Series: Face to Face with God
Today, we begin a series designed to show you what happens when God shows up. I am really excited about this series and I have been looking forward to this for quite some time. Over the course of this fall sermon series, we are scouring the pages of the Bible for a series of encounters between ordinary people and God. These encounters are called visitations and they are almost always following a crisis of some kind. There’s a crisis, an extraordinary time when people seek God, and there’s a visitation.
As a younger man, I began to study the experiences of other believers in what are known as spiritual awakenings. Many of you may not be aware that times of spiritual awakening are a big part of our American history. Now, spiritual awakening is replete with remarkable, attention-grabbing stories.
In the early part of the 1900s, in the country known as Wales, a spiritual awakening broke out in force. The impact wasn’t felt inside the church only but outside the church as well – many taverns went bankrupt because so many people were converted and gave up drinking. Crime so diminished as a result of the Welsh Revival, that judges were presented with ”white gloves” signifying there were no cases of murder, assault, robbery, or rape. Some police officers were unemployed because of the moral and spiritual change evident throughout the nation. And the more you read about stories like this, the more you lean in.
Personally, I have a hunger for our church to experience the presence of God in this way. Today, I want you to see God doesn’t withhold His presence from us but He longs to show Himself.
Moses said to the Lord, ”See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ 13 Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” 14 And he said, ”My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” 15 And he said to him, ”If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. 16 For how shall it be known that I have found favor 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?”
17 And the Lord said to Moses, ”This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” 18 Moses said, ”Please show me your glory.” 19 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. 20 But,” he said, ”you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” 21 And the Lord said, ”Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.” (Exodus 33:12-23)
What is an Awakening?
Why Do I Need an Awakening?
How to Experience Personal Revival
Really, God wants you to experience His presence and He’s there for your asking.
1. What is an Awakening?
An awakening or a revival is a time when sleepy Christians wake up…
… when nominal Christians convert to Christ…
… and even when non-Christians come to faith in Christ.
This is accompanied by an increase in the conviction of sin, …an increase in the consciousness of God’s mercy and our unworthiness. You see, a revival is the ordinary operations of the Holy Spirit (I’m not speaking of signs and wonders) when the Spirit convicts of sin, brings assurance of salvation, and makes the sense of Jesus Christ intensely real.
Now, the mention of the words revival or awakening will make some Christians light with excitement while others will roll their eyes with suspicion. Yes, I understand where you’re coming from. Yet, I have a desire for an awakening to come because there is an increase in God-consciousness. I seek a revival not for the glitz that often makes such efforts feel phony, but for the individual and church-wide renewal we all need.
Today, we look at God’s rich presence as He made it known to Moses in Exodus 33. It is evident Moses has been awakened. He’s been stirred and He wants more of God’s presence. There is a rich boldness to his prayers – ”Moses said, ‘Please show me your glory.”’ (Exodus 33:18) It’s important for you to see this: Moses has a hunger for more of the presence of God. Moses teaches us the value of experiencing God’s presence. And Moses teaches us the value of extraordinary prayer in order to experience a personal awakening.
A Brief Introduction to Moses
Let me circle the wagons for a moment to introduce all of us to Moses. The 3rd child born to Amram and Jochbed, Moses was miraculously rescued from the Nile by the very daughter of Pharaoh (Exodus 2:1-10; 6:20). Moses’ life can best be viewed in 3 stages: his early years in Egypt, his wandering years in the wilderness, and his final years in leadership.
Early Years in Egypt
Raised in Egyptian courts where he received the finest education available in Egyptian culture, Moses had studied mathematics, philosophy, military strategy, law and engineering. Yet, he was unknowingly by Pharaoh’s court, raised by his biological mother so also learned the value of worshipping the Hebrew God. In all he spent his first 40 years in Egypt, but his life turned dramatically when he killed an Egyptian man who was abusing a Hebrew (Exodus 2:11-15).
Immediately Moses flees in fear of his life and he journeys to the wilderness of Midian. It was there he was married, had two sons, and became a shepherd. It was here at the bush that burned but wasn’t consumed that God awakened Moses to His holiness and His power (Exodus 3).
