How do you go about making your daily plans? How does your church go about reaching out to the community? Missions and evangelism have gone through waves of trends and whenever a church sees a large response, many others try to jump on the bandwagon and reproduce what the church did in order to attain the same results. The same can be said for third world missions, for community development, and even for daily, individual decision making. We think that if it worked for so-and-so, I am going to give it a try to see if it works for me. We turn to God as our magic genie instead of the sovereign creator who has a purpose and a plan for history and our lives.
Moses had a tricky situation. Pharaoh had commanded that all of the baby boys be killed who were two years old and younger in order to keep the Hebrew slave population under control, but his mother saved him and hid him. He was providentially rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter who raised him as her own son. Imagine that. Pharaoh was trying to minimize the number of Hebrews and here one is raised in his own household. Moses knew his heritage (he was not confused as the recent movie suggested) and even from his position in Pharaoh’s household attempted to help his brothers out by killing an Egyptian who was mistreating them (Ex 2.11-14). But, as is human nature, Moses’ good intentions were misunderstood and reviled by the Hebrew men. The Hebrew men were jealous of Moses’ position and lashed out at him. The story got back to Pharaoh and Pharaoh tried to kill Moses for what he did, so Moses ran for his life. He settled in a nearby country, married a priest’s daughter and began working as a shepherd.
But then God called. God wanted to use Moses to free the entire nation of Israel from slavery and Moses was a coward. He did not want to go. God spoke to him verbally, told him the plan, showed him miracles, and still Moses whined. He pushed back so hard that it provoked God to anger, in fact (Ex 4.14). Ultimately, however, God used Moses and he became the most well known and revered patriarch of the people. Moses was the only person with whom God spoke face-to-face, as a friend, and was the man to whom God gave the entire Law. God transformed a murderer and a coward into a dynamic leader.
As God was leading the people to freedom into the wilderness, they questioned every step of the way. God became so frustrated with them that He said,
Then the Lord spoke to Moses, “Depart, go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up from the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give it.’ I will send an angel before you and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in your midst, because you are an obstinate people, and I might destroy you on the way.”
– Ex 33.1-3
This is a strange omen. God had promised the people the land of Canaan, and we know that by the next generation Joshua would lead the people into the land. But God intended for this generation to live out their lives in the wilderness. He was so tired of their foolishness that He told them to go up to the land, that He would send an angel before them, but He promised to not accompany them and to destroy them on the way. The people mourned and Moses pleaded with God:
“Then he said to Him, ‘If Your presence does not go with us,do not lead us up from here’.”
– Ex 33.15
Moses had been transformed and wanted only to be in God’s presence and under His provision. God had proven Himself faithful and powerful, and Moses wanted to remain there. Moses was not concerned about how other nations were seeing victory and settling the land. Moses was not concerned about anything except remaining in God’s presence and in His will. Therefore, His plea was simple. “Go with us”.
When was the last time you were approaching a decision, a conversation, an event, a mission or outreach and stopped to say, “God, where do you want us to go? What do you want us to do? We do not want to do anything unless you go with us!”? Just because First Baptist down the street saw a huge response to Vacation Bible School does not mean that we should have a Vacation Bible School. Just because we have always had a youth camp at the end of June does not mean that we should have another youth camp at the end of June. Just because so-and-so planted and entire church in any-city, USA using such-and-such evangelism method does not mean we should polish and perfect such-and-such evangelism method.
God is not a God of systems and methods. God is a God of those who love Him. We will not force His hand to move. We can only seek His will and ask Him what it is that He would have us to do. So let’s slow down. Let’s evaluate our day-to-days, and let’s consider our regular decision making processes. Do we stop and wait for God and His presence? Or do we judge barge forward and ask Him to bless our activities?
Notice that Moses acknowledges that God can lead the Hebrew people without accompanying them. He is sovereignly in control of everything that happens. He is not shocked when we try to mimic other people and churches’ successes. He might even lead us to that failure in order to open our eyes to our need of His presence. So submit to Him. Slow down. Remember that it is in fact better to stay in the wilderness with His presence than to barge into the land of milk and honey without it.
Don’t go without His presence.