Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”
Exodus 33:18-20 ESV
I am probably not alone, but I’m not good at prayer. I have distractions all around me, and even inside of me that all conspire to pull my attention away from God and on to anything else. I have more than enough work to do, a phone in my hand with limitless time sinks, and a constant musical soundtrack in my head, even when it is silent. My normal routine is full, comfortable, and has little room for more than the occasional head nod in God’s direction.
I don’t mean by this that God and the things of God are not important to me; nothing could be further from the truth. There is nothing I like better than digging in to the deep things of scripture and marveling at the beauty of God’s plan revealed through nature and in history. I am, as you might imagine, a big hit at parties.
Finding myself in a lousy hotel room in Greenville, Texas with nothing to do on a Saturday, I was prompted to redeem my time. How can I glorify God in this moment? I should pray. What should I pray about?
Many years ago, an old Baptist preacher named Mickey Bonner taught a young man about spiritual warfare. He said the most dangerous prayer you can pray is to ask, “Lord, show me to me, as you see me to be.” The concept was that if we saw the depths of the depravity of our soul, we would be utterly broken (Isaiah 6:5). This is not just fire-and-brimstone hyperbole; when we understand the the magnitude of our sin, we will marvel at the exceeding abundance of God’s grace that forgives our sin. Most of us are willfully ignorant of our sinfulness, simply choosing not to look at the corruption that clings to and erodes our soul.
However, there is a theological problem with Brother Bonner’s prayer. The way God sees me is clothed with the righteousness of Christ (Philippians 3:9). Holy. Perfect. Complete. That’s a good meditation, but it’s purpose is less to puff us up, and more to draw stark contrast between our sin and God’s glory. Many people stumble at this point: “How can God love me like this? I don’t deserve it.” No, you don’t, but he does anyway. There is nothing you can do to earn it, and nothing you can do to lose it. His love for you is unconditional and the blessings for those who are in Christ are unfathomable.
Being of a certain age, and incurably introspective, I probably have a reasonable awareness of far too many of my failings. I do lack sufficient horror at them, but it’s less that I deny their evil and more that I dwell on the other side of the Cross. I have wrestled with my legalism and become ever more comfortable in God’s grace. I am resting in the finished work of the Cross, rather than striving to attain God’s favor.
Then it hit me. Perhaps the most dangerous prayer is the one Moses prayed. “Let me see your face.”
Moses had lived through two careers before God called him. He lived for 40 years, growing up in Pharaoh’s house, before throwing it all away by committing murder. He lived another 40 years hiding in the remote wilderness near Midian. By the time God called him, he knew his failings. Murderer. Shepherd. Stutterer. Nobody.
God then used him in the most miraculous intervention in human history ever recorded. He did things no human had ever done, could ever do. He was the very agent of God is delivering his people in power. God set out to be a very personal, present God for the nation of Israel, and Moses was the point man. He had a front row seat to all of God’s blessings. He knew very well the goodness that God was revealing to his people.
But all of this was not enough; he wanted more. He wanted to know God. “I see your deeds, but I want to know you.” This longing harkens back to our creation, made to know fellowship with God, to walk with him in the pleasant part of the day. To just hang out, and enjoy him. Obviously, sin got in the way, but deep in our souls we long for the fulfillment of our original purpose. This too, is restored in Christ (John 14:21).
These are indeed dangerous prayers. If you pray to know your sin, you will come away changed. Once you know how God feels about sin, you won’t be able to turn a blind eye towards your own failings. The hurtfulness of your words will sting in your ears. The greed of your heart will burn like acid. The selfishness of your actions will stink like a rotting corpse. No longer will you think that sin is “no big deal”.
Or, if you pray to know your standing in Christ, you will come away changed. All of your insecurities will evaporate in the warm embrace of God’s love. Self-doubt and fear have no place to stand when you see the scales weighing your sin flung violently to the side of righteousness. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
And if you pray to know God, to see his glory, you will come away changed. Moses came away from his “close encounter” with a face that visibly shone with the echo of God’s glory. Isaiah had a vision and became a bold prophet, speaking God’s words to the nation. Peter saw Jesus transfigured and had severe case of logorrhea, but despite later denying Jesus, he became a pillar of the church.
Are you ready to take a chance? Let’s live dangerously!