The Power of His Presence
Imagine the scene. God miraculously delivers over 600,000 captive Jews from 400 years of slavery under the cruel hand of a sprawling Egyptian empire. Now, just a few months later through the leadership of Moses, the liberated throng stands at the foot of Mt. Sinai waiting to receive the law of God. As they wait for Moses to descend the mountain, 40 days is plenty of time to swallow the doubt, confusion, disappointment and lies spewed out from the dark mind of a crafty enemy. Left to their own devices, the people demand a different type of slavery, slavery to the idolatrous tendencies of the heart. John Calvin is oft-quoted: “The heart is an idol factory.” The poignant truth of that statement is clearly seen in the actions of waiting Israel. Impatient and anxious, Israel melts the gold they plundered from the Egyptians to create a golden calf–an object of worship to replace Yahweh–a god they could see and touch–a god who would represent the unseen Reality who had swallowed up the Egyptian hordes in the waters of the Red Sea.
As Moses finally descends from the mountain and observes the unthinkable scene before him, his “anger burns hot” (Ex. 32:19) and he shatters the tablets of stone upon which God had written His law with His own hand. After some back and forth, Moses convinces God not to consume His people. God relents from His anger and chooses instead to let a ravenous plague rip through the camp.
Following the plague, God speaks to Moses again telling him to gather the people and leave Sinai. And here’s where the story turns on its head. God declares, “Go to the 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” (Ex. 33:3). Imagine hearing those heart-stopping words from the God who has led you thus far. “I will not go with you.”
To imagine a God whose heart doesn’t break or whose feelings remain unaffected by the unfaithfulness and sin of His people, is to imagine a god made in our own image, a god who simply doesn’t exist in that form.
Now here’s the real clincher of the story–a truth God has been wrecking me with lately. Moses, with all of his flaws and shortcomings, gets it profoundly right in this moment. He says, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here…Is it not in your going with us that we are distinct…from every other people on the face of the earth?”
Of course, the rhetorical answer is, “YES!” Is it not the presence of God that makes us distinct? Yes. As the people of God, is it not the presence of God that we need more than anything? Yes.
If I may, let me press a little deeper.
Worship leaders, in our pursuit of excellence, our aesthetically beautiful worship experiences, and our commitment to musical skill, is it not the presence of God we need more than anything?
Pastors, in our polished preaching, our command of a room, and our mastery of biblical languages, is it not the presence of God we need more than anything?
Fathers and mothers, in our commitment to discipling our children, our attempts at financial security, and our neatly synchronized Google calendars, is it not the presence of God we need more than anything?
I’ve been wrestling with this burning question over the past week. As a worship leader who employs contemporary, rock-oriented music as the medium, I’ve been thinking, “What makes us distinct from the Grammy’s or the CMA’s?” From 30,000 feet, the similarities are vast–similar rhythms, melodies, and harmonies. So, what’s different? What’s distinct? I would argue that it must be, it simply has to be the presence of God.
Without the presence of God in our worship, we devolve into nothing more than clanging cymbals and noisy gongs. Without the presence of God in our families, we exist merely as another Jones or Smith vying for the whitest fences and shiniest teeth. Without the presence of God in our workplaces, we are just clock punchers with little regard for how God desires to radically transform the cubicles around us by simply carrying His presence with us every day and every moment.
See, it’s the presence of God that transforms the mundane into the miraculous. It’s the presence of God that takes 600,000 ordinary slaves and transforms them into the most blessed nation on the planet. It’s the presence of God that takes simple rhythms, melodies, harmonies, and lyrics and transforms them into a mighty force that ignites people to celebrate and embrace the mission of God. It’s the presence of God that moves ordinary moms and dad from simply trying to make it through another afternoon of homework, to intentional discipleship in our normal parenting rhythms.
Invite the presence of God into the normal and watch it transform. “Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.” Romans 12:1, The Message