Perhaps one of the greatest ways to learn how to pray is to listen to great pray-ers. This can and should be done in the interpersonal context of a local church, but not only there. Scripture is another excellent place to learn how to prayer. There, in the inspired pages, we find eminent saints who walked with God, and who held conversation with God in formal and informal settings. Their prayers give us precious models of how we should pray.
One such example is Moses in the book of Exodus, especially chapters 32-34. Today we will consider four aspects of his prayer for YHWH’s presence in Exodus 32:12-15.
To set the context, Moses has just been informed that God would send Israel to Canaan with the promise of safe passage, with the Lord’s angel going before them, but without YHWH in their midst (Exodus 33:1-3). Israel was overwhelmed with grief by this news (33:4-6). God’s dwelling in their midst was what made them distinct, and now because of their stiff-necked sin, God was pulling back. This separation is confirmed in 33:7-11, when Moses describes the kind of distant access Israel would be subjected to, now that the tabernacle plans had been destroyed (Exod 32:19).
With the prospect of losing God’s presence fully in view, Moses throws himself before the Lord and pleads for God’s presence. Far more than the obligatory petition, he musters all the promises God has made in the past, to recruit God to rejoin their caravan. He pleads for God’s presence, and he shows us how we ought to pray in the process. Notice four things.
(1) He prays for God’s presence. Moses sees the immediate need and he boldly prays for its relief–namely the return of God’s presence. Better than a prayer for safety, traveling mercies, or physical needs, Moses prays for God–nothing more, nothing less–just God. If God is going to do anything good in our lives, it is going to be underwritten by this sort of prayer–an insatiable desire for more of God. This is the heart behind Moses prayer, a passion that was later picked up in places like Psalm 27:8-9, “You have said, ‘Seek my face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, LORD, do I seek.’ Hide not your face from me. Turn not your servant away in anger, O you who have been my help. Cast me not off; forsake me not, O God of my salvation!”
Interestingly in Psalm 27, the Psalmist longs to see God’s face, the very thing Moses sought (Exod 33:18), but was explicitly forbidden from seeing (v. 20). Today, we can see God’s face in the person and work of Christ in a way that Moses and David never could. Therefore, with David we must seek God’s face in passionate prayer, prayer for God’s presence.
(2) He prays according to God’s promises. Before he petitions, Moses reminds God of the “favor” God has already given him, and then prays based on this stated promise. This is a model for powerful prayer. He prays from God’s grace unto God’s grace. He requests favor, not based on his merits or his own spiritual ideas, but upon God’s earlier favor. Thus, his prayer is according to God’s will, not his own.
So it is for us who pray in Jesus name. We are not coming to the Father to prove our worth and to plead for assistance based on our commitments. Rather, we pray for favor based on God’s love for the Son. Because of Christ’s high priestly session, we can pray boldly. All the promises of God are “Yes” and “Amen.” Therefore, we can pray those promises back to God in all are hours of need, and know that the Father will answer them with the rich supply that Christ procured at Calvary (cf. Rom 8:32).
(3) The goal of his prayer is knowledge. Verse 13, Moses prays that God would show his acts to Moses so that I may know you. Moses prayer rebukes anyone who has ever said about God or his word, “Yeah, I know that…” Such a response reveals a heart that is self-reliant and blind to the need for more of Christ. Unwillingness to learn about God is a personal invitation to shipwrecking your professed faith. But praying to know God more is evidence of a heart that has God’s law written on it.
Consider Moses. Numbers 12 describes him as a man unlike any other. God spoke to him face to face. If anyone knew God, it was Moses. Yet, his prayer reveals a desire to know God more. His model of prayer shows us that those who truly know God, long to know more of God. Indeed, prayer that is Christian always presses to know God more and calls God to reveal himself more fully to those for whom we pray.
This model is constantly seen in Paul. In his letters, the great apostle is regularly praying for his beloved disciples to know God more (cf. Eph 1:15-22; Col 1:9-10). Ever wonder what to pray for others who you don’t know well, or members of your church whom you don’t regularly visit? Pray that they would grow in the wisdom and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
(4) Favor comes through knowledge of the Lord. The key to receiving God’s favor and blessing is knowledge of God. Notice the progression in Exodus 33:13: “If I have found favor in your sight” shows the way Moses prays from grace unto grace. “Please show me now your ways,” marks the heart of the petition. He desires to see and know God’s ways, “that I may know you.” The “that” signifies a purpose statement of knowing God, but that purpose statement is followed by another, deeper purpose statement, namely “in order to find favor in your sight.”
In some ways, the knowledge of God is merely instrumental to finding favor. Now, don’t misunderstand, there is nothing mere about knowing God, but surely a base, unattached knowledge of God is not the goal. The goal of knowing God is to receive favor, to experience him personally, to have his presence.
This is what Moses prayed for, and verses 14-15 confirm, that God heard his prayer, and answered him in the affirmative. God graciously returned to the stiff-necked people of Israel. In the short term, Moses prayer effectively saved Israel, but in time his sin and Israel’s sin would again distance themselves from God. Praise God, a better mediator and a better pray-er came to stand in the gap for us.
Accordingly, when we find ourselves distant from God, may we turn to him to find grace and favor in are our of need. As we come to know him, to pursue his presence, and to petition based on his word, we will find our hearts satisfied with his very presence, the indwelling Spirit who fills us and moves to pray without ceasing.
Soli Deo Gloria, dss