Big Idea: When things are bad, we need God’s friendship, presence, and glory.
There are times when it seems that everything is falling apart. There are times when it seems like society is going in the wrong direction, and we’re powerless to stop the decay. It sometimes even seems like God himself has forsaken us.
Right now is one of those times. Whether you’re left or right in your political leanings, it’s not an encouraging time. There’s an election going on south of us. No matter what your political position, I think we can all agree that this isn’t an encouraging time for civility in the public square.
I can relate to someone in this church who recently posted some very offensive comments she’s received on Facebook, and said, “Y’all…… when I tell you that I am slowly losing faith in humanity……..”
Not the First Time
We’re not the first to feel this way. 3,500 years ago, God acted decisively in rescuing the nation of Israel from Egypt. He not only delivered them, but they plundered Egypt as they left. Then God defeated the army that pursued them, fed them in the middle of the dessert, helped them defeat an army that came out to attack them, and appeared to them in Mount Sinai. God said to them:
You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel. (Exodus 19:4-6)
It was a high watermark in history. Never before had God acted so visibly and powerfully on behalf of his people. If there was ever a time you’d expect people to behave, it would be this then.
But that’s not what happened. As Moses, the leader, met with God, Israel created an idol and sacrificed to it. The Bible says that they “sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry” (Exodus 32:6 NIV). We read, “Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies” (Exodus 32:25 NIV). This should have been a high point, not just in Israel’s history but in all of history, but instead it became one of the most spectacular failures in all of history. Things were so bad that God wanted to get rid of them all and start over again.
So what do you do when you’ve lost your faith in humanity? He gave us a prayer for desperate times. It’s a good prayer anytime, but especially when things look bleak.
A Prayer for Desperate Times
Moses gives us a prayer that we can use in all kinds of desperate times. It’s not the prayer that we think we need when times are bad, but it’s the prayer that gets to what we need the most.
Moses gives us three requests that not only get to the heart of what we need, but to the heart of what God wants for us.
First Request: God’s Friendship
Here’s his first request:
Moses said to the LORD, “See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” (Exodus 33:12-13)
Moses realizes that God has appointed him as leader over Israel. He then realizes that he can’t do this without help. He says, “You have not let me know whom you will send with me.” Who’s going to help Moses? An angel? That would be pretty cool, but that’s not what Moses wants. In fact, God has already promised to send his angel but not go himself.
But that’s not good enough. Moses says that he wants something in particular from God. Just as God knows Moses, and calls him a friend, so Moses wants to know God. I don’t think Moses is talking about knowing God in a theoretical way. He’s talking about knowing God in a personal way. He wants to know what God intends for Israel, how he intends to act, and how he will provide for his people. Moses wants to know God — to know about him, but even better, to know him.
As J.I. Packer says, “A little knowledge of God is worth more than a great deal of knowledge about him.”
This is, after all, the very reason why we were made: to know God, and be known by him. Again, to quote Packer, the author of a great book called Knowing God, “Once you become aware that the main business that you are here for is to know God, most of life’s problems fall into place of their own accord.” He writes:
What makes life worthwhile is having a big enough objective, something which catches our imagination and lays hold of our allegiance, and this the Christian has in a way that no other person has. For what higher, more exalted, and more compelling goal can there be than to know God?
When we want to know someone, we don’t just learn about them. This is especially true of those who are more powerful than we are. I could read a lengthy biography about our prime minister, for instance, but I still wouldn’t know him. I could even meet him, and shake hands with him, but even then I wouldn’t know him. It would take him choosing to open up to me, to establish a friendship and relationship with me, and to choose to open up his heart to me. Then I could say I know him. And we’d feel pretty good about it. Someone important, who really doesn’t need me to be his friend, has chosen to be friends with me.
The same applies with God. We don’t just want to know about him. We don’t even just want to meet him. What we’re hungry for — what Moses prays for — is for God to choose to open up to us, for him to self-disclose to us, and to establish a friendship with us. As Packer says:
What happens is that the almighty Creator, the Lord of hosts, the great God before whom the nations are as a drop in a bucket, comes to you and begins to talk to you through the words and truths of Holy Scripture. Perhaps you have been acquainted with the Bible and Christian truth for many years, and it has meant little to you; but one day you wake up to the fact that God is actually speaking to you—you!—through the biblical message … You come to realize as you listen that God is actually opening his heart to you, making friends with you and enlisting you as a colleague-in Barth’s phrase, a covenant partner. It is a staggering thing, but it is true-the relationship in which sinful human beings know God is one in which God, so to speak, takes them onto his staff, to be henceforth his fellow workers (see 1 Cor 3:9) and personal friends. The action of God in taking Joseph from prison to become Pharaoh’s prime minister is a picture of what he does to every Christian: from being Satan’s prisoner, you find yourself transferred to a position of trust in the service of God. At once life is transformed.
