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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

No Power Without Presence

By James T. Bradford
Nov. 20, 2011

I’d like to reintroduce you to a man in the Old Testament named Moses. Moses is a fascinating guy. It wasn’t until he was 80 years old that Moses was finally ready for the moment he was born for, and he proceeded to lead the greatest jailbreak in human history — the Exodus of God’s people out of Egypt.

They weren’t far into their journey when God called Moses up to Mount Sinai to give him the Ten Commandments. Moses spent 40 days on the mountain with God — 39 days too long as far as Israel was concerned. They ended up worshipping an idol. God was ready to wipe His hands clean of them when Moses begged God to spare them.

What happened next is stunning. “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’” (Exodus 33:1, NIV).

You can have My promise, but not My presence

The statement that follows, in verse 3, stops you dead in your tracks. God said, “Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you.” In other words, God said He would give His promise, but not His presence. He would deliver the Israelites from their enemies and keep His promise of a land flowing with milk and honey. But they couldn’t have Him.

It’s an amazing proposition. The promise of “I’ll be with you” is one of the most comforting throughout all of Scripture. But here in Exodus 33, God said, in essence, I’ll give you what I promised you. I’ll get you into the land. You can have the milk and honey, but I won’t be with you.

Are we settling for God’s promises without His presence?

I wrestle over this Scripture, wondering if somehow, perhaps unintentionally, we’re settling for God’s promise without His presence. Have we become eager for God’s blessing and provision, but lost our passion for His presence? Do we want God to help us get through school, find the perfect mate, pad our retirement accounts, and make our churches successful while we compromise our affection and hunger for Jesus? Is it possible we’re comfortable settling into God’s promises without His presence?

What’s so fascinating is the audacity of Moses’ response. Notice verse 15: “Then Moses said to [God], ‘If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.’” Basically, he said, God, we don’t just want the stuff. We don’t want the milk and honey if we can’t have You. If we can’t have Your presence, it’s not worth taking another step.

Moses revealed why he said what he did, asking God, “How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us?” (v. 16). He followed with this probing question: “What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth [except Your Presence go with us]?”

We have wonderful churches to gather people together, but what makes us any different from the local Rotary? In our churches we make music and work at being good communicators, but what sets us apart from the entertainment industry? In our churches we reach out to the needy, but what makes us any different from a government social agency?

Only one thing makes us different from the rest of the world. It’s God’s unique presence among us, permeating all that we are. It’s not that we teach. It’s not that we sing. It’s not that we entertain — the world does all of that. What makes us different is God among us.

What does this mean for you and your church? First of all, it means that in our focus on praise, let’s not forget prayer. I’m concerned that today we see generations in our church who know how to praise but don’t know how to pray. Only prayer engages the tangible power of God.

And in our focus on leadership, let’s not forget love. Our churches need to be well led. But we must first of all love people. It takes the heart of God and the presence of God to love.

Likewise, in our focus on ministry models, let’s not forget discernment. When God is among us, He speaks to us. Your church is one of God’s originals. There is no carbon copy of where you are right now and the circumstances affecting your ministry. There are great models to adopt, but nothing replaces the presence of God because when God is among us He talks to us.

In our focus on creativity, let’s not forget encounter. We can have the best services in the world, but unless somebody’s life is changed by God’s power, we’re wasting our time.

In our focus on serving others, let’s not forget that people have an eternal destiny, not just a temporal destiny. They need to be fed today, yes, but they also need to live eternally. So in our focus on serving, let’s not forget evangelism.

Think about this list. One side of the list — which includes praise, leadership, creativity, serving, etc. — represents our stewardship. We ought to be working hard, doing the best we can in our ministry, reaching out into our neighborhoods and serving.

But only with God’s power can mountains be moved and breakthroughs happen in our cities. Only by God’s power can we love unconditionally. Only the Spirit of God can help us discern the voice of God. Only with His presence is there a tangible encounter with His power.

