Recently much has been written and said about The Sinner’s Prayer. The issue has made its way to the floor of major evangelical denominations. For a group of churches once known for faithful evangelism, does it seem strange that the validity of any evangelistic prayer should be a hot topic of orthodoxy?
I confess I have two problems with The Sinner’s Prayer that is the topic of so much debate. Here they are:
1. We have too few sinners. Too few sinners inside the body of Christ are reaching out to too few sinners outside the body of Christ. Many of us don’t spend much time around folks who drink, smoke, chew, swear, do drugs, make self-destructive choices, choose homosexual behavior, or engage in sexual promiscuity. We slowly have become detached from too many of those without Jesus. If we are not careful, we lose the perspective that we are all really sinners.
Dr. Rick Byargeon once said, “I like to sin. Don’t you? I enjoy it. If I didn’t enjoy it, I wouldn’t do it.” I am a sinner because I like to sin, and I have learned how to hide my sinfulness pretty well, thank you. Maybe that is one reason the gospel seems so powerful and vivid in prison programs—the prisoners no longer can hide their sinfulness. One of my problems with The Sinner’s Prayer is that it seems we have too few sinners. There is a second issue.
2. There is too little praying. I mean, are we seeking God and interceding as passionately as we sing, study, recreate, preach and celebrate? Are we praying as intentionally and strategically as we are organizing, planting, launching, meeting, leading, teaching, playing, dreaming and serving?
I want to look at another sinner’s prayer. It is a prayer we all can pray. Look at Exodus 33:12.
At this point in their journey, God’s people are in a temporary location. The previous chapter indicates they have ignored the covenant and rebelled. Sin separates them from God. Still, God keeps His covenant but draws away from His people (Ex. 32:34—33:2). Instead, He sends an angel. According to verse 33:3, His pulling away is an act of grace. His followers are afraid they are stuck. They repent, and the covenant is restored (vv. 33:4-6). They are willing to go wherever to find Him (v. 33:7), are found alert at their assigned stations (v. 33:8), and engage in active worship of Him (v. 33:10).
As their leader, Moses also is a sinner. He has a history of anger issues. He struggles to trust God. Sometimes he is proud. Sometimes he is disobedient. He is impatient, frustrated, afraid and impulsive. Yet, he develops an open, authentic, honest, no-holds-barred relationship with God (v. 33:11). Moses prays “Another Sinner’s Prayer.” We all can pray this sinner’s prayer. It involves three requests. Look at verses 12-13.
Show Me Your Ways (v. 33:13)
Moses’ request can be understood as “cause me to know.” In other Old Testament texts, the word way is translated “journey” 23 times and “paths” or “direction” eight times.
Moses cries out for God to cause him to know God’s ways, God’s direction, God’s paths. This is more than the beatitudes, the golden rule and the great commandment. He hungers to learn the direction of God.
Isaiah 55:8 declares “My thoughts are not your thoughts; My ways, not your ways.”
We need for God to show His ways, His paths, His direction to us. We must seek what pleases God. In 2 Corinthians 5:9, Paul says, “…our ambition…is to be pleasing to God.” Ephesians 5:10 encourages us to discover, test, explore or learn what pleases the Lord.
Discovering the ways of God is a continual pursuit. It is a lifestyle, not a destination or body of knowledge. Following Jesus is not intended to give us all the answers. It is designed to teach us the disciplines necessary to walk God’s paths. That is why shortcuts are so dangerous. Shortcutting can erode or cheapen our service to God. Quick fixes shortcut our own discipleship and personal walks with God. Moses was a sinner like us in many ways, but it doesn’t look as if he sought shortcuts in walking with God—at least not this time. He worked at knowing God’s ways.
Why? What is Moses’ reason? Look at verse 13b: “To continue to find favor in Your sight.” This is not in the sense of “salvation favor or grace,” but so our lifestyles please God and put Him on display. What is the basis for this request? Look at verses 12 and 13a and c. Moses based this request on his relationship with God and God’s promise.
What is God’s answer? Notice verse 14. It is personal and specific. Like the climax of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20, God offers His abiding presence (literally face) and His grace gift of rest (from wandering). No longer would the people be led by an angel, but by God Himself! What does this reveal about the nature of God?
There is a second request in this sinner’s prayer.
