Pray According to God’s Character

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Prayer is often born of need. We hunger, we are lost, we are confused, and we cry out to God. He has the power and authority we lack.

As we grow in Christ, we get to know God better. And as we read the Bible, we see mature saints praying in mature ways.

Moses Pleads With God

As the nation of Israel was making and worshipping a golden calf, Moses was on Mount Sinai. God was furious, and he let Moses in on his thinking.

And the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.” (Exodus 32:9–10)

Israel’s idolatry was so offensive that God was ready to start over. Ponder that for a moment; it is staggering.

But Moses wasn’t ready for God to destroy his people. In Exodus 32:11–13 Moses pleads with God to relent. This is a powerful prayer, and it’s instructive to examine Moses’s logic.

As Moses prays, he draws on God’s words, actions, and revealed character. Moses knows God and speaks with him as a friend (Ex 33:11).

Petition 1

O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? (Exodus 32:11)

Moses reminds God he has rescued his people from Egypt. The key argument, however, is just beneath the surface. What’s the reason God has brought them out of Egypt? Yes, he saw their suffering and felt compassion—he wanted to deliver them from a bad situation. But there’s more.

God redeemed his people because he wanted to be with them! By his rescue God was taking Israel to be his people and pledging himself to be their God (Ex 6:7). Moses sang about God’s loving redemption bringing the people to his house (Ex 15:13,17). God himself said how he bore Israel “on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself” (Ex 19:4). Most notably, we see God’s purpose for the tabernacle.

And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. (Exodus 25:8)

God can’t dwell with his people if he exterminates them.

Petition 2

Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. (Exodus 32:12)

Now Moses is concerned with God’s reputation. He doesn’t want the Egyptians to have any ammunition for accusing God of “evil intent.”

Don’t brush this aside, because God is quite concerned with his reputation! He wanted the exodus to confirm his identity (YHWH) to the Egyptians (Ex 7:5; 14:4). His actions will bring him glory and proclaim his name in all the earth (Ex 9:16). God is particularly concerned that Pharoah and his army recognize his glory (Ex 14:17–18).

For any lesser being, a devotion to one’s own glory would be idolatry. But for God, there is no one greater! To avoid idolatry, God must promote his own name above all others. Moses knows this, so he appeals to God’s holy desire to glorify himself. His glory is at stake if he kills the Israelites.

Petition 3

Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’ (Exodus 32:13)

Moses knows that God is a promise keeper. And Moses knows that this promise to the patriarchs must be fulfilled.

We’ve read this promise earlier in Exodus (Ex 2:24). Moses tells us that God “remembered his covenant” with the fathers, and this moved him to act when Israel cried out from their slavery.

God has also told Moses to remind Israel of this promise. Moses tells the people that God will take them out of Egypt to the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Ex 6:8).

To Moses, the idea of God starting over is outlandish. Despite the horrific sin the people have committed, God has promised. And because God cannot break his promise, he must relent.

God Responds

And he does relent. We read this immediately after Moses’s prayer.

And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people. (Exodus 32:14)

Moses served as the mediator, crying out to God for mercy on his people. Moses appealed to God’s character and his promises, and God responded. What a loving God!

In Moses, we have both a picture of Jesus and a model for ourselves. God’s righteous wrath “burned hot” against Jesus instead of us. We should have been wiped out, but Jesus stepped in.

Jesus is still our mediator (Heb 7:25, Rom 8:34). Based on God’s character, his promises, and what Jesus has accomplished, Jesus prays for God’s ongoing favor toward his people.

We pray as well. As we pray for ourselves, our friends, our enemies, and those on the other side of the planet, Moses’s prayer provides instruction.

Let’s get to know God better through his word. Let’s rejoice in his purposes and his character. And let’s pray to him based on who we know him to be.


Photo Credit: Ron Manke (2015), public domain

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Ordinary Ingredients of Christian Growth

Fad diets exist because healthy diets are boring. We don’t like to hear about vegetables and exercise; we’d rather lose ten pounds in a week by taking some radical step.

But fad diets don’t work. The most reliable path to a healthier body is the one doctors have been recommending for decades.

Ordinary Means

So it is with our spiritual lives. We think mountaintop experiences will provide the jolt we need to grow closer to God.

But the truth is both more mundane and more wonderful. We don’t need to climb the mountain; God has come down! By his Son and by his Spirit, he dwells with his people. As a consequence, God uses ordinary means to make us grow.

Four Ingredients

My recent Bible reading has shown me four ingredients of Christian growth. (This list isn’t comprehensive.)

The Word

God’s word gives us growth.

Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord. (1 Peter 2:1–3, NASB)

We need the Bible like newborn babies need milk: desperately!! Surely you’ve seen a hungry baby. We should long for God’s word with the same urgency. Without the Bible, we simply won’t grow.

Community

God has created a healthy interdependence within the church.

