“Be joyful always;pray continually;give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)
Moses led the people of Israel out of four hundred years of slavery in Egypt. When you read about Moses, you are reading about a man of extreme faith who spent his life exploring the greater curiosities.
“Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it the ‘tent of meeting.’ Anyone inquiring of the LORD would go to the tent of meeting outside the camp.And whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people rose and stood at the entrances to their tents, watching Moses until he entered the tent.As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance, while the LORD spoke with Moses.Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance to the tent, they all stood and worshiped, each at the entrance to their tent.The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.” Exodus 33:7-11 (NIV)
You will hardly see any place in the Bible where intimacy with God is more expressively put than in that last sentence. It describes a man who had come to know God. At this point, Moses is probably around 81-82 years old. It takes years to develop a relationship of this nature. Moses, through eighty years of success and failure, had finally reached this point.
WHEN A MAN OR WOMAN TALKS WITH GOD FACE TO FACE, AS FRIEND DOES TO FRIEND, WHAT DO THEY TALK ABOUT?
Today, most prayers go, “O Lord, make me healthy. Solve my problems. Increase my salary. Make me happy. Help me get along with my spouse or my girlfriend or my boyfriend. Make me six inches taller. Help me take off forty pounds. Get me a better job.”
Is that what Moses prayed about?
Moses had spent his first 40 years living in the Egyptian palace. A colossal failure—a murder—drove him out of town to live in the desert for the next forty years of his life. It was during those years that Moses finally learned to start listening to God, recognizing that he must do things on God’s terms. That’s how extreme faith begins to develop. In his 80th year, at the burning bush moment, God called Moses to lead the people out of Egypt. Now remember, God asked Moses to lead tens of thousands of people out of a place where they and their ancestors had lived for four hundred years. He might as well have been asked to herd cats! You would think that these people would be glad to get out of Egypt—“Moses, anything you say”—but when multiple generations have lived as slaves, they become distrustful. They become skeptical and suspicious. They are people without a culture. They are tempted to resist authority and to complain and gripe at everything that happens. Consider how Israel acted just after she had been set free from her Egyptian captors. When they got to the shore of the Red Sea and the Egyptian army began to pursue them, they turned against Moses and said, “You led us out here to die. Why didn’t you leave us in Egypt? Life was better then.” When they later came into the desert, they complained that the food was not in plentiful supply. Every time Moses turned around, these people were angry. They were the worst kind of people for someone to have to lead.
That’s what brings us to Exodus 33:1–3 …
“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I will send an angel before you and drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.’” Exodus 33:1-3 (NIV)
Just before this chapter, Moses had returned from Mount Sinai and found the people dancing around a fire like pagans. His brother, Aaron, had said: “We thought you weren’t coming back, so we’ve been dancing and worshiping this calf.” God was angry. We don’t like to think of God being angry, but God has righteous anger when people turn against Him and flaunt His grace.
So God says: “I promised you the land, but I’m not going with you.”
As Moses hears these words, he goes to the tent of meeting. He begins to pray for three things—three things that show the greater curiosities, three things that ought to be foundational pillars in your life of prayer. These are the things men and women who grow deep in Christian faith pray about.
This is a tremendous model of prayer for us as leaders …
“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 I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.’” Exodus 33:12-13 (NIV)
LORD, TEACH ME YOUR WAYS
What does it mean to ask the Lord to teach you His ways?
You are asking God to teach you about His culture.
Moses had spent forty years in the Egyptian culture and forty years in the desert with shepherds, Arameans, and nomads. Now he is being asked by God to lead a group of people into a new way of life. Through his prayer, Moses is saying: “I don’t know enough, God. I need to get insight into Your culture—how You do things, what Your expectations are, what kind of people You want us to be. So, Lord, if you want me to lead these people, teach me Your ways.”
This prayer drives men and women to the Word of God as students because it says, “I’ve been immersed for the totality of my life in the ways of the world. Though not all those ways are evil or bad, I now want to absorb God’s ways. I am going to reflect the character of God in my own character. I am going to absorb as much as heaven will reveal to me about its ways.”
Most of us have prayer lives in which we’re asking God to alter the circumstances. But the deeper prayers focus on saying it’s not the circumstances that are to change; it’s our hearts that are meant to change!
That’s what Moses is trying to say: “Lord, I’ve come after 82 years of life to understand that I must know Your ways.”
If you pray like this every day, you will have a new depth to your life as you concentrate on absorbing the culture of heaven.
Maybe this is part of what Jesus was saying in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” In other words: “I want to know Your ways, Lord. I want to bring them on earth as they are explored and acted out in heaven.”
LORD, GUARANTEE TO ME YOUR PRESENCE
“The LORD replied, ‘My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’” Exodus 33:14 (NIV)
Here’s a change! God said earlier (in v. 3), “I will not go with you.” Now, in verse 14, he apparently likes Moses’ attitude. It’s as if he says: “I’ve changed my mind. My presence will go with you.”