Show Me Your Will (vv. 33:15-16)
Moses had an insatiable hunger and thirst for God—only God. If God Himself was not in it, Moses wanted no part of it. He could not be satisfied with an angel or messenger from God. He wanted God Himself—no substitute! However, he had little confidence at this point about God’s direction. His request for God’s will to be affirmed clearly involves others, not just himself. This is not an individualistic, self-centered perspective in following God.
Some of you are seeking God’s will right now. You are anticipating decisive clarity, but there seem to be few prospects on the horizon. The open door before you doesn’t seem to match the path you thought you would travel; or maybe you are midway through your journey and wondering if you should bail on following God; or maybe you recently began your spiritual journey, and the trip isn’t what you thought it would be. It’s too easy, too tough, too long, too personal, too detached, too simple or too complicated.
You need to know God’s will. You need clarity and assurance now. Notice God’s answer in verse 17. He offers His assurance. God’s basis for assurance is His own character and a personal relationship between Him and His people. He affirms His favor—His unmerited favor—His grace. God affirms that He has known Moses by name—they have a shared relationship.
There is a final request to this sinner’s prayer.
Show Me Your Glory (v. 33:18)
Not only does Moses have an insatiable hunger and thirst for God—and only God—but he wants all of God! He doesn’t want just the mercy drops; he wants the full rain. He doesn’t want a sprinkle, he wants a Katrina flood.
God’s glory is His weightiness, His heaviness, His significance, His honor. His glory drives us first to our faces in humility and conviction rather than raising us to our feet in rally. His glory is why there will be a period of silence in heaven, according to John in Revelation 8:1.
Is it possible that you and I have become too easily satisfied? Is it possible that our hunger and thirst for God has been satisfied by crumbs and a thimble at His table? Yet all the while, God is waiting to pour Himself out like a torrential rain.
Notice God’s answer in verses 33:19-23 and 34:5-7: (1) My goodness; (2) My Name; (3) My sovereignty/royalty/majesty; (4) My Presence/face; (5) My grace; (6) My protection; (7) My promise; (8) My invitation [a place next to Me; a Rock, stand on it]; and (9) My back. God self-describes His nature, His name, His presence, His protection, His promise and His provision. This is an amazing God, and He can be known personally!
When God places you between a rock and a hard place, shut your eyes, open your heart, pray, and expect the glory of God. Don’t miss His majesty by jumping at the first escape route. He can protect you.
Notice Moses’ response in verses 34:8-9. He demonstrates reverence, humility and worship. He engages in intercession, confession and petition.
Do we hunger for a passing view of the glory of God? Do we hunger to see the glory and honor of God displayed in the saving of a lost soul? In the restoration of a backslidden believer? In the faithful traveling on a divine journey?
God has not called us to lives of privilege, power and preferences. He has called us to pray this other sinner’s prayer: “Lord, show me Your ways, Your will and Your glory.” His ways are not the ways of political maneuvering and manipulating. Jesus said, “This is the way; walk in it” and “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No man comes to the Father but through Me.”
Like Moses in Exodus 3:12 before confronting Pharaoh, there are times we may not know God’s will clearly…until after we have walked a difficult path and discover ourselves freely worshiping Him in a special moment (Ex. 19). Will we still trust and serve Him? To see His glory, be prepared to be placed between a rock and a hard place. In that cold, dark, lonely time, remember Jesus is God’s ultimate glory. He is God’s full weightiness. John declares in John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
He is the Rock of all ages, the Rock that has been split so you and I can hide in Him for shelter. He is so infinite that we can’t bear to see all of Him. He is so massive, we can’t stand in His glory. He is so holy, we must be protected in His Presence.
Yet God is so transparent that He reveals Himself. He is so personal that He discloses His name. He is so compassionate that He protects us. He is so selfless that He provides for us. He is so powerful that He strengthens us. He is so responsive that He hears us.
How will we prepare for the permanent view of the glory of God in heaven? Will we prepare now? Will we drink from the full cup rather than the thimble? Will we eat the main dish and not the stale crumbs? Has the time come to pray this other sinner’s prayer: “O Lord, show me Your ways, Your will and Your glory”?
I am a sinner. I am a sinner who needs to pray more. I am a sinner who needs to pray another sinner’s prayer, a prayer similar to Moses: “Lord, show me Your ways, Your will and Your glory.” What about you? Will you join me?