  • God gave the apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:11–12). God gives people to equip the saints, and the purpose is the body’s growth.
  • The goal of this building up is “the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.” Paul wants us to aim for “mature manhood” and “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13). In the growth of the body, we will find maturity, fullness, and unity. Notice that Paul mentions “knowledge” specifically, so community is not just about emotional support. We are to help each other grow in understanding as well.
  • We are to grow past the adolescent stage, where we are “tossed to and fro by the waves.” Instead, “speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph 4:14–15). Much has been written about the phrase speaking the truth in love, but in context it must involve steadying, correcting help that leads to growth. By definition, this cannot be done in isolation.
  • The “whole body” is “joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped.” Every single part of the body is necessary to join and hold it together, and “when each part is working properly,” the body grows and “builds itself up in love” (Eph 4:16). Every part of the body is necessary for the body’s growth, and no part grows without the body.

Repentance

Christians are not to walk as the Gentiles walk. Instead, they have been taught

to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22–24)

This is the process of repentance. Note the three distinct parts: put off, be renewed, put on. We identify and turn away from our sin, we remember our new God-given identity, and we adopt the godly behavior or thought that replaces sin. To help us, Paul lists five examples of this repentance in Eph 4:25–32.

Beholding the Lord

There is a glory present in the new covenant that was veiled in the old. The veil keeping people from God is removed for those who turn to Christ.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17–18)

As we behold the glory of the Lord, we are transformed from glory to glory. Though “beholding” sounds mysterious, it must include a few actions.

We cannot behold the Lord without delighting in the Bible, the unique place where we hear of Christ’s glorious work. We meditate on God’s glory—thinking about his character and work, thanking him for his love and grace, anticipating the excellencies of his presence. The word leads to our meditation which leads to prayer.

Powerful Means of Growth

It may not be flashy, but God faithfully causes growth from the most ordinary of means: regular Bible intake, membership in a local church, repentance of sin, and beholding the glory of the Lord in meditation and prayer.

God takes weak and ordinary people and uses them in extraordinary ways. He does the same with the ordinary ingredients of Christian growth. They may not be radical, but they are powerful.


Photo Credit: Rohit Tandon (2016), public domain

God May Postpone Your Relief for His Glory

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The beginning of Exodus overflows with the oppression of God’s people. The Egyptians employed slavery, torture, and murder to keep the Hebrew people under foot.

But God’s compassion is equally evident in those chapters. It’s striking to read how God identifies with his people.

During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew. (Exodus 2.23–25)

Then the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land…” (Exodus 3.7–8a)

The details of this story are familiar. God enlists Moses and Aaron in his rescue mission, and by the end of chapter 4 they have traveled back to Egypt from Midian. They are ready to confront Pharoah.

Because God is in control and cares for his suffering people, we might expect Pharoah to fold immediately. God snaps his fingers, and the Israelites drop their bricks and follow Moses out of town.

But that’s not how the story goes. In fact, Pharoah makes his slaves’ lives worse because of Moses’ intervention (Exodus 6). God told Moses that he would harden Pharoah’s heart, and it happens before our eyes.

Why is this? Why doesn’t God give immediate relief to his people?

God is the Lord

When we investigate the Biblical text, we see God is motivated by a concern for his glory.

Before God brings the first plague against Egypt, he tells Moses he will harden Pharoah’s heart. This message isn’t new, but this time we hear God’s design in the hardening.

But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart that I may multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 7:3, NASB)

And what’s the purpose of these signs and wonders?

The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the sons of Israel from their midst. (Exodus 7:5, NASB)

God wants the Egyptians to know that he is the Lord. He says he will accomplish this for Pharoah when the Nile turns to blood. (Ex. 7:17)

Instead of an immediate release, God will bring Israel out through great judgments (Ex. 7:4). These plagues will bring glory to God by showing the Egyptians (including Pharoah) that he is the Lord.

Do you feel the tension? As the plagues stretch on, Israel is still in slavery. They still have backbreaking work and unreasonable quotas in front of them every day. I can imagine the people asking, “How long, O Lord?”

Waiting and Faith

God’s deliverance for Israel doesn’t follow our timeline. But this isn’t an issue only for his ancient people.

Consider the young woman struggling with chronic pain. Or the teenager overwhelmed by depression. Or the middle-aged man trapped in a soul-sucking job or a loveless marriage. These people of God cry out for relief. They get no answer and God seems distant and uncaring.

But the beginning of Exodus teaches that God’s compassion isn’t bound to time. He can be full of love and “slow” in providing relief. Before Moses returned to Egypt, it had been 40 years since Israel cried out to God. But Israel had probably been under Egyptian rule for hundreds of years.

God is vitally concerned about his glory, about humanity recognizing him for who he is. This includes the people around us, observing us as we wait for deliverance. It also includes we who wait. Waiting on God is the essence of faith.

We shouldn’t be surprised. After all, Jesus didn’t get relief when he requested it. He didn’t get relief at all. The greatest display of God’s glory (the cross) involved God refusing relief to his own son. God was glorified in not showing compassion to Jesus so that his compassion could be multiplied to the nations.

As you ponder God’s delay, as you wait for his answer, remember that he is with you. He will glorify himself in your waiting.


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Photo Credit: Máté Holdosi (2013), public domain