If I regard iniquity in my heart, The Lord will not hear. Psalms 66:18 (NKJV)
I always looked at this verse as saying that if I coddled some unrepented sinful act or thought in my heart, the Lord could not listen to my prayers. And it does mean that, but I think God is saying something more to me. The word in the above verse translated “regard” is the Hebrew word ra’ah. It means to look at, see, regard, gaze at, behold, perceive. Derek Prince had a slightly different take on this verse:
“If I ‘regard iniquity in my heart,’ it means that I come to God with a consciousness in my heart of something that condemns me.”
I have been having a hard time in prayer. I have been feeling like the Lord did not hear. Suddenly, I realized that I had not been coming to God in prayer with a clear conscious. I was always under the burden of some kind of guilt. Guilt about not being a good enough friend, a good enough wife and mother, not serving God enough, not praying enough, not calling my elderly parents enough — not being enough. I had been listening to those accusing voices in my head and had been feeling a closed door, a heavy curtain, between me and God. My heart was condemning me. I was gazing at my failings and not at Jesus.
Then I read this from J. Vernon McGee. He was describing the tabernacle in the wilderness and its three parts: the outer court where the sacrifices were received and their blood shed, the Holy Place, and the Most Holy Place, or Holy of Holies, where God dwelt between the cherubim. About the articles of furniture in the Holy Place of the tabernacle, he writes that it included “the table of showbread and the golden lampstand. Then, in the background was the golden altar, the altar of incense, which speaks of prayer – no sacrifices were ever made there” [emphasis mine].
No sacrifices were made at the altar of incense, the place that symbolically represented the prayers of the saints (see Revelation 8: 3-4). Why? Because the sacrifice had already been made out in the courtyard on the brazen altar. The sacrifice had already been made. Therefore, the priest could go into the Holy Place and offer the prayer-incense without further sacrifice.
But these Old Covenant sacrifices, made over and over, “were not able to clear the conscience of the worshipper” (Hebrews 9:9). It is only the once-and-for-all sacrifice of the Lamb of God that can clear our consciences.
I was bypassing the altar where the Blood of the Lamb has been shed. Should I (in pride) be surprised that I am weak and sinful? No, I should throw away all expectation of ever being “enough.” I can never be enough for anyone, and it’s not my job either. It is not my wonderfulness that helps or saves. Only God can be enough. All I can do is offer my love, serve with the strength he gives and trust him for the rest.
“We have to get rid of any attitude that suggests some kind of righteousness in ourselves. We have no righteousness of our own. We must come to a place where we are trusting in God’s faithfulness, and that produces confidence … There must come a time when we lay side every attempt to justify ourselves and say, ‘I receive by faith the righteousness of Jesus Christ imputed to me by my faith in Him according to the Word of God. I will not worry about my merits. I will not worry about my sins. I will not parade my good deeds. I will not blush for my bad deeds. I will not examine and analyze my own heart all the time to see if I am good enough. I will trust God that the blood of Jesus has cleansed me from all sin. And now I am going boldly right to the throne, right into the holiest place of all.’” — Derek Prince, Secrets of a Prayer Warrior, chapt. 2, Basic Conditions for Answered Prayer [emphasis mine]
Instead of beholding, gazing at my real failings and unrighteousness and listening to the accusations of our enemy, I need to fix my thoughts and eyes on Jesus, Our Righteousness (Hebrews 12:2). As the Holy Spirit points out sin, I repent of it and give it to the One who washes it away with his Blood as if it never happened and forgets it.
“The humble find the Holy One. Just when the consciousness of sin and weakness, and the discovery of how much of self there is, makes you fear that you can never be holy, the Holy One gives Himself. Not as you look at self, and seek to know whether now you are contrite and humble enough—no, but when no longer looking at self, because you have given up all hope of seeing anything in it but sin, you look up to the Holy One, you will see how His promise is your only hope.” — Andrew Murray, Holy in Christ [emphasis mine]
But you know what the really wonderful, amazing, grace-filled thing is? We don’t have to stop at the altar of incense in this new temple. Because of what Jesus did on the cross, we can go all the way into God’s very presence and talk to him in person. Let us go there with assurance.
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, His body, and since we have a Great Priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Hebrews 10:19-22
With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. Romans 8:1 (Message)
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28
Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13-14
But he answered me, “My grace is always more than enough for you, and my power finds its full expression through your weakness.” So I will celebrate my weaknesses, for when I’m weak I sense more deeply the mighty power of Christ living in me. 2 Corinthians 12:9 (The Passion Translation)
Photo copyright Jack Bair