Seeking God’s Face
By David Feddes
I do not know God nearly as well as I would like to know him. Sometimes my sense of God can get so dim that I wonder whether I know him at all. I’ve studied the Bible a lot, and I know many things about God, but I still don’t know God himself the way I want to know him.
What I know of God can seem secondhand. God can seem more like a set of concepts I’ve picked up from others than a living, fascinating friend whom I know personally. I wish I could say God walks with me and talks with me on a constant basis, but sometimes I feel as though I’m walking alone in silence. I believe that God is there and that he is not silent, but all too often I do not hear his voice or perceive his presence.
Oh, there are times—precious times—when I do sense God close at hand, filling me with his life and his love, but those times are not nearly as frequent or as intense as I would like. There are times—precious times—when my prayers seem to be really connecting and I sense God listening and answering, but there are also times when my prayer time feels like I’m talking to the ceiling. There are times—precious times—when God’s Word in the Bible stirs my soul, and I sense the Spirit of God speaking to my spirit. But there are also times when I can’t even focus on the page in front of me. I get drowsy or distracted, and reading the Bible seems like a toilsome chore, not a lively conversation. Even when I’m able to concentrate and really think about what the Bible says, my head may just pick up more facts without my heart getting any closer to God.
The worst times of all are those terrible times when I willfully sin, when I think or say or do something I know is wrong. If I truly sensed God beside me and within me, how could I offend him to his face? When I sin, I am acting as though God is absent. I am acting in unbelief. When I give in to temptation, it’s not just because of my weakness or the power of the temptation. It’s because in that moment I’m not experiencing God and don’t have a clear, vivid sense of him and don’t hold true to the fact that he is present with me.
It hurts to admit that I experience less of God than I long for. It hurts when God seems more like a distant concept than a nearby Father. It hurts not to know God as well as I’d like. Being a preacher makes it hurt even more. If I am beset by the feeling that I don’t know God as well as I should, how dare I introduce others to him? When I speak about the joy and wonder of knowing Jesus, am I advertising more than what I’ve tasted myself? As a messenger for God, I want to speak from the overflow of my heart, not from dryness and thirst.
Usually I keep such thoughts to myself. My calling is to proclaim Jesus and to build faith in him, not to talk about my personal experience (or lack of it). You need Jesus more than you need to know about the feebleness of my faith. The Bible is true and the Lord is wonderful, regardless of what I happen to feel at a given moment. I would not bother telling of my own thirst in relation to God, except that I know many others are also thirsty and have much the same longing for God that I have.
I want to speak to you straight from my heart. I want to share the deepest desires of my heart for myself and for you. My deepest desire is to know God and grow closer to him. My name is David, and I echo my namesake, the biblical King David. In Psalm 27 David says, “One thing I ask of he Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.” Then David says to God, “My heart says of you, ‘Seek his face!’ Your face, Lord, I will seek.” For years that verse has been a guiding star for me: “Your face, Lord, I will seek.” I urge you also to seek his face and his beauty.
Do you want to know God better? Do you crave a closer relationship with him? If so, I speak to you as a fellow traveler, not as one who has arrived at the destination. I am not way out ahead of you in my relationship with God, shouting back some instructions on how you can get as close to God as I am. I do relate to God as my Father, and I treasure my relationship to him more than anything in the world, but I still don’t know God nearly as well as I would like to know him.
If you’re like me—if you know just enough of God to want more of him—then here’s the question: How should we deal with this craving? Should we tell ourselves not to want too much or expect too much? Should we try to get used to going through life without knowing God much better than we presently do? Or should we desire more and pursue more and expect more?
I’m convinced we should seek more. In some ways, it might be easier to settle for less. It might be less frustrating not to get our hopes too high. It might be easier just to settle for believing we’re forgiven, reading our Bible, and going to heaven someday. But I want more. I don’t just want forgiveness; I want friendship with God. I don’t just want to read Bible verses about the peace of God that surpasses understanding (Philippians 4:7); I want to feel that peace. I don’t just want to read the Bible’s words about being “filled with inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8); I want that joy to saturate my whole being. I don’t just want to read what the Bible says about God’s love being poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5); I want to experience that outpouring of love. I don’t just want to read that “the Lord is good” (Psalm 100:5); I want to taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). I don’t just want to someday enjoy being with Christ in heaven; I want to enjoy his nearness now—as much as he’s willing to grant. It might be easier to settle for less, but I can’t. My heart says, “Seek his face,” so I cry, “Your face, Lord, I will seek.”
As I seek God’s face, there’s a verse in the Bible that fills me with longing. Exodus 33:11 says, “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.” That’s what I want: to be face to face with God, to hear his voice clearly and directly, to communicate the way close friends do. I know that Moses was unique and that God revealed himself to Moses in stunning experiences that are duplicated seldom if ever. The Bible says, “Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face” (Deuteronomy 34:10). Even so, since the coming of Jesus, there are many respects in which followers of Jesus today can know the Lord better than Moses did. Moses did not have Jesus’ full teaching; Jesus had not yet died and risen; the Holy Spirit had not come upon God’s people as fully as he would later do; so there were some things that Moses could foresee only dimly. Living in the light of Christ, why should we settle for having any less of God in our life than Moses had?
