GSFA Devotional: Bread for Our Journey
18 January 2023 (Epiphany 2)
Unless Your Presence Goes With Us
‘And Moses said to the LORD, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favour in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” Ex 33: 15-16, ESV
The New Year has just begun and it is natural for all of us to hope for a better year. Yet several major problems from the past year carry over into 2023 like the Russian-Ukraine war, political tensions between superpowers and natural disasters exacerbated by climate change. Perhaps one thing that gives us a sense that better times lie ahead is that in many places the worst of COVID-19 seems to be over. Overseas travel is picking up and trading activities at borders are returning to previous levels. There is a feeling of reprieve and of life returning to normal. However, such optimism is not without reservations in some quarters.
The conversation between Moses & God in Ex 33:12-33 occurred after a major reprieve in the journey of the Israelites out of Egypt as they headed for the promised land. The people of Israel became idolatrous and morally licentious as they re-imaged the living God into the form of ‘the golden cow’ (Ex32). Their whole destiny was at stake because their unfaithfulness invoked the wrath of God. Only the intercession of Moses their leader and the fresh act of God’s mercy saved the situation.
Significantly, the end of this particular crisis did not breed complacency in Moses. Napoleon Bonaparte, who won great wars in Central Europe in the early 19th century, said “ the greatest danger occurs at the moment of victory.” Moses knew that the journey ahead from Mt Sinai would be long and hazardous, with many more battles and critical points to be overcome. Enemies, both without and within, could derail the journey of the Israelites and affect the outworking of God’s good purposes in rescuing them. And so Moses is desperate for God’s presence every step of the journey ahead: “ unless your presence goes with me and your people, do not bring us up from here” (v 15).
We too desperately need God’s presence to stay the distance. Life in a fallen world, and with all of us having a fallen nature, is tough. Every season of life and every lifecycle stage has its unique challenges. At the same time , there are the unplanned episodes in life we go through that can shake us to the core. Moses knew that the people he led would not be able to reach the desired haven without the protective, sustaining & delivering presence of the Lord. You & I know that we will not be able to cope with the changing scenes of life, to keep faith and to finish well without the Lord at our side. How we rejoice therefore that God has given us an ever-faithful, all-sufficient Shepherd in Jesus Christ our Lord (Ps 23 ; Jn 10:14). He is with us all the way & all the day! And He will walk with us into glory when we close our eyes in death.
We desperately need God’s presence to impact the world. Moses asked the Lord: Is it not in your going with us that will make us distinct from every other people in the world? To which we can add, ‘distinct’ in order to be a light to the nations (Is 42:6; Mt 5: 13-16). What will make the church distinct and a signpost to the kingdom of God in every society is our loving unity (Jn 13: 34-35); our costly integrity (1 Pet 2:20); and our servanthood through good works (Tit 2:14). Only God can make us such a people, which is why he has sent the Holy Spirit upon the Church. The Holy Spirit is God’s empowering presence. The Spirit gives Christians the power, courage and authenticity to be Christ’s witnesses in our everyday lives and in the marketplace. And it is the Spirit, present through our witness, who opens blind eyes to the Gospel and brings them to saving faith. We desperately need the Spirit to make God’s presence known in order that our loved ones and neighbours may be saved , and the culture of our nation turns God-wards.
Lastly, we desperately need God’s presence in the depth of our being. In the encounter between God and Moses before re-launching the journey, God tells Moses: “ you have found favour in my sight , and I know you by name.” ( Ex 33: 17 ). To have God’s favour is to be the recipient of his unmerited blessings and goodness. It is what we typically call “grace.” To be a person whom God knows by name means that God has chosen you to be his servant and he fixes his eye on you to form you for his glory. What an amazing I-Thou relationship between a person and God!
Sometimes, we think such closeness in relationship is only reserved for the chosen few of God. But the good news is that Jesus Christ has opened a new & living way in which all who trust in him can have the same access to God as Moses did and in fact, emerge from the “tent of meeting” with a radiant glory that does not fade away (2 Cor 3: 12-18). Beloved, we should be desperate to know God and to experience the closeness of God’s presence the way Moses did . Knowing God’s presence deep in our soul brings an inner strength that is needed for our onward journey in an unpredictable, normless, restless and tempestuous world. Therefore, let us show our earnestness for the Lord’s presence by seeking him each day through prayer and the holy Scriptures, and by engaging the worshipping and discipling life of the local church we belong to.
How is the fire of God burning in your life? It is only the presence of God deep within that can keep the fire – that is, the passion, stamina and purpose of God – burning in you life, especially when the cold winds blow.
What anxieties and fears do you carry in your heart as you face the new year? It is only the unfailing presence of Jesus that goes before you & with you that will carry you through. You will not drown. His presence dispels the darkness.
How is the church to shine in the midst of the darkness that is engulfing the world and ghosting into the church? It is only the glory of God’s presence filling and irradiating from God’s people that will bring light and hope and love to a darkened and broken world.
For these reasons and more , let us be desperate for God’s presence as we embark on our journey through the new year. “Unless your presence goes with me and your people …”
The Rt Revd Rennis Ponniah
Hon Director, GSFA Secretariat
Hon Fellow, St Peter’s Hall (Diocese of Singapore)