Final Years in Leadership
It was at the burning bush that God commanded Moses to lead His people from slavery to freedom. Moses successfully leads Israel out of slavery through a series of Ten Plagues, across the miraculously divided Red Sea, and the Egyptian army drowning as the Red Sea collapsed on their rebellious heads. Moses’ life is amazing and awe-inspiring. But what made Moses so noteworthy was his interaction with God.
A Return to Moses’ Prayer
At various and unexpected times, God has chosen to move in dramatic and powerful ways among his people. The Holy Spirit moves and brings about a revival of New Testament Christianity. It may impact only one believer or a large group of believers may be affected simultaneously. Again, this is called an awakening. Much like Moses in our story, we experience a visitation of God’s presence.
Revival is a time when God sends a heavenly rain. Essentially, this experience is simply the repeating of what you see in the book of Acts. And this is exactly what we see Moses pleading with God for in today’s story – the very presence of God.
Some of you who are serious students of God’s Word will know these as theophanies, where the very presence of God’s glory is made known. A theophany literally means ”to show God.” As we see Moses praying in today’s passage, he’s asking for the Lord to show His presence. It is God coming down. Now, I don’t think you will experience a theophany on your way to work. Even for the people of the Bible, a theophany was an exception.
I want you to develop a thirst to experience more of Him. Don’t you want to see God? Don’t you want to experience Him? If that is you, then you want to experience an awakening, or a revival. Experiencing a personal awakening is to experience a preview of heaven itself. Experiencing personal renewal is a foretaste of heaven.
Now it is true that the Bible teaches no one can see God: ”…who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see….” (1 Timothy 6:16b) Again in today’s passage, Moses quotes God as saying: ”…you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” … 23 Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.” (Exodus 33:20a, 23) So while no one can see God fully as we will see in heaven, God does show us shapes of Himself to show He is close to us.
So, an awakening is God visiting His people. It’s the time when God comes near. Revival is when the glory of God is seen, felt, and enjoyed. Revival is when you experience the very presence of God passing by you.
2. Why Do I Need an Awakening?
To answer this question, I need to go back and tell you the story of Moses and the crisis he was in. Moses found that the people of Israel needed an awakening.
The Golden Calf
Our story comes on the heals of the famous episode of Exodus 32 where God’s people worship a golden calf. After such stellar success, Moses finds himself hidden away on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments. While he was away, the people of Israel made a golden calf down below in the valley – an object to worship. It’s here the action of our story moves quickly. God informs Moses on what’s happening with His people and Moses goes down the mountain to stop this dreadful thing from happening. In fact, Moses says, ”Who is on the Lord’s Side?” (Exodus 32:26). As soon as he says this, all the Levites rally to Moses. The Levites went throughout the camp finding out who intended to abandon the worship of idols. In essence, they’re asking all those involved, ”Was this a one time thing or do you intend to continue worshipping idols?” Those who were committed to continuing idolatry had to be killed or else they might ruin the entire people. So it’s in the middle of all this that God tells Moses in essence, ”I’ve had it with these rebellious people. I’ll send an angel to go with you but my presence will no longer remain with you.”
Look carefully at Moses’ reply: ”If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. 16 For how shall it be known that I have found favor 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?” (Exodus 33:15-16)
Now, most people would consider this to be a dream offer: God will give you all the success you desire – economic, military, and political, and with no real obligation to Him. Moses would have no tabernacle to maintain, nor would he have any religious duties.
You need to value God’s presence for at least two reasons:
2.1 God Is Beautiful and Not Just Useful
Imagine you are but just a few weeks from your wedding when it is revealed your rich parents file for bankruptcy. When the news gets out, your fiancée breaks up with you. You’d feel used, wouldn’t you? Do you see God as the ultimate prize? Have you said to God in effect, ”I’ll follow you as long you provide me a great family”? Or, ”I’ll follow you as long as you keep me happy in my relationship with my boyfriend/girlfriend.”
