An audience with God is no small matter. Abraham displayed great courage in approaching God with his questions. When he wanted to ask God to have mercy on Sodom, he did so very respectfully.
The Bible says he started the conversation by “coming near the Lord.” Imagine what that was like. God can hear you from wherever you might be, but it might feel safer to be at a distance. God tells Abraham, “I’m about to destroy Sodom.” Abraham’s nephew, Lot, lives there. Lot had come with Abraham from the old country, following his uncle --Uncle Abe had a vision --God said to leave home behind! Abraham believed God and went. Lot believed and went along too.
Abraham’s first thought, upon hearing that Sodom was to be destroyed, might have been, “What’s going to happen to Lot? He’s going to get killed to.” What would the relatives think? Brought him all this way from Ur, just to have him burned alive? That's no way to look after your nephew!
Abe wants to talk to the Lord about this, but the Lord can be frightening –He gets a scary look in His eyes when He announces He is going to destroy a city! He’s intimidating. He is also God. Abraham inches near to Him, and begins his questioning politely. Abraham asked his question. He wants to know if God would spare Sodom if there are 50 righteous people in it. God says that He will.
All is well, until Abe starts to wonder if that is enough to save Lot. What if there aren't 50 righteous people. He gets up his courage and approaches God again:
"Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord, although I am but dust and ashes.”
In other words: “You’re God, I’m dirt. I’d fully understand if you didn’t want to talk to the dirt, but can the dirt ask you another question please?” Humility. (This time he asks if God will spare Sodom if there are 45 righteous men. Next he will move to 40, then 30, etc ). Abraham asks, God answers, all is well again.
Until Abe starts to worry? What if there are only 40 righteous men? He is going to approach God again. At this point, he might want to go for the whole ball of wax, asking something like, "Um, what if Lot is the only one who is righteous? Would you spare the city for one guy?" But, to give him his due, he didn't know how the story would turn out and we do. So he approaches God again with these words:
"Oh may the Lord not be angry, and I shall speak;”
Abe doesn’t just launch into his follow-up question. Instead he tiptoes in and says, “You’re not mad, right? I’m not making you angry by continually asking questions, right?” He is watching for signs, no doubt, that he is still safe in this conversation.
Abraham realizes that God is holy and not to be trifled with. He realizes that to be heard by God is a privilege and to be answered by God an honor. Fortunately, God is very patient and allowed this to go on until Abraham got to the question about 10 righteous men. Getting the answer from God that He would spare Sodom for 10 men, he felt pretty good about things and let the matter rest. He might have thought that he saved Sodom, but he would have overestimated their righteous head count. Nevertheless, he knew humility towards God, and that is the lesson we can take away.
Jesus taught us to pray, approaching God with honor:
“Our Father, who are in Heaven, Hollowed by Your Name.”
Hallowed, holy. God you are in heaven, above all things. Your name itself is holy. Speaking to you is a privilege, not a right. That you listen to us, animated clay beings is itself a testimony to your kindness. I am unworthy to talk to You, but You are listening. You are Holy.