to jettison any number of things, not the least of which is our own misplaced sense of ability and self-satisfaction. Going up to the high place of worship brings an accompanying acknowledgement of our own insignificance. The closer we get to God and His holiness and glory, the less we become.
Going up to the high place of worship means stripping away, tearing down, and removing anything that hinders the complete worship of God – a worship which is manifest in total obedience. While there are still things in our lives that intrude – secret things that we may not even be aware of – we will never truly enter in to the place of absolute humility, honesty, and surrender to God. This is the spiritual message of the passage from Deuteronomy, and it’s the message behind today’s verse. Asa lived well, but He did not go up to the high place of worship.
It’s important to distinguish between the obvious things and those which are less easy to see. Going up to the high place of worship has this advantage: we see things more clearly. We see things, as it were, from the perspective of God. Our vision is not limited by the clutter of life, the obvious landmarks and things easily distinguishable. As we move up, our perspective changes and we see the bigger picture. We see things we never knew were there. We recognise things that previously were lost and hidden by the obvious. We move past complacency to honesty.
Usually, these are things of the mind or the emotions. They are wrong attitudes, wrong perceptions, wrong thought patterns, and wrong responses. They are things that disguise themselves as natural, normal, and understandable. They are the excuses that cloud our spiritual walk and convince us that we’re doing well. They’re the assurances of having a loyal heart that persuade us that we’re living in the high place of worship without having to climb the mountain. 2 Corinthians 10:5 puts this very clearly: casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ,
When we go up to the high place of worship, these are the enemies we will encounter. They will be the hardest to face, the most difficult to dislodge – those almost impossible to destroy. For one thing, there is a part of us that doesn’t want to tear them down and destroy them. We like them, because they provide ready excuses and seemingly sound logic to bolster our complacency. They’re the ‘feel good’ things that rely on emotional experience to convince us it’s not worth the trouble, that we’re actually living the full will of God. They’re the seductions and the deceptions that surround us and infiltrate our lives to the point that we are prevented or diverted from following through on God’s requirements.
Our hearts may well be loyal. Asa’s was. Even God acknowledged that in His Word. But still, he failed to go up to the high place of worship and tear down the things that were not of God. Jesus put it very simply – if we love Him, we will obey Him. That’s worship. Abraham was sent up the mountain to sacrifice his son – the one thing that was super-important to him. Isaac did not simply represent the wonderful blessings of God. He represented Abraham’s entire future, the complete fulfilment of the promises of God in his life. Yet he was required to lay down even that. It didn’t make sense. It must have seemed completely backwards to that man whose heart was loyal to God. Yet it was his obedience – despite the glaring contradictions that human logic and reasoning would have found all kinds of reasons to circumvent – that was instrumental in transforming and restoring Abraham.
If we learn nothing else from the life of King Asa, let us learn this single truth: we may get by living as we are, but unless we go up to the high place of worship we will always live an incomplete spiritual life. We must seek God for the courage and determination to climb the mountain, the willingness to jettison everything that hinders us, and the grace to allow Him to strip us completely as we climb until all that remains is absolute humility and complete honesty before Him. The high place of worship is also the high place of obedience.
His wonderful, abiding grace is such that we will never make the journey alone. If He calls us to climb the mountain to the high place of worship, He will go with us, and He will meet with us, and He will respond to the desire in our heart. Going up is hard. It’s difficult and often painful. The stripping away may, at times, leave us raw and bleeding, but He will be there to sustain, comfort, and restore us. When God takes away He also restores beyond our comprehension. When He transforms it is not according to the accepted standards of the world but to righteousness and obedience and boldness to serve. It is a great blessing to be invited up to the high place of worship, but few have the courage or a heart utterly loyal to God to climb.
Help us, Lord, to set our hearts towards the high place of worship which is the high place of obedience. Touch our hearts, and create in us a desire for You, no matter the cost. Help us to relinquish all the things that hinder us and which set themselves against You, and empower us to draw near in humility and honesty so that You may transform and restore us according to Your purposes.