As we continue in our series in the book of Exodus, today we are in chapter 33, and in chapter 33 we encounter Moses at prayer. And I think God has a word for us. I think God wants to, he really wants to teach us what it looks like to know him. Now, ostensibly, that's why we're here, right? We're here because we want to know God, right? Isn't that why we come to worship? And yet, isn't there a part of you that is here for some other reason? Just like me, right? We want to know God, and so we try to seek him during the week. And yet we often don't. But here we are in Exodus 33, and God's going to show us: Okay, I see your heart.
And God, he wants to bless you. You got out of bed. You made it here. For some of you, man, it was a journey to get here. I mean it was only 4.3 miles, but the number of fights you had on the way was impressive. But you made it. And God says, I bless that, and yet I want to show you that there's more. There's more. So why don't you open your Bible with me to Exodus chapter 33. We're going to start in verse 12.
Do you know how to talk to God?
God has been wrestling with Moses, they have been arguing together, the people have made this golden calf, and God is really mad. Moses is upset, God is upset. And now they're kind of wrestling through, Okay, what's the next step.
Just before this passage, there's this classic line about Moses and his relationship with God. The Scripture really lifts up Moses as an example. This is what is says. If you look back just one verse from where we read, to verse 11, it says the Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend. Face to face, friends. Moses was a friend of God. They had that kind of relationship. They really talked to each other. They really knew each other. I believe that verse is in the Scripture because that's God's heart for all of his people. I think that's God's heart for you, that God would be able to say, "You're my friend." And you would be able to say, "I talked to God. We're connected." This is a picture of the relationship that God wants all of us to have with him.
It's interesting if you look at the polls, it's some crazy number, something like 97 percent of Americans pray. We all pray. In a fascinating poll I read a couple years ago, a poll of atheists, 85 percent of atheists pray! We all pray, don't we? We all pray to God. But do we really have the kind of relationship with him, where we are really connecting face to face, as a friend of God. Do we have that? I want us to look at Moses and ask, What does that look like to have that kind of relationship with God? I believe the reason why you're here today is you actually want that. Well, sure, some of you were dragged here by your parents, but I believe that even in your heart you actually do want to know God. You were dragged out by your spouse, by your sworn duty, but I believe in each one of us there's that hunger for more, for more. So this passage is going to show us, what does it look like to have more, more of God?
Look at verse 12. This is what it looks like to be a friend of God. You argue, like a good marriage. Moses said to the Lord, "You've been telling me to lead these people, but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You've said, I know you by name and you've found favor with me." Moses is talking to God, and he's saying, "Hey, we have a problem here. You're seeing one thing, but I'm seeing something else." That's an authentic relationship with God.
One friend of mine started off praying to God this way. This was her first prayer: "God, I don't believe you exist, but if you're there, help me know you." That's a pretty good prayer. She and I talked yesterday, and she talked about how Jesus now walks with her every single day. But you see where it started. It started off with this authentic, This is the way it is, God. I'm not seeing this, I don't believe you, but maybe you're there. That's where it starts.
And some of us, that's where we need to start. We need to start getting real honest with God. For others of us, we have known him for a long time, and this verse has a great key that we need to know. Moses is talking back to God, and you know what he's saying to God? He's saying back to God what God has said to him. Have you ever had those arguments with your spouse? Well you said? Right? That's what Moses is doing with God. Look again at verse 12. "You have been telling me," he says. And then Moses says, "You have said." You see that? He's just putting it back at God. You said this.
Thursday night we were with a kind of extended family gathering after a funeral. The cousins want to go out and play Capture the Flag, so we go out to this big field in this park, and it's all these cousins, and they drag me out there. They ask, "How are we going to play this?" So I make up 57 rules. You got to run here, and tag this, and can't do this, and if you get set free you have to walk back. We start playing this game.
And at the end of the night, in the final tie-breaker game, my boy is down there frozen, and I'm frozen . Someone tags him, and he starts walking back, and their team breaks through our lines and gets the flag and is running. And Timothy is just walking. I'm thinking, This is your chance for glory! There's that nature that comes out sometimes in a father that's not as glorious as some of the things you would wish. I'm thinking, What are you doing? Why didn't you run and get him? Timothy just looked at me and said, "You said in your rules that when you're tagged, you have to walk back to your side."
What could I say? Timothy didn't say it with any sort of attitude. He just said "Well, Dad, this is what you said." And it actually made me proud. It helped me get over my hump and realize it's just a game.
But that's actually what God wants. God wants us to know his Word and speak it back to him. God wants us to say, "God, this is what you said." If you're praying prayers that aren't God's prayers, you have no idea whether he really wants to answer those. But if you are praying his Word, you're golden, because he's always faithful to his Word. He's always faithful to his Word. So do you pray his Word? Do you know it?
Do you actually want to know God's ways?
Look at verse 13, the next verse. This is what Moses is praying. He said: Lord, you said you're pleased with me. If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so that I may know you and will continue to find favor with you. God, I want to know your ways. I want to know your ways. I don't just want to see your deeds.
Notice what Moses prays. Moses does not pray, "God, I have an emergency. "He says, "God, I want to know your ways. I want to know you." That's what he says. "Teach me your ways so that I may know you." That's what Moses prays. That's what a friend of God prays. The people of Israel stand by as spectators, but Moses is a connector.
