BaptistWay: Risking meeting God

• The BaptistWay lesson for April 12 focuses on Exodus 19:1-12, 16-22.

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• The BaptistWay lesson for April 12 focuses on Exodus 19:1-12, 16-22.

“When you pray, say … .” Luke tells us what Jesus told his disciples to say when they pray (Luke 11:2), but what are we to do before we pray? We know we are to begin our prayers acknowledging God’s holiness and sovereignty, but what are we supposed to do before we even begin our prayers? To pray is to approach Almighty, Holy God. How are we to approach this One? The passage under study today points us in the direction.

God got the ball rolling

The first thing we should notice in this passage is God initiated the approach. Even before the people of Israel arrived at Mount Sinai, God initiated their approach by speaking to Moses from the burning bush, by calling Moses to return to Egypt and to Pharaoh to affect Israel’s release, by producing the 10 plagues, by securing Israel’s release, by protecting and leading the people through the desert, by bringing the people safely across the water and by bringing the people safely to the mountain. By all accounts, God was the initiator and pursuer of relationship with Israel.

God kept the ball rolling

Despite all their complaints and desire to return to Egypt, God continued pursuing Israel, leading them to the sacred mountain. Once the people arrived at Mount Sinai, Moses went up the mountain and found God already there. God spoke to Moses and laid out the conditions for how the relationship between God and the people of Israel would continue.

“I hear the rolling thunder”

I used to spend time in the mountains, which is harder to do now that I live in Texas. During a particular hike near Ruidoso, N.M., we rounded a west-facing peak to find a thunderstorm building right in front of us. Having grown up in Albuquerque where we experienced numerous mountain showers in the summer, I should have expected this. We felt in our ears and on our skin the wind rushing all around us. Lightning flashed and thunder boomed from dark and billowing clouds. And there was nowhere to go. 

In the summer, the air races across the valley and shoots up the mountain face beyond 10,000 feet. When the hot air from the valley floor hits the cooler air above the summit, storm clouds immediately begin to form, churned by the turbulence of the quickly rising air. You can watch and listen to this whole process happen in minutes, and it seems you can reach your hand out into the middle of it. On that afternoon near Ruidoso, I wished I were better prepared.

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When I read God’s words in Exodus 19:9, I think about watching those mountain storms build over me. I think about their awesome power and the danger of being completely exposed to them. I can relate to the people’s trembling response to the thunder and lightning and “thick cloud over the mountain” (v. 16).

I wonder what it must have been like for Moses to stand before God on Mount Sinai. The people were prepared and kept at a safe distance, but Moses was right in the thick of God’s presence.

How to prepare for God’s presence

In preparation for the third day—the day the people would witness God’s presence—the people of Israel were supposed to consecrate themselves (v. 10). They were supposed to wash their clothes (v. 11). They were not to touch or even approach the mountain (v. 12). Moses added the people were to abstain from normal and good fleshly activities so they would not be distracted in any way (v. 15).

What if Sundays were like coming to the mountain? What if we washed our clothes in preparation? What if we abstained from normal and good fleshly activities in preparation for Sundays? What if we did this for two days in preparation for that third day?

What if we acted as though we believed we were coming into the presence of a fearsome and mighty God when we gathered together for worship and instruction on Sundays? What if we prepared ourselves for the presence of a God who looked close enough to reach out and touch but who inspired such awe and reverence that we found ourselves looking for a cave to hide in?

In Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing, Søren Kierkegaard wrote a series of meditations to use in preparation for confession. Though Baptists do not practice confession in the same way Kierkegaard envisioned in his 19th-century Danish Lutheran context, we can gain a great deal from Kierkegaard’s devotional classic.

Kierkegaard cites James 4:8, “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” Kierkegaard exhorts the reader to seek out any and all duplicity that lurks within—anything that would divert the confessor from a whole-hearted approach and devotion to God.

As you seek the Lord, I commend Purity of Heart as instruction in preparing yourself to approach our Almighty and Holy God, who not only inspires awe and reverence, but also ceaselessly pursues us in love.

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