God wants us to go deep before we go wide

Great men and women of God throughout history have believed that if you take care of the depth of your life, God will take care of the breadth of your influence. I want to manage the breadth of my influence first, but God says, You leave the breadth of your influence to Me. I want you to go deep first. You go deep before you go wide.

Moses said the people didn’t want the milk and honey if they couldn’t have God. God brought Moses to that place. And this became very personal for Moses as he went from Mount Sinai. God had been leading the people of Israel through the wilderness, feeding them in the wilderness with manna. Manna literally means, “What’s that?”

Whatever it was, by Numbers 11 the people were sick of it. And something was going to happen that would not have happened had Moses settled for the proposition that he could have God’s promise without God’s presence.

Look at verse 10: “Moses heard the people of every family wailing at the entrance to his tent.” They wanted something new.

Moses was concerned. So he went one on one with God in verses 11, 13 and 14, asking in essence, God, what did I do to deserve this? I cannot carry all these people by myself. The burden is too heavy. So, Lord, let me die now, and don’t let me have to die the slow death of having to be these people’s pastor.

So God told Moses that He would take the anointing that rested on Moses and place it on 70 elders of Israel. They, then, would help Moses lead the people.

God instructed the 70 to gather outside the Tent of Meeting. Sixty-eight made it to the meeting; God’s power fell, and they began prophesying and declaring the glory of God. But it wasn’t just the 68 who prophesied. So did the other two. Imagine the scene: There they were, stuck somewhere in the camp, and they began to prophesy.

When Joshua found out what had happened, however, he was upset. Moses, that’s not the way it’s supposed to happen, he complained. Tell them to stop.

In Moses’ response, we find what I describe as the Pentecostal prayer of the Old Testament: “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them” (v. 29).

Joshua was upset because, technically, two men were not in the right place at the right time for God’s blessing. And Moses probably just looked out at the huge camp of Israel, spread out his arms and said, Oh, that God’s Spirit would come upon all these people, and He would make every one of them prophesy.

Fast-forward, now, about 1,200 years to Acts 2:1,2. Just like Mount Sinai, we see in these verses the wind and the fire. I believe that on the Day of Pentecost, God was answering Moses’ prayer when he looked at that camp and swept his arms across the people.

In a sense, Moses was sweeping his arms toward you and me, bringing us all into the possibilities of this moment. The heart of God is not to be exclusive, but to pour out the Spirit onto every one of us. Notice that it wasn’t just the apostles in that room in Acts 2. It wasn’t just a few elite. It was the fisherman and the businessman, the young and the old.

It’s interesting that something comes up in the activity of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 that you don’t find in the Old Testament. They all spoke in other tongues. In the Old Testament you’ll find healing, prophecy, wisdom … all these manifestations except tongues. God reserved something that had never been revealed before.

The initial physical evidence is verbal not to give us an “I speak in tongues” badge. Rather, tongues reminds us that the Spirit is speaking through us. God puts His Spirit in us so He can pour through us into others’ lives.

I worry that we talk a lot about commitment but seldom about surrender. Commitment is a biblical concept; it keeps churches strong and marriages stable. But receiving God’s power isn’t about gritting your teeth and saying you’re going to be more committed, then hoping that God blesses you. Commitment can mean you’re still in the driver’s seat, determining where and how you are going to be committed.

But surrender means getting out of the driver’s seat. Surrender is saying, “Lord, I give You my reputation. I surrender my need to control my future. I surrender the need to run things under my own power.” Surrender recognizes there is nothing we have to offer God except our hunger for Him. And we say, “Dear God, no promise without Your presence. Unless Your Spirit goes with us, don’t take us another step.”

As we begin our three-year countdown to our next 100 years as a Fellowship, I wonder whom God will fill with the Spirit, to infuse their very DNA with what God wants us to be for the next 100 years. Who will be part of a generation that will do things for God no other generation before them has done? I believe God is raising up a generation unimpressed with themselves, hungry and humble for Him.

Who will rise up and say, “Oh God, I don’t want Your promise without Your presence. If Your presence doesn’t go with me, I don’t want to go another step”?

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JAMES T. BRADFORD is general secretary of the Assemblies of God.

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