On Shoes

There has long been a sign in the prayer house that tells us to remove our shoes because we are standing on holy ground, but what does that even mean? And what does a pair of shoes have to do with anything anyway?

Check out Exodus 3:1-6.

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

4 When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

   And Moses said, “Here I am.”

5 “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” 6 Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

We think of Moses as a hero of the faith, the one who led God’s people out of Egypt (and that he was), but at this point in time Moses did not walk with God, nor did he even know Him. Instinctively, Moses hides his face, afraid to look on the face of God. The holiness of God has impressed upon Moses a sense of fear and awe. When we ask for the holiness of God, it will be of no value to us until we allow it to impress upon us how high God is above man. But then, what makes a place holy? Why is Moses on holy ground, and why do we call the prayer house a holy place?

The holiness of a place comes not from the place itself, nor from anything man does to it. The prayer house is not holy because we cleaned it up and redecorated. It is holy, because it is a place where man meets with God. It is a place where God dwells. It is holy because God is holy. The prayer house is special because it is a dedicated space for this one purpose, that we come to meet with God. The house is not the only place to do this, nor is there a special power in the house. The house is holy not because of its purpose, but because of God. We come expecting God to be there, and so we walk on holy ground.

There are several reasons then we take off our shoes. The most obvious of these is that it helps to keep the prayer house clean. Andrew Murray writes, “In standing upon holy ground, all this must be put away. It is with naked feet, naked and [stripped] of every covering, that man must bow before a holy God.” In entering before the holiness of God we ask God to make us holy, but the first thing that we see upon entering God’s holiness is how unfit we are to be there. It is only by the blood of Jesus Christ that we are made clean and allowed to enter into the throne room of God. Finally, there is great symbolism in removing our shoes. Again, the words of Andrew Murray far surpass my own, “it is in the putting off not only of the shoes, but of all that has been in contact with the world and self and sin, that the soul draws nigh to the fire, in which God dwells,” The fire he speaks of is the fire that burns but does not consume, it is the fire of the burning bush.

May there be a fire that burns in the prayer house as we cry out to him day and night. May we come and enter into his presence. When confronted with the holiness of God we hide our faces in fear and repent of our sin. Only then can the Lord of Heaven and Earth come and lift us from the dust to be with him. We take off our shoes, expecting this holiness to meet us.

  • December 27th, 2011
  • Posted in Blog