“Then Moses said to him, ‘If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?’ 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 33:15-17 (NIV)
Moses is saying: “I’m not going to do this alone. I want to know You are where I can call upon You. I’m not going on this journey unless Your presence is guaranteed.”
What does presence imply to you?
Presence implies guidance … help … and companionship.
We all have fears and insecurities. That’s what Moses is facing in this part of his prayer. Whether it’s losing our job, losing our health, not being loved, not overcoming depression, or any of the issues that create crisis in human experience, we too are crying out for the Lord’s guaranteed presence.
You can lead with or without the Lord’s presence. Which will you choose? How will you pray? What implications will this have in how you facilitate times of prayer in the environments you lead?
LORD, SHOW ME YOUR GLORY
“Then Moses said, ‘Now show me your glory.’And 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 until I have passed by.Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.’” Exodus 33:18-23 (NIV)
Glory sums up the worth and power of a person—or an organization, or a nation. The word “glory,” kabod in Hebrew, speaks of the singular splendor of God. His unmatched magnificence. His incomparable power.
Moses wanted to see God’s splendor, His power. But hadn’t he already seen that? Up to this point, Moses had experienced supernatural physical manifestations of God’s presence in the miracles in Egypt, the burning bush, the pillar of cloud and fire in the wilderness, the thick smoke-filled cloud on Mount Sinai. He had engaged in intimate conversations with God in the Holy of Holies.
Now, Moses wanted more, so much more from God, and their intimate relationship and Moses’ increasing faith through those years gave him the courage to ask. He specifically asked to see God’s glory. Not just a physical manifestation of God’s presence like smoke and fire. Moses wanted a taste of the divine.
Moses was asking for Shekinah glory, the “dwelling glory,” of God. A presence that is life-transforming. He wanted the very presence of God to envelop him. To feel down to the marrow of his bones the glory of God. To look upon His grandeur, His goodness, His holiness, His divinity.
And as much as God probably wanted to grant Moses what he asked, He couldn’t. His brilliance, His radiance is too much for human eyes. But our loving God found a way to give Moses a taste of what he asked. He hid Moses in the cleft of a rock, covered his face with His hand, and allowed Moses a glimpse of His glory. To see the backside of His glory. And although Moses did not get everything he asked, we must never forget that the very goodness of God passed by Moses! God proclaimed His Name and His Sovereignty in Moses’ presence.
What’s so remarkable is God intended for us to experience that same glory in our midst. So when the time was right, God sent His glory to earth in the form of His Son, Jesus. Jesus’ very name, Immanuel, means “God with us.”
And if that isn’t enough, Moses experienced the dwelling presence of God. But we, as the New Testament children of God, receive the “indwelling” presence of God. Jesus, in the form of God’s Holy Spirit, comes to live inside us!!
How does God reveal His glory to Moses?
God says: “I’ll tell you what My Name is. I will reveal something to you of My moral character. Here is My glory, Moses: I am abounding in steadfast love, slow to anger, and forgiving of wickedness and sin. I am not impulsive, vindictive, or unresponsive. I am a God whose character is impeccable and absolutely dependable.”
We’ve had a prayer life that depended upon changing circumstances. God is now saying, “I want to take you deeper.” You might be saying, “I want to go deeper; I want to be a person of extreme faith. Where do I start?” You start where Moses started. As he faced God with incredible challenges in front of him, he prayed a powerful threefold prayer:
“LORD, TEACH ME YOUR WAYS. GUARANTEE TO ME YOUR PRESENCE. SHOW ME THE REVELATION OF YOUR POWER AND YOUR GLORY.”
Those are the greater curiosities. This is the prayer of a man or woman who wants to develop extreme faith.
What typically do you pray about? How much of your focus is on solving your problems or increasing your paycheck, and how much is focused on deepening your intimacy with God?
How would you define your own faith? Is it lukewarm, faltering, or extreme?
As a way to become a person of extreme faith, try praying Moses’ threefold prayer on a daily basis. Jot down in your journal any results you notice.
Father, thank You that You always answer prayer! We acknowledge that sometimes You say ‘yes’, sometimes You say ‘no’ and other times You say ‘wait’. We tend to think of You only answering our prayers when we get the ‘yes’ but I’m asking You to help us to see prayer from Your perspective. Help us as leaders to move beyond praying for others to be comfortable and give us the courage to pray for them to be spirituallymature. We will pray for comfort but we will also pray for their completeness!
“LORD, TEACH ME YOUR WAYS. GUARANTEE TO ME YOUR PRESENCE. SHOW ME THE REVELATION OF YOUR POWER AND YOUR GLORY.”
Resource: "Extreme Faith" chapter from Gordon McDonald's book, "Building Below The Waterline."
For further study on the Apostle Paul's prayer life ...