When things were desperate, when the future of his incorrigible flock hung in the balance, their good shepherd, Moses, pleaded with God not to abandon them. Then he prayed for himself.
If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. (Ex. 33:13)
That prayer poured like molten gold from the crucible of helplessness. It is a good prayer anytime but when we pray it from the border of failure, from the bottom of the well, from the devil-haunted wilderness, it is muscled by weakness. The high and holy God told Isaiah, “I live … with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit.”
What our flocks need most from us, if Pastor Moses is any indication, is not our vision or our visits but our prayers, interceding for God’s grace upon them but also this wise and pivotal prayer for ourselves. I’ve been listening to the podcast from Christianity Today, “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill.” So much would be different if young, talented pastors prayed like old, heartbroken Moses.
In response, “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’” (v.17). That’s when Moses boldly asked, “Now show me your glory.” Not till Jesus’ myopic disciples asked, “Show us the Father and that will be enough for us,” did anyone else pray such an audacious prayer. And both times God agreed!
While no words could capture the sight of guarded glory which God showed Moses on the mountain, there are words for the glory Moses heard:
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.” (Ex. 34:6-7 ESV)
Dane Ortlund writes of this great text,
“Merciful and gracious.” These are the first words out of God’s own mouth after proclaiming his name (“the Lord,” or “I am”). The first words. The only two words Jesus will use to describe his own heart are gentle and lowly (Matt. 11:29). And the first two words God uses to describe who he is are merciful and gracious. God does not reveal his glory as, “The Lord, the Lord, exacting and precise,” or, “The Lord, the Lord, tolerant and overlooking,” or, “The Lord, the Lord, disappointed and frustrated.” His highest priority and deepest delight and first reaction—his heart—is merciful and gracious. He gently accommodates himself to our terms rather than overwhelming us with his.
Dear shepherds, this is God’s word for you, not just your flock. This is who he is for you. Pastoring, at least sometimes, is shot through with defeat and disappointment, if not with your people then with yourself. God’s mercies don’t stop at salvation. They never cease. They are new every morning. This morning. Tomorrow morning. When you’ve failed. When you didn’t live up to expectations. When your people break your heart or their needs lay heavy upon your shoulders. When you don’t know how to lead or counsel, how to preach or pray. The Lord’s heart goes out to you. He’s not angry with you. He is utterly loyal to you and ever-faithful, and he will never begrudge you the relief of his deep-cleaning forgiveness through Christ.
Be ye glad!
Lee Eclov recently retired after 40 years of local pastoral ministry and now focuses on ministry among pastors. He is the author of Feels Like Home: How Rediscovering the Church as Family Changes Everything and Pastoral Graces: Reflections on the Care of Souls (Moody Publishers), as well as being a frequent contributor to Preaching Today and CT Pastors. To learn more about his Pastors' Gatherings visit www.leeeclov.com.