Moses was told, “You cannot see my face, for man may not see Me and live” (Exodus 33:20). Prayer can never be understood apart from the regal nature of the encounter and the environment it implies, something about which we Americans know very little.
That the writer of Hebrews would urge anyone to ‘come boldly’ to a throne of a living king, much less before God, would have been unthinkable in that time. It is like a rash dare – who would do such a thing? And thus, it is an invitation possible only by the triumph of mercy over wrath, and therefore only for a people who understand that lightning still flashes around God’s throne and powerful other-worldly creatures fly about, and the God with whom we meet there has not changed. There is no diminishment of his power or might, his intolerance of sin or his holy nature. Only those who would never dare dishonor the Throne can approach with such unhinged confidence. Isaiah 57:15 (NKJV) declares,
“For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.’”
Nehemiah was regularly in the presence of Artaxerxes, the King of Persia. But he was not allowed to be familiar with the king. Appropriate personal distance was demanded. In Nehemiah 2:2, the king confronted Nehemiah, “Why is thy countenance sad, seeing thou art not sick?” What appears to be sensitivity is deeper. Notice the response of Nehemiah, “Then I was very afraid…” Though he appeared multiple times daily in the court of the king, the projection of personal emotions were not allowed. Subjects did not set the mood of the court; only the king could do that. In ancient cultures, even the loyal servants of kings were not to cross the line of familiarity. The proper protocol, even by members of the King’s family, by princes and courtiers, was required. Nehemiah knew one was never to approach the throne with a sad face, in Scripture, called, ‘a spirit of heaviness.’ Suddenly, he was fearful of the potential consequences.
Psalm 100:5, notes that one is to “… come before his presence with singing … enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name …” The king is to be pleased. The king is to be feared, and revered. We have made prayer and worship about ourselves, God is to adjust to our mood; but in truth, the prescription is exactly the opposite (Psalm 100:1-5). There is a protocol of honor when one comes before the King of kings.