It was a hot summer night. A severe thunderstorm swept through our neighborhood. Thunder, lightning, high winds, and heavy rain rocked our little home for forty- five minutes. We eventually lost power and were left in the dark.
Of course, as his father, I tried to reassure him that everything would be okay . . . that we were safe and nobody was going to get hurt. The lightning would not hit us, and the wind would not blow down our house. I told him that the power company would soon restore electricity to our home and everything would return to normal.
But my words were not enough. My promises brought little comfort.
I finally invited Johnny to join me downstairs where I was camped out on the sofa bed trying to escape some of the blistering heat. He eagerly accepted my offer and plopped his little frame next to mine. Not just side-by-side, but skin-to-skin. He had to be touching me. With that, he was soon fast asleep.
A Calf, a Cry, and a Claim
There is a familiar story in the Old Testament about Moses. He has just led the children of Israel out of Egypt after four hundred years of oppressive rule under Pharaoh the king. The people are in the wilderness, and he is at the top of Mount Sinai collecting the Ten Commandments from God. Aaron, his brother, is temporarily in charge. The people get antsy, wonder where Moses is, and foolishly pressure Aaron to make an idol for them. A golden calf results, and the people dance wildly before it.
Most of you know the rest of the story. Moses storms down the mountain, throws the tablets on the ground, takes the idol, grinds it into powder and scatters it on the water and makes the people drink it. The story ends with God sending a plague on the people for their sin (see Exodus 32).
In the aftermath, God tells Moses, “I have had enough. The land of Canaan is yours. You may enjoy all the milk and honey you can take in, but I will not go with you.” (my paraphrase, see Ex. 33:1-3). Moses replies, “No. If you do not come with us, we will not go” (my paraphrase, see v. 15).
Think about it: The good news was that God was still coming through with his end of the deal. No matter what terrible things they had done, the Israelites could still look forward to the riches of the Promised Land. That is grace. But that was not enough.
Moses cried out, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. . . . What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” (Ex. 33:15-16, emphasis mine)
Moses makes a bold claim. He says the presence of God is the defining mark of the people of God.
What Sets You Apart?
What are you known for? What distinguishes you from everyone else? Your looks? (Men, don’t get too excited!) Your intelligence? What you wear? What you drive? Maybe your work ethic? Your skill with power tools, computers, or musical instruments? (I’m jealous!)
These are all good in their proper context. But something else should stand head and shoulders above these things if we are the people God has called us to be. Is there a sense among others that when they are with you, they feel the presence of God? Do they make remarks like, “She walks with God,” or “There’s an anointing on him”?
I worry that, as a whole, we are settling for God’s promises without his presence. Moses would have none of it.
Do not get me wrong. I appreciate the promises. I “stand” on them. I quote them. I trust in them. But they are not enough.
I need more. I need to know he is with me . . . right now, right here. I need the reality of his presence made known to me in deeper, fuller ways.
And this is where the Holy Spirit enters. One of his principle ministries is mediating the presence of Christ, making known his personal presence and furthering fellowship with Jesus (see John. 16:14).
So if we want more of God in our lives, more of his presence, we should pray, “Jesus, send your Spirit and baptize me afresh. Pour out your Spirit that I might know you better. Make the fullness of your presence known to me by your Holy Spirit.”
The promises are good. Stand on them. But they are not enough to satisfy the deepest longings of your soul. My promises to Johnny were not enough.
He needed my presence. We need God’s presence. Come, Holy Spirit, come!
“If you then, though you are evil, know how to give
good gifts to your children, how much more will your
Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”