The Glory of God
A Church Discovers What Happens When You Ask
The midnight air settled with death-like stillness on my skin as I lay staring at an endless expanse of sky. Soon the ache within gave way to tearful groaning. “God, where are You? What are You doing? Why have You hidden Your face? Tell me what You want from me.”
The heavens were mute, a billion stars blinking back light and warmth beyond my reach. This had become a familiar vigil, this night watch of wrestling and weeping during the summer of my discontent when God in sovereign silence deposited fresh faith into my soul.
Praying for God’s glory is dangerous business. I had thought it so simple to want more of Him, to long for life that glorified His name. How often I had cried out with Moses-like naiveté for Him to show me His glory, not realizing one glimpse could incinerate my entire being. I just didn’t expect the Almighty to come like a raging current, a hurricane into whose swirling depths I’d be tossed like a rag-doll.
It began innocently enough, during a season when God seemed to knock down the walls and blow the roof off our church, confronting our comfortable Christian community with a dark and dying world. From downtown San Diego to the villages of India, doors flew open, and a people whose primary purpose had been caring for each other were thrust into the streets with the gospel in hand. My husband and I, having started the church 15 years earlier, were awestruck at what God was doing in our midst.
But as exciting as it all was, nothing could have prepared us for the radical shift to come. At a missions conference we heard of God’s passion for His own name and exaltation. From Genesis to Revelation, the teacher shared God’s plan to fill the earth with His glory by transforming people into His image and sending them forth to manifest the beauty of His being until every tongue and tribe had heard. Our hearts were overwhelmed by the reality that everything God does is preparation for a moment when time will end, and a chorus of cultures will bow eternally to worship the Lamb that was slain.
My husband was captivated by the glory of God over the next few months, preaching 31 messages in a row as he sought to draw us from a man-focused to a God-centered faith. The message was as old as time, yet it often felt as if we’d never heard it before. Week by week, we were increasingly enthralled with the realization that the God of the universe wants to so fill us with Himself that our delight in Him will overflow like a boiling cauldron of desire to make Him known.
As people caught the vision, lives dramatically changed. Members went out as missionaries to faraway parts of the earth, while families back home ran homework clubs, sports leagues, English classes, and immunization clinics for the unreached in our community. Throughout the week we were on mission together, and on Sundays God’s love and awesome power to transform filled our services, His presence tangibly touching our hungry hearts. It was an idyllic time as we discovered anew our Maker’s character and ways. The more we tasted His glory, the greater was our longing for Him. Many of us began to feel a sort of holy discontent, a pulsing drive to see Christ come and work more powerfully in our midst—to be exalted in our lives, our homes, our workplaces and neighborhoods.
A groundswell of yearning erupted in prayerful intercession. In response, our elders called the church to gather for weekly prayer for the entire summer to seek God’s face and cry out for His presence. Like believers throughout our nation, we pled for revival, for God to rend the heavens and come down. At our first prayer meeting, the Lord gave three people the same promise for our church: “I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert. . . . The people whom I formed for Myself will declare My praise” (Is. 43:19,21, NASB). Greater faith emboldened, we rejoiced and prayed with greater faith, certain that some thing BIG was about to happen. But every now and then, in some small group or an individual’s time of prayer, God seemed to be quietly probing, Do you know what you are asking for? I heard it myself one morning, and I felt compassion for the backsliders who would be taken by surprise when God decided to show us His true colors. I never dreamed He was asking this question of me! Some months later, it seemed as if the heavens closed, almost like God had packed up and taken His leave. The circumstances alone were ominous: loss of staff, families in crisis, ministries folding, changes in leadership, conflicts among members and between staff, unmet outreach needs, and dry worship were just a few. As the unsettling confusion persisted, a small but steady trickle of longtime members began to leave. About this time the events of September 11 took place and church leaders across America called the body of Christ to serious introspection. The Sunday after September 11, my husband asked our entire church to come forward and pray over our staff and leaders, that God might grant us a spirit of repentance. This was the beginning of the darkest and most painful part of our journey.
For my husband and me, the deep work of stripping and purifying began in earnest. Day after day, God revealed more and more areas of sinful self-reliance that had hindered His work, shattering our sense of spiritual security. God was silent as He pruned, and for the first time in my life I had nothing to lean on but raw faith. Painfully aware of conflicts without and grief within, each day brought a deeper sense of desperation.
God’s Word became our lifeline. Slowly, it began to resonate with promises that our prayers were being answered. We’d longed for a greater revelation of His glory, and in love, God disciplined us so we could “share in his holiness” (Heb. 12:10), a pledge beyond comprehension. We’d wanted to shine more brightly with His light, so He enabled us to bear in ourselves the dying of the Lord Jesus so His life could be manifested more powerfully through us (2 Cor. 4:6). We began to try to rejoice in our trials, clinging to the hope that our faith was being tested by fire so that it would “be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 1:7, NASB).
More Means Less
We learned that praying for God’s glory is dangerous, because though it is a request He loves to fulfill, the answer rarely takes the form our finite minds expect. More of Jesus inevitably means less of us—less of our agendas, our securities, our schemes and dreams. To pray for God’s glory means to die to everything that stands in the way of His complete rule and reign in our hearts and lives.
We may pray for success, but find that God chooses to glorify Himself instead by bestowing peace as our careers come crashing to an end. We may pray for our children’s happiness, and discover that their joy in Jesus sends them to settle in some frightening place across the world. We may pray for our church to thrive, only to discover that it must first fall to the ground like a grain of wheat, and die. Praying for God’s glory may mean a multitude of deaths before resurrection hope resounds.
Our Only Hope
The question is, can we pray any other way, once we’ve tasted His glory? Can we return to the mundane rituals of religious life once we’ve known intimacy with the living God? Can we settle for a lifestyle shaped by this world, when the God of eternity has called us to His? Can we refuse to go with Him to Gethsemane, once we’ve been crucified with Christ (Gal. 2:20)? These kinds of questions plagued me through many nights of lonely prayer, and amidst the tears I would cry out like Peter, Where would I go? You alone have the words to eternal life (Jn. 6:68). Recently, I’ve begun to feel the winds of God’s Spirit blow from afar. It is a distant sound, but I believe He is coming to fulfill His promise to pour out water on the dry ground.
The hope grows greater every day, and yet I find myself not entirely ready to leave this desert place. I cried out for His glory, and He has met me in the silence and sorrow, in the dryness and defeat, sharing tenderly with me the fellowship of His sufferings. From this place of darkness I can say as never before, that though I have not seen Him, I love Him. And though I do not see Him now, but believe in Him, greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory (1 Pet. 1:7-8). I did not know what I was asking when I prayed for God’s glory, but I believe He is giving me something exceedingly and abundantly above and beyond my expectations. Blessed be His glorious name. ♦
Used by permission of Pray! Copyright © 2003, Issue 35, The Navigators. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. www.navpress.com
About the Author
TRICIA MCCARY RHODES is an author and pastor’s wife. She wrote this article because she wants people to understand that “to pray for God’s glory means to pray for His discipline, and it will most likely be painful at the time, but yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness, and also enable us to share in His holiness which is the most incomprehensible facet of His glory (Hebrews 13).” Her new book The Wired Soul releases this summer.
Illustration by Simon Shaw