So this is a pretty good prayer for us to pray, especially when we start to lose hope in this world. Pray, “Lord, I want to know you.” We were made for this. Ask God to take you into his confidence, to be your Friend. It’s a prayer that he’s eager to answer. In the end, it’s the only thing that really matters. The prophet Jeremiah says:
Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 9:23-24)
God answered this prayer, by the way, in the next chapter:
The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6-7)
When things are really bad, pray to know God. There’s a second request that Moses gives:
Second Request: God’s Presence
If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth? (Exodus 33:15-16)
This is pretty interesting. God has already told Moses that he will give Israel what they want. In the beginning of the chapter he says:
I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people. (Exodus 33:2-3)
They can have everything they want, God says, except for his presence with them.
I wonder what would happen if God said to us that we could have everything that we wanted, minus his presence? If all of our dreams could come true, but without him?
John Piper’s put it this way:
The critical question for our generation—and for every generation— is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ were not there?
For Moses, the answer is absolutely not. Moses doesn’t want to go anywhere that God’s not going.
Moses shows us that what we really need isn’t all of our problems to be solved, or even for all of our dreams to come true, even though that would be nice. What we really need most of all is for God’s presence with us. It would be better to live in a desert with no home permanently than to go to the promised land without God, Moses says. The reason? The very thing that set Israel apart from everyone else wasn’t their land, their wealth, their culture, or anything else, because they had none of these. The only thing that set them apart was God’s presence.
The same applies to us. We need to know God; we also need his presence. See the progression here, by the way? First, Moses wants to know God. Second, Moses wants God to move in with them. Moses doesn’t want to just know God; he wants God to live with them. But he’s even done yet.
Third Request: God’s Glory
At this point, most people would be satisfied. God’s friendship and God’s presence would be enough. Not for Moses, though. He says: “Please show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18). This is an audacious request. God’s glory is almost impossible to describe. One person defines it as “the infinite beauty and greatness of God’s manifold perfections” (John Piper). Moses had already seen glimpses of God’s glory at the burning bush, and when he entered God’s presence on the mountaintop. Now he wants to see the fullness of God’s beauty and greatness.
God granted Moses’ request, sort of. God says he will let his goodness pass before Moses. Even then, Moses would only get a glance. This isn’t the full glory of God; it’s only a partial revelation. If Moses saw all of God’s glory, it would destroy him. The glory of God is more than any human could bear. But it’s also what we need.
One guy puts it this way: We are glory junkies. Whether we like it or not, we’re addicted to glory. He writes:
Human beings are hardwired by God for glory, for awe, to have our minds blown, our hearts expanded, to be taken beyond the normal, the mundane, to be absorbed into what is wonderful and beautiful and satisfying.
Now you see that in human beings. That is why we like the triple overtime NBA game or the seven layer mousse cake or the movie that just keeps us on the edge of our seats…Here is the role of created glory: It is one big finger to point me to the only glory that will ever satisfy my heart. (Paul Tripp)
I want the Blue Jays to win the World Series in dramatic fashion. I want the Toronto FC to win the MLS Cup. I want to see beautiful mountains and stunning sunsets. I want to taste the most amazing food that lights up my taste buds. All of that is good, but none of it will ultimately satisfy. We were made for a greater glory. Only God’s glory will give us the satisfaction we were made for.
When things are bad, we need God’s friendship, presence, and glory. And in Jesus, we have all off these. Through his death, we’ve been made God’s friends. We also have his presence. The risen Jesus has said, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). And in Jesus, we’ve seen God’s glory. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
When things are bad, we need God’s friendship, presence, and glory. And we have all of these in Jesus.
So what are you going to pray for when things get tough? Go ahead and pray for things to change. But most of all, pray for God’s friendship, presence, and glory. They’re what we need most.