Psalm 103 encapsulates this briefly in verse 7. It says God made his ways known to Moses and his deeds to the people of Israel. Now, both are a blessing; it's good to see God's deeds. But the Psalmist wrote that on purpose because all the people got to see was the occasional emergency answered. But Moses got God. Moses found God's ways. Do you just want an occasional emergency handled? Or do you actually want God? What if you actually prayed, "God, I want to know you"?
Now, Moses is in the middle of an emergency. The people have gone after other gods. We don't know what's going to happen to them. He's in the middle of an emergency, but the very first thing he says is, "God, I want to know you." I want to beg of you, do you want to know him? It's actually bigger than your emergency. It's bigger than your emergency.
I was in a home this week of a family whose dad died, aged 35. It was an emergency. For him it was always an emergency. Before he died I don't know how many times I kept begging him, "Would you know God? Would you know God?" For ten years. If he knew God, there wouldn't have been these final emergencies, and I wouldn't have been crying with his family. God would have changed him. This is what God wants to do. God wants to rescue us. You and me, he wants us to know him and know his heart.
Do you pray for things that are bigger than you?
There's something else that Moses does in this prayer does that is so profound. Look with me at verses 14 and 15. The Lord says to Moses: My presence will go with you.
In the Hebrew it's singular. God says: I'm going to go with you, Moses, and I will give you—singular again in Hebrew—I'm going to give you rest. This people, they're a mess. I'm going to set them aside, and I'm going to fulfill my promises for you.
Then Moses says: If your presence doesn't go with—what is that word?—us. "If your presence doesn't go with us, do not send us up from here." The people have fallen away, and God says: I'm ready to start anew. I'll start anew with you, Moses. I will fulfill my promises. I will bring a people into the Promised Land, but I'll start anew with you and your family individually.
Moses says: No, it's bigger than me. I'm not just praying for me. I'm praying for us. Remember, this is your people, God.
And that's God's heart. God loves the people. God is ready to bring a smaller people, a people coming from Moses into the Promised Land. You can read the rest of chapter 33 and back into 32, and you'll see that. But Moses intercedes, Moses stands in the gap, as it says later in the Scriptures. He stood in the gap in order to rescue the people. And one of the things I want to ask you is, who do you stand in the gap for? Who do you go toe to toe with God over, where you say, "God, we can't have this. God, this matters." You stand up to God, you remember his Word, you quote his Word, you want to know him, his favor rests on you, but you say, "There's some things I've got to have. I've got to have your kingdom come and your will be done here on earth. I've got to have it."
I want to ask us, when you pray protection over your family, would you say, "God, teach me now a bigger prayer to pray for someone else." What we do is every morning we pray, "God keep my children safe on the way to school." We pray at lunch, "God, I pray for that business deal." We pray at dinner, "God, thank you for my family. Heal us from being sick." And those are good prayers. The Scripture says, give us this day our daily bread. We're supposed to pray that. But do you see that there's so much more? It's so much bigger than you. Moses is not content to just pray for him and his family. And I beg of you, people of God, will you let your hearts get bigger. Will you let your hearts break over something besides your family?
Our church is really involved in the city of Compton. Do you pray for the city? You're part of Emmanuel, right? And Compton is part of our future. Why don't you pray for this city? I want to beg of you, "Would you?" You're part of a school system, you're part of a business system, you're part of a state that's in lots of turmoil, you're part of a nation that needs God. You're part of the world that is broken. What breaks your heart? Will you say, "Yes, I'm going to pray for that"?
A while back I found myself praying the same thing for the kids every night. Then realized, I wonder if God's heart is bigger than this? You look at the Lord's Prayer, which is a great model of how to pray something bigger, and I realized there's just one of the seven requests that is a prayer for protection: "Deliver us from evil." I realized that's all I ever prayed. I broke down and said, "Okay, I'm going to pray for these other things."
Your heart won't actually get big like Moses until you pray for things bigger than you. And so will you? I want to invite you in. I want to see you bigger. I want to become bigger.
Do you really want to see God?
And then finally in verse 18, Moses said, "Now show me your glory." Moses wanted something bigger. He wanted more of God. He said, "God, I need to see you. I'll do anything for you. You're bigger and better than anything else."
About eight years ago, there was a missionary named Karen Watson who went to Iraq to offer humanitarian aid in the name of Jesus Christ. When she left, she wrote a letter. She gave it to her pastor and said, "You only get to open this if I die." Well, two years later she was killed by the very people she went to serve. When her pastor opened the letter, the opening line was "I know you're only reading this if I have died." There were some comments to her family and to her church, blessing them. And then she closed with this line: "To obey was my objective. Suffering was expected, and his glory is my reward."
She wanted God's glory. She wanted to see and know him, and she was willing to give it all, absolutely all. And she did, in life and in death. And God is calling each of us. Do we want him that much? Do you? That's what it means to be his friend. That's what it means to speak to God face to face.
"God, this is your Word. I'm going to pray it. I'm going to pray for myself everyday, but I'm going to pray for something bigger. I'm going to pray for your kingdom to come. I want you. To obey, that's my objective, God. Suffering—that's expected. Your glory, that's my reward. Show me more of you. I want more of you."
For Your Reflection
Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? ___________________________________________
Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ____________________________________________________________________________
Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart? ____________________________________________________________________________
Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? _____________________________________________________________________
Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it?
Bill White is a church planter in urban Long Beach, California.