The Pursuit of God
A. W. Tozer, a pastor from an earlier generation, wrote a spiritual classic called The Pursuit of God. Tozer believed in accurate Bible teaching but said such teaching is not enough. “There is today no lack of Bible teachers to set forth correctly the principles of the doctrines of Christ,” wrote Tozer, “but too many of these seem satisfied to teach the fundamentals of the faith year after year, strangely unaware that there is in their ministry no manifest Presence, nor anything unusual in their personal lives. They minister constantly to believers who feel within their breasts a longing which their teaching simply does not satisfy… They want to taste, to touch with their hearts, to see with their inner eyes the wonder that is God.” But in many churches, that’s not happening. “In its stead,” said Tozer, “are programs, methods, organizations and a world of nervous activities which occupy time and attention but can never satisfy the longing of the heart.”
We need God. We don’t just need religious activities; we need God himself. “The world is perishing for lack of the knowledge of God and the church is famishing for want of His presence,” declared Tozer. “The instant cure of most of our religious ills would be to enter the Presence in spiritual experience, to become suddenly aware that we are in God and God is in us. This would lift us out of our pitiful narrowness and cause our hearts to be enlarged.”
This is especially urgent for those of us who are leaders and pastors. Are we real worshipers and friends of God, or are we just experts on theology? Tozer put it well: “The scribe tells us what he has read, and the prophet tells us what he has seen… Between the scribe who has read and the prophet who has seen there is a difference as wide as the sea. We are overrun today with orthodox scribes, but the prophets, where are they? The hard voice of the scribe sounds over evangelicalism, but the church waits for the tender voice of the saint who has penetrated the veil and has gazed with inward eye on the wonder that is God.”
Those words drive me to my knees. I pray that God will forgive me when I’ve settled for mere logic and research and biblical analysis without seeking his face and desiring his presence. I pray that God will forgive me when I have failed others by speaking with the hard voice of a scribe who is better at arguing than at worshiping and loving. I pray that God will fill me to overflowing with the living, loving Person of his Holy Sprit. I pray that God will show me more and more of Christ. I pray that I may truly be in tune with the heart of my heavenly Father, that I may experience God’s love for me and that I may love God more truly. I pray that I may speak to others with the warmth and power that flows out of friendship with God, and I pray that you too will seek God’s face and relate to Jesus more directly and vibrantly.
God’s Word encourages you and me in our desire to know him better. In Philippians 3 the apostle Paul says, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord… I want to know Christ.” After expressing that intense desire, Paul adds, “Not that I have already obtained all this or have already been made perfect, but I press on” (Philippians 3:8,10,12). Paul had amazing encounters with Christ and direct revelations from the Lord, but even Paul did not know Christ as well as he wanted. If you and I have come to know Christ at all, it’s reason to rejoice, but at the same time it rouses a hunger to seek his face and know him more.
Don’t Settle For Less
Do you want to know God more? When you hear the Bible say, “The Lord would speak with Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend,” how do you respond? Does something inside you long for face-to-face friendship with the Almighty? When we look at the way Moses related to God, we find that Moses wanted as much of God as the Lord was willing to give.
While Moses was up on Mount Sinai getting the Ten Commandments and other revelations from God, the Israelite people were making themselves a golden calf to worship. They turned away from the Lord who rescued them from slavery and bowed down to a hunk of junk. This angered the Lord, and he threatened to wipe them all out. But Moses pleaded for God not to destroy them, and God relented. The Lord said he would not destroy the people. Rather, he would send an angel along with them to give them victory in their struggles and make a place for them in the promised land. God would do all this for them, but he said that he himself would not go with them.
Overall, doesn’t that sound like a great deal? Suppose God told you, “I am not going to destroy you for your sins. What’s more, I’ll make sure an angel deals with any obstacles in your path, and I’ll make sure you get to heaven in the end.” That’s a better deal than any of us deserve, so a lot of people might gladly settle for that. It’s tempting to say, “Wow—sounds wonderful! Who could ask for more?”
Moses asked for more. It wasn’t enough for him and his fellow Israelites to escape destruction or to have an angel protector or to win victories or to make it eventually to the place God promised. They couldn’t bear to hear God say, “I’ll do these things for you, but I’m not going with you on the way. I’ll send an angel, but I’m not coming.” When God said that, Moses and all the Israelites started crying. Moses didn’t want to take even one more step on the journey if God would not go with them. Forgiveness, an angel, and a bright future might be nice, but what are these worth without fellowship with God?
Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’ If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so that I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”
The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here…”
And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name (Exodus 33:12-17).