2.1 God Is Beautiful and Not Just Useful
2.2 Without God, Everything Else is Useless
When you think about your life for a moment, without God everything else fades. Here you are in the late 50s at the top of your game, you are bringing down more income than you thought possible just 10 years ago. Yet, there’s a day coming when you are the old guy that no one wants to hear. Today, you are here with a vibrant family but tomorrow you’re standing alone at a graveside. Or you are sitting with lawyers picking up the shattered pieces after a divorce.
Yet, Moses says in effect, ”God you keep all the success if success is to come without you. If You don’t go with us, I don’t want to go.”
Evaluate Yourself for a moment. Let me ask you: do you need an awakening? Do you see God as the ultimate reward? If you were to assign yourself a number between 1 and 10, with 10 representing experiencing a continual spiritual awakening, where would you be? Before you assign yourself a number, let me ask you a series of serious questions. Before I do, let me just say this is a really serious time in the service right now. If you would be still before the Lord (e.g. stay in your seat) and ask these penetrating questions, then you will be a big blessing to all those in the room.
How real was God in your heart this past week?
Is Your God too small?
Do you really sense the presence of the Lord in your life right now?
Are you more conscious of the growing sense of evil your heart is threatened by on a daily basis?
Do you delight in God?
In essence, I am asking you, ”Do you need a revival?” The minute you turn your attention away from your relationship with God is the moment your spiritual life begins to decay. Again, do I need to experience a personal revival?
3. How Do I Get an Awakening?
Throughout this series, I’ll be sharing a number of features of awakenings. Know this: Awakenings are not humanly orchestrated. There’s no marketing campaign or human orchestration to bring an awakening.
Let me share with you an example from the 1970s Jesus Movement as an example. Almost all the leaders for the organization, Jews for Jesus were converted in this awakening. Now what makes this interesting is that these men and women were converted independently from Jewish background around the same time. So they are not humanly orchestrated – these movements were not packaged. It’s really important that you hear me say this: you cannot organize a revival. There’s not a set of criteria that I can share with you where you ”check off” a list. Again, revival is when the presence of God shows up. You can only pray for such a thing.
Look at God’s statement for it is noteworthy: ”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). God issues a challenge here: ”Now therefore let me alone” (Exodus 32:10a). Pause for a moment and consider God’s statement, ”let me alone.” If I told you, ”Leave me alone because I need to study,” those words recognize that I cannot concentrate with you speaking. But God is unlike you and me. God doesn’t need to ask Moses permission to do something nor is God’s capabilities threatened by Moses’ presence. God can think clearly with a million TVs going. No, this is a challenge to Moses, an invitation to Moses to pray.
The 100-Year Prayer Meeting
Here’s something interesting: In 1727, a group of Moravians led by a guy named Count Nikolaus von Zinzendorf started a 100-year prayer meeting. They set aside a room and a place in which they were going to pray for a mighty visitation of God in the world, and they decided at least 1 person would always be in that room praying for that so the prayer meeting would never stop. It went on from 1727 into the 1820s. It’s called the 100-Year Prayer Meeting.
God is saying to Moses in effect, ”Unless you intervene and begin to pray – really pray, My anger will burn hot against My people.” There’s one consistent condition before a personal revival ignites in you: you need a thirst for presence of God. You need a living thirst for the living God. If God offered you to give you everything you’ve dreamed of – health, money, great family, etc. – everything you’d ever want but without His presence in your life… … would you take it? Moses said in effect, ”You can keep your offer of a life with money, success, great health, and a wonderful family. If I don’t have you, I don’t want to take another step.”
You have a need for a personal revival. Now, for your personal revival to act as a church revival, then it must work like an avalanche. When a few sleepy Christians wake up and a number of nominal Christians are converted, then you have a spiritual avalanche, or an awakening.
”The next day Moses said to the people, ‘You have sinned a great sin. And now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin”’ (Exodus 32:30). You need to know that Jesus is the better Moses. Jesus has made atonement for your sins where Moses could not.