Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you . . . Then Moses said to him, if your presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here (Exodus 33:3, 15).
Let’s be honest. It’s hard to find real encouragement for our prayer lives by looking at the example of Moses. What Moses experienced with God is extraordinary. Yes, Moses himself was unremarkable – but God chose to connect with Moses in some remarkable ways; ways that are not often repeated, even in the Bible.
I doubt that many of us will ever experience anything that remotely resembles the prayer life of Moses. There goes Moses, climbing a mountain and disappearing into a cloud of mystery for weeks on end. Here comes Moses, back from his mountain retreat, veiling his glowing face. There goes Moses into his tent of meeting, the pillar of cloud coming down and guarding the entrance. This is all great stuff, but it doesn’t happen at 2265 Old Orchard Drive.
When it comes to the way Moses prayed, I’m left in the dust. But when it comes to what he prayed, I’m with him completely. I get it. I understand what he’s after because Moses wants what we all want. Moses desperately wants to know that God is with him. At a basic level that may be the reason why we pray. We don’t pray to get things or to get our way. We pray because we need to know that God is present.
After the golden calf debacle, Moses engaged in some intense intercession on behalf of Israel. God was ready to hit ‘delete’ on the file named “journey to promised land.” Moses pleads with God not to do this. After some lengthy back and forth, Moses secures this concession from God. “Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey, but I will not go with you.” In other words, God will allow them to reach their intended destination. Only when they arrive, God won’t be there. What’s more, as they journey they’ll be on their own as well.
This is what Moses cannot accept. The removal of God’s presence makes God’s gifts empty and hollow. Moses grows bold in his prayer: “If your presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.”
The presence of God makes all the difference, no matter what life brings. The worst life can throw at us, the things we fear most, are bearable when God is present. And if God is not present, the best things in life, the things we strive for, the “promised-land” – these turn out to be a mirage. No substance.
The presence of God is the one thing we cannot do without. God may not answer our prayers by granting the outcomes we desire – but we will not pray unless we know that God is near to hear our request. God’s presence pulls prayer from us. God’s presence keeps us praying, patiently asking, humbly confessing. Our prayers are deeply rooted in the presence. That means we can pray boldly today because Jesus has made this promise: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
There are times, O Lord, when we wonder if you’re with us. There are times when we know you are present, but we fail to be present to you. Remind us today of your faithful presence in all things. Let our awareness of your presence shape who we are and how we live. Walk with us, and help us to walk with you. Amen.