Moses wouldn’t settle for being spared and helped by a God who would stay at a distance and remain largely anonymous. Moses eagerly sought to know God and to experience his favor. Moses didn’t want to go anywhere without God; he wanted God beside him and the Israelites at all times.
Does God’s Presence mean that much to you? Or do you settle for less? Are you satisfied as long as you’re forgiven and bound for the Promised Land, even if you have little or no sense of God’s presence in your life? Don’t settle for that! Keep pleading for God’s favor and presence the way Moses did.
Show Me Your Glory
Moses would not settle for less. He wanted to have as much of God as the Lord was willing to give him. He wanted to know as much of the Lord as the Lord was willing to show him. He wanted this for the benefit of all God’s people, but he also wanted direct, personal encounter. Moses must have been overjoyed when God promised his continuing presence. But even then Moses kept asking for more. He blurted out, “Now show me your glory.”
What a stupendous request! Moses had seen many of God’s miracles, had heard many of God’s promises, and had experienced God’s presence, but now he wanted the ultimate: a display of the vast splendor and being of God. And God didn’t mind being asked. When God shows us favor and gives us something of himself, he likes it when we keep asking for more. As Jesus put it, “Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance” (Matthew 13:12). Moses had received much, but he kept seeking more, and God was pleased to reveal more—but not everything. When Moses said, “Show me your glory,’ the Lord said,
“I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”
Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand till I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen” (Exodus 33:19-23).
No mere human could survive a full vision of God’s glory. In order to reveal himself to us without destroying us, God must shelter us from his full glory and allow us to catch a glimpse of his back but not his face, of his afterglow but not his direct brilliance. Even that indirect, partial encounter is enough to transform our lives and make us radiant. When Moses came from God back to the people, something about him was so bright, so radiant, that he had to wear a veil so that the people would not be too dazzled.
There is a great mystery here. The Bible says Moses “saw him who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:27). What does it mean to see the invisible? Exodus 33:11 says, “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend,” but just nine verses later, in Exodus 33:20, God tells Moses, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” How can the Bible speak of being face to face with God and then say that no one can see God’s face and live? Here’s what I think it means: it’s possible for us to be face to face with God in the sense of personal fellowship but not in the sense that we see everything about him. We can’t look God over and size him up the way we might a fellow human. God is too vast, splendid, mighty, and mysterious for that. The sheer weight of his majesty would crush us.
Still, the fact that no one can see God’s face in the ultimate sense should not prevent us from seeking his face in the sense of getting to know him better and experience more of him. Let’s not stifle our yearning for God by saying, “Well, we’re not Moses. He was different. Nothing like that is possible for me.” God has revealed far greater glory in Christ than what he revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. When the Bible compares God’s revelation to Moses with the revelation in Christ, it says, ““What was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory” (2 Corinthians 3:10).
There’s a sense in which I already know the Lord better than Moses did. I may not hear God’s voice audibly or have such direct vision—and I do long for clearer, more direct encounters—but I still know God’s revelation in Christ in ways that Moses did not. The Bible says, “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only [that is, Jesus] has made him known” (John 1:18). After Jesus ascended to heaven, God gave his Holy Spirit to his people in richer measure than he did in earlier times. God’s Word says, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled faces, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:17-18 RSV).
God puts limits to what we can see of him and know of him in this life, but how many of us are anywhere near those limits? Could our relationship with God be less distant and more direct if only we wanted it more and prayed for it more urgently?
Seeing His Face
Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8). To see God, we must be pure in heart. What does it mean to be pure in heart? It means to be clean of sin, but even more it means to have a single-minded, undivided desire for God. When God is our supreme desire, when nothing matters to us compared to knowing the Lord, then we are pure in heart, and we will see God. Before we see him, we must want him.
If we are discouraged by how dimly we know God, let us seek him all the more urgently. And when God blesses and refreshes us with a sense of his nearness and a taste of his glory, let’s not settle for that. Let’s keep seeking and praying for more.
Let’s seek for more already in this life, and let’s pray more urgently for Jesus to come again and form his perfect new creation. Already God loves us who belong to Christ as friends and dear children, but when Christ returns, it will be even better. “When he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). For now, “We live by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7), but we can ask God to reveal much of himself to the eyes of faith, and each of us can pray, “O Lord, haste the day when my faith become sight.”
So seek for God to display more of his glory right here, right now, and at the same time pray that Jesus will come soon and display his full glory for all to see. “What we see now is like a dim image in a mirror; then we shall see face-to-face. What I know now is only partial; then it will be complete—as complete as God’s knowledge of me” (1 Corinthians 13:12 TEV). In the Lord’s new creation, his people “will see his face… They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:4-5).
Father in heaven, make me pure in heart, that I may see you. Help me to know you better, to taste more fully of your love, and to love you more. Lord, I long to see as much of you as you are willing to show me in this life, and I ask you to come quickly that I may see you face to face and live in your light forever. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.