Encounters with God

By Ross Parsley
Contributing Writer
April 24, 2024

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The friendship and the fear

The old man walked slowly toward the tent. The people watched as he bent his well-worn frame to enter. They had seen him approach the tent many times, but each time they stood to watch. His wrinkled hands, still strong, parted the canvas as he stepped inside. And then it happened, as it always did. A large cloud, shaped liked a massive pillar, descended from the sky and positioned itself at the doorway of the tent. All the people stood in awe and began to worship. They knew what was taking place. They called it the “Tent of Meeting”, for there a man could go to inquire of the Lord and meet with Him. But with Moses it was different. It was no mere “meeting”; with Moses God spoke face to face, as a man speaks with his friend (Ex. 33:11). And now as they watched the cloud-pillar at the entrance of the tent, they knew that God was with His friend.

Worship folks love that story! You probably get goose bumps just thinking about it. I mean think of it: a man speaking with God face to face as a man speaks with his friend. I love the fact that we can be friends of God. It is one thing to call Jesus our best friend; it is quite a different thing for Him to call us His friend. We like knowing that He is always there, that we can call on Him anytime; but certainly, it is more amazing for Him to call on us to do His work, to share His heart with us. Yet this is the very thing that awaits us-the joy of being His friend. I am so grateful for the wonderful way that different ones in the Body of Christ have helped us recapture the childlike innocence in our approach to God. We have learned how to call Him Father, and to crawl up on His knee, so to speak, and let Him whisper His affections to us. I am thankful for the freedom we have rediscovered in our approach to God. In a personal and meaningful way, prayer and worship have become our conversation with God. Aspiring to be like Moses, we have learned to call Him our friend and to allow Him to make friends of us.

But there is one crucial point to bear in mind: Moses’ relationship with God did not begin face to face. Do you remember the story? In Exodus chapter three, the young Moses, strong and well-built, trembled in the middle of the wilderness. As the voice boomed from the fiery bush, the grown man tried to hide his face. Quickly, he unfastened his sandals, placing his bare feet on the hot desert sand. God had required him to remove his shoes by way of introduction. This was the prologue to a life-long journey of walking with God. There the former “prince of Egypt” stood, shaking and afraid. He hid his face. Why? Because he dared not glance upon the living God. Here we don’t see friendship, or intimacy. This isn’t “running through the field with Daddy God”. This is fear, terror, awe. This is “O God, You are so holy….I’m nothing like You…Please don’t strike me down!”

You see, I don’t think we can really know the friendship until we know the fear. We only truly understand and appreciate God’s mercy and grace in the light of His awesome and terrible holiness. That is why when God initially reveals Himself the response is usually terror. In Exodus 19 we find God “introducing” himself to the children of Israel at Mount Sinai. Billows of smoke, peels of thunder and lightning strikes are His expression of choice. The people are so frightened that they begin to back away. Moses pleads with them, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” Sadly, they didn’t understand and rejected the invitation that God had extended. The book of Romans follows a similar progression in presenting the Gospel to us. (Remember the “Romans Road”?) Paul begins by stating that all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God. He goes on to add that the wages of sin is death. Then he marvelously outlines the plan of God and the miracle of the salvation that has come to us through “one Man’s obedience”, and how by faith in Christ we share in His life. Salvation is only meaningful when we realize what it is we have been saved from. Actually, almost every Biblical account of an encounter with God chronicles the mortal human falling to his knees and hiding his face to avoid locking eyes with the One Who is called Holy. And almost every account shows God or the heavenly messenger reaching out to the human, calming his fear and calling him to relationship.

There is a kind of fear and awe that turns to love and grateful devotion when friendship that would otherwise be preposterous and presumptuous is suddenly offered. Let me illustrate. You would never dream of a friendship with the President of the United States or the Queen of England. This is because we hold a certain amount of fear and respect toward them. Yet were they to offer their friendship to us, we would gladly accept, and would quickly become their most devoted and loving companion. This is also because of our fear and respect for them. We are devoted because we value the friendship; we value the friendship because we never thought it possible; we never thought it possible because we respected them so much that we thought them to be too great for us. When something we never dreamed possible becomes a reality, it is of infinite value to us. We were never worthy to be God’s friends, but He offered it to us: at the expense of His own life, while we were His enemies. Think of it.

For our worship experiences to rival the Biblical encounters, we must make the fear of God the foundation of our friendship with Him. To drain the awe of God’s holiness from our worship experience is to ultimately cheapen the intimacy of His love. To understand His transcendence is to appreciate His imminence. Psalm 25:14 says it best: “The Lord confides in those who fear Him.” When God looks to share His heart with someone, He goes to the ones who fear Him. Just as it was in the life of Moses, so it is with us: the friendship begins with the fear.

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