Why is it that so often when we try to pray, we can't seem to get through to God?  We feel like we're talking to the walls.  There's an invisible barrier.


Why it is when we gather with other believers to worship God, we often feel like we're standing outside a closed door?  God is on the other side.  "What am I doing here?  Am I just going through motions??


"Lord, where are you?  Show me what I have to do to come out of this spiritual desert into your presence.  Where am I missing it? Show me, Lord!"


There's no reason why each of cannot come into God's burning presence even as we read these words, even as we pray.  No reason why our worship with other believers should not lift us into the very atmosphere of heaven. So that we're not talking to the walls.  We're not standing outside a closed door.  We're truly in the presence of the living God.


Here’s the problem …when God draws near to us and speaks to us, as he may be doing even as these words are being read, we can only really connect with him if we respond to him in two ways:


First, we have to get off the fence of indecision and abandon ourselves to him in worship.


Second, we have to make sure that we've made things right with every person out there that we have wronged.  


If our commitment to God is half-baked, our prayers will never be more than talking to the walls.  And if we're not at peace with that brother, that sister out there, the only worship we will ever know will be "outside a closed door."  ---Not because God doesn't love us, but because we have raised a barrier that keeps him at a distance. 



Jesus is passing through the town of Jericho on his way to Jerusalem for the last time.  He knows that he's on his way to death.  Crowds gather to get a look at this prophet who heals the sick and speaks with such power.


Watching all this is a chief tax collector, Zacchaeus, who is very rich and deeply despised by everybody in town.  Zacchaeus wants to get a good look at this prophet.  But he's short.  He'll never see over the crowd, unless he runs ahead and gets up into that tree….


The crowd comes nearer.  The noise increases.  And there he is!  Jesus, walking along with his disciples, surrounded by all these people who have just seen him heal a blind man.  Jesus stops, looks up into the tree. 


"Zacchaeus, how 'bout if I come to your house for dinner."


The crowd gasps.  How can a man of God step into the house of a crook like Zacchaeus?  Everybody knows how he got rich!


Zacchaeus puts on a fabulous dinner for Jesus and his disciples.  Then, right in the middle of dinner, Zacchaeus stands up and announces, "Behold Lord,  Half my goods I'm now going to give to the poor.  And wherever I've defrauded anyone, I'm going to restore it four times over."


Jesus looks as Zacchaeus and says, "Today salvation has come to this house."


When Jesus stepped through the doorway of that house, he brought God's Spirit there.  And Zacchaeus knew it; he opened his heart and received God's mercy.  And then Zacchaeus did two things that sealed it, made it real: first, he offered back to God in thanksgiving a serious portion of what had been the most important thing in his life: money; second, he committed himself to making things right with every person he had wronged.


Notice, Zacchaeus did not say, "Here, Lord is a check for $5,000.00, to help cover your expenses in Jerusalem."  No, he did not give Jesus anything except dinner. 


"Half my goods I'm now going to give to the poor."  This is not a bribe.  This is an offering of his life!  This is worship! 


Worship is offering yourself back to God in thanksgiving.  Your body, your mind, and everything that's important to you.  Half his goods was just a sign that this man was giving himself.


But suppose Zacchaeus had stopped there.


"Half my goods I'm going to give to the poor."


If Zacchaeus had stopped with that, Jesus would have said, "Zacchaeus, keep your stuff. God doesn't want it, and the poor will get along without it!"


"What do you mean, Lord?  I'm offering half my goods to the poor, and you're telling me to forget it?


"What good to God is an offering like that, when there are people in this town that you have cheated --- and you haven't made it right!  Keep your money.  God doesn't want it!"


Praise God, that's not what happened.  Because Zacchaeus knew that if he's going to make an offering of himself to God, he must also make things right with every person he wronged.  It is impossible to worship God, when there's unfinished business with that brother, that sister out there.


"So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift."

                                                            Matthew 5:23-24


Zacchaeus understood two things that many church people still haven't figured out: 


1.      Zacchaeus understood that worship is more than going to church.  Worship is offering yourself back to God in thanksgiving.  You can go to church for a hundred years, sing ten thousand hymns, put a token offering on the plate every week---and never worship. 


It's only worship when you abandon yourself to God, give up your whole life to him.


2.  Zacchaeus understood that you can't give yourself to God in worship if       

     you're ignoring unfinished business with your brother.  If that man or  

     that woman is holding an empty bag because of you, go get it right

     before you proceed with God.


Zacchaeus might have been a crook.  But when Jesus drew near to him with God's mercy, he knew what to do.  He knew how to offer himself back to God in worship.  


I went into a bar one Saturday afternoon to see if anybody wanted to talk about the Lord.  You can often find more people willing to talk about God in a bar than you find in a church. 


Bill was sitting on the stool next to mine and said, "Don't waste my time!  Churches are all the same.  All they want is your money!"


Bill had a point.  If a church is an assembly of worshipers, if these people are truly offering themselves to God, that church should never have to beg for money.  Appeals!  Pledges!  Fund raisers!  If you have to go through all that to keep the thing going, close the church!  If God doesn't mean enough to these people to offer themselves --- and their stuff --- not just to the church, but to the poor, to the hungry, to the needy, close it!  It's not a church, it's a club!  These people haven't even met God yet!


Of course, if you haven't met God yet, you're off the hook.  You don't owe him anything.  Keep your stuff and don't worry about it. 


But it you have met God, and you are truly grateful for the new life God is giving you, nobody will ever need to tell you where to give, or how much.  You will know.  And it won't be a chore.  It will be a joy!  The minute giving becomes a burden, God says, "Keep your money.  Don't worry about it."  


Zacchaeus also knew that you can't give yourself to God in worship, if you're ignoring unfinished business with your brother, your sister.


"So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift."


So I'm bringing my gift to the altar.  Suddenly, I remember someone who's upset with me about something I said….something I did.  How come I suddenly remember this while I'm trying to worship?  Is the devil distracting me from worship?  No, God is putting his finger on unfinished business in my life.  The Spirit of God is reminding me, convicting me, "This has to be taken care of."


If I want to come into the presence of God, I first have to step down, humble myself, and make things right with this person.  I won't rise into God's presence until I first get down there with my brother, my sister, and make it right. 


So as soon as possible I get together with this person.  I do not try to justify myself.  I do not try to pin "half the blame" on him.  I simply say, "What can I do to make it right with you?"


"Yeah, but what if they don't want to listen to me?  What if they make unreasonable demands?"


Don't get ahead of yourself.  Just go and do what you believe the Lord Jesus is telling you to do.  Get reconciled, as far as it is within your power.

God will take care if the rest.


Once we've done that, once we've made things right with that person, as far as it is within our power to do so, then we come and offer our gift to God.  Because now the door to God's presence is open.  Now we can pray.  Now we can worship.  The barrier is gone.


And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, 'Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold."  And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house…"

                                                            Luke 19:8-9


Two questions we need to ask ourselves every time we draw near to give God worship:


1.      Am I grateful enough to offer back to God the best that I have, day by day, in service to him?


2.      Is there someone out there who is still hurting because of me?  What am I going to do about it?


The door to God's presence will open…


when we open our hearts to God wide enough to give him our best…

("Half my goods I give to the poor.")


and when we have enough courage to step down, humble ourselves, and make things right with that brother, that sister.

            ("If I've defrauded any one I will restore it fourfold.")



When we start living like that, every day of our life will be flooded with God's presence,

because now salvation has truly come to our house.