From time to time, I doubt God’s presence with me. Not necessarily that I question His existence, but it seems that, with all that we talk about God’s power, there should be more dazzling displays of His hand at work. Most of the time, however, life seems to follow a fairly normal, predictable pattern. Unpleasant surprises outnumber those events one might consider miraculous. I can’t help but occasionally ask, “What if I’m in this by myself?”
It’s not as though my faith has been unfruitful. I’ve grown in character and discipline since I became a Christian, and finding my identity in Christ has freed me to enjoy being myself. I love being a Christian even with the sacrifices and the ongoing self denial. I evangelize because I have experienced love and grace in knowing Jesus. The community of believers, known globally as the church, continues to be a regular witness of Christ to me.
Still, I have moments of doubt. So lately, I’ve taken to asking myself a question I frequently asked atheists in conversations at McMaster: what would it take to believe without reservation? What evidence would remove all doubt in my mind that God is with me? This question is effective in evangelism because it reveals our incredible capacity to explain things away. No external evidence is enough to make one believe something the heart rejects. It is therefore necessary to engage the heart, not simply the senses to overcome doubt.
I recently came upon a character in scripture who also wrestled with thoughts about God’s departure from his ministry. Moses was a person who got to see God at work in epic measure. He met God at a talking bush, crippled a world super-power with ten plagues, and brought about the freedom of a nation from slavery. He followed a sky high pillar of cloud and fire, walked across a sea without getting wet, ate bread from heaven, drank water from a rock and generally had the most exciting ministry in the history of mankind.
Then the people screwed up in a big way and pissed off the Most High God. God backed down from destroying them, but Moses still faced the reality of going without God and it scared him. He had an assurance that God would not leave him, but he wanted more. In Exodus 33:18, Moses asks, “Please show me Your glory.”
What an unbelievably bold request. And what an amazing prayer to imitate. It’s possible that many of us are too willing to go ahead with God’s work without assurance of God’s presence. I know I often am. I break down ministry into a set of skill and practices that I can perform to get decent results. I think I ask too little of God in ministry. What if I asked God, like Moses did, to show me His glory? What would happen? What would I see?
I don’t believe that routine and normalcy in ministry are signs of unfruitful ministry. Doubt isn’t a an indicator of God’s absence. It can be, however, a reminder to ask God to do what only He can do. Tough times can be a challenge to pray big.
Think about it: God doesn’t scold Moses for his request, but grants it. And in God’s reply, we can see how God desires to reveal His glory to His people.
And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” – Exodus 33:19
The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. 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.” And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. -Exodus 34:5-8
It’s remarkable that God displays His glory by talking about Himself. It would have made a lot of sense for God’s glory to show itself in thunder and earthquakes and other awe inspiring phenomena. Intuition tells us that we’re supposed to be awed by the display of God’s glory. More than awe, however, God’s glory as seen in this passage is a revelation of God’s character.
For Moses, God’s glory was seen in the undeniable experience of who God is. His goodness passed before Moses and His name was proclaimed. This view of God’s glory is echoed in the New Testament. Jesus prays, “I glorified You on earth, having accomplished the work that You gave me to do… I have manifested Your name to the people whom You gave me out of the world.” (John 17:4,6). In Christ, we are said to have seen the glory of God (John 1:14), an idea expounded in these words from Hebrews: He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature (Hebrews 1:3).
God’s glory is ultimately relational. Experiences of His glory lead us to know Him more. On the mountain with God, Moses was given knowledge of God, which resulted in worship. It wasn’t power detached from revelation; not simply a miracle. Peter saw Jesus’ transfiguration but denied Him three times at the crucifixion. It wasn’t until he was filled with the Holy Spirit in Acts that he received power to be a witness.
God’s glory is both an external and internal witness of God’s presence. To simply request an internal manifestation of God’s glory- peace, joy, and a real sense of intimacy with God- is to ask too little of Him. Similarly, we cannot be content simply with external signs- salvation, miracles, providence and provision. God wants to engage our heart and our senses.
Moses saw God’s glory on the mountain and was empowered to continue in the ministry God gave to him. I want to see more of His glory and be energized to fulfill my assignment. I don’t want to move until I know He is with me. But when He engages my heart and my senses with the reality of His presence, I know I can move mountains.
All things from Christ, through Him and to Him. To Him be glory forever.