Rev Dr Edgar Mayer; Living Grace Toowoomba Church; Message on Exodus (Worship 3); Date: 26 July 09

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Increasing God

 

A few years ago (1992) a book was published which informed the reader that in South Korea – over the past one hundred years – Protestant Christianity had grown from zero to more than thirty percent of the population. Of the twenty churches in the world that had weekend attendances of twenty thousand or more, nine of them were in Korea alone. How did this spectacular growth happen? All the Korean Christian leaders gave the same one-word answer: Prayer!

According to the book – no church in Korea is without an early-morning prayer meeting – that is before the sun comes up (at 4am, 5am or 6am) – 365 days a year. Further – according to the book – all-night prayer meetings are scheduled for Friday nights in almost all Korean churches (10pm to dawn the next day). One American pastor began visiting Korea in the early 1970s and he attended predawn prayer meetings in a few of the churches. It soon became evident to him that only a small percentage of the church members were regulars at the meetings. [This is encouraging for us at Living Grace. Even a smaller number of prayer regulars makes all the difference.] Therefore, he assumed that in larger churches this activity would be assigned to other staff members – not the senior pastor. He was taken by surprise when this proved to be wrong. Almost invariably the prayer meetings would be held by the senior pastor. He asked: “Why? Why would the senior leader come to all the prayer meetingsThe Koreans looked at him with puzzled expressions on their faces – as if to say: “Why ask such a stupid questionThen, they realized that this was just another one of those Western Christians and – on almost every occasion – they gave the same answer: “Because this is where the power is” (C. Peter Wagner: Churches That Pray, Ventura: Regal Books 1993, p25).

In the Bible – when God called Moses with the intention of rescuing his people from slavery in Egypt, he did so with the same goal in mind that transformed the Korean nation. God promised to lead his people into a land that was flowing with milk and honey but even more precious than these would be the gift of himself in prayer and worship.

Before the rescue mission began in earnest, God announced to Moses – Exodus 3:12: “When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountainHence, Moses passed on God’s objective to Pharaoh, saying – Exodus 7:16: “ … The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to say to you: Let my people go, so that they may worship me … ” [Moses repeated the request to Pharaoh more than once – Exodus 8:1: “ … Let my people go, so that they may worship me … ” Exodus 9:1: “ … Let my people go, so that they may worship me … ” Exodus 9:13: “ … Let my people go, so that they may worship me … ” Exodus 10:3: “ … Let my people go, so that they may worship me … ”]

After the rescue mission from Egypt, God confirmed the very same promise on various occasions: His people would enjoy the gift of himself in worship. I read from the Bible – Exodus 19:3-6: “ … You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself … you will be my treasured possession … a kingdom of priests [worshippers] and a holy nation … ” Exodus 25:8: “ … I will dwell among them.” Exodus 29:45-46: “Then I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God. They will know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of Egypt so that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God.” Exodus 33:14: “ … My Presence will go with you … ”

Therefore, it is – without question – more than logical – for any Christian leader – any Christian in fact that wants to share the faith with others (that is all of us) – to spend time in prayer himself. You cannot lead people into the presence of God, when you don’t know how to get there yourself. You cannot lead people into the presence of God, when you have never been there yourself. God is the ultimate prize – there is nothing better (nothing more satisfying to the soul) – but the one that is to lead others into the experience of God, must worship himself. There – in worship – among God – from God – strength comes, strategy comes, encouragement comes, passion comes. Why should we be surprised? In Korea – leaders rise before dawn and pray, and they know better than delegating prayer to others.

How then does this kind of leadership work? We can learn from the Bible and God’s appointed leader Moses. How did he come into worship himself and what was necessary for him so that he could lead others into the very same experience of enjoying God? This morning I only want to give one answer – probably the most important one. Moses had to go through a process which another Bible person – John the Baptist – summed up in the following way – John 3:30: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” “He must become greater; I must become less.” In Moses’ life – the more he surrendered his own ambitions and self-will to God, the more God would come to him and intensify his presence. For us here this morning Moses demonstrates that there is a process happening for every Christian: Give up all of you to gain all of God. This is a practical process and quite hurtful. It doesn’t come easy at all.

When God first announced to Moses that his people would come out of Egypt to worship him, God used the word “serve” for worship (Exodus 3:12; cf. Exodus 4:23; 7:16; 8:1,20; 9:1,13; 10:3-26; 12:31; 13:5; 20:5; 23:25). According to the meaning of the word – his people would serve him like slaves serve their masters. In fact the very same word was used to describe how the Israelite slaves were made to “serve” their Egyptians masters (Exodus 1:13-14; cf. Exodus 14:5: “ … Why have we … let Israel go from serving us?”). Worship in this most fundamental sense is absolute submission to God and obedience to his commands. There would be occasions where the whole congregation would erupt in songs of praise (with outstretched arms), singing – Exodus 15: “ … The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation … ” but the praise of God’s people – true worship – would always be based on submission.

For this reason when the elders of Israel heard from God for the first time through Moses, they – Exodus 4:31: “ … bowed down and worshipped [meaning: they prostrated themselves – they bowed low – before God; cf. Exodus 12:27; 24:1; 33:10; 34:8; 34:14].” This whole concept of serving God from such a low position may strike us as strange (or even get our backs up) but the Bible in general confirms that God sets people free from being “ … slaves to sin … ” (Romans 6:6) so that they would become “ … slaves of God … ” (Romans 6:22; cf. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

This is the most basic language of worship. It is radical and it is clear and Moses experienced what this meant for his life. He had to give up everything – for God – but then he also gained everything – in God. [And – isn’t that right – better be slaves of God than slaves to sin or worse.]

Moses grew up in a palace – as the adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He was living a life of privilege – with the best food – the best education – the best career prospects. Moses lacked nothing but then – according to God’s plan (which at that time was still hidden from Moses) – he gave up everything – turned his back on the palace – and sided with the Hebrew slave people – from whom he came. When he murdered an Egyptian who had beaten up a Hebrew slave, Moses was forced to flee from Egypt – a fertile country – and instead lived in the desert – as a shepherd nomad – for forty years. Instead of the palace he now called a tent his home. How would we feel about that? Moses called his first son: “I have become an alien in a foreign land” (Exodus 2:22).

After forty humbling years in the desert, God appeared to him – and talked to him – from within a burning bush that was not consumed by the fire. After all the heartache he was now ready to be called by God and begin to know him. When he inquired about the identity of the God of his forefathers, God revealed himself to Moses, saying – Exodus 3:14-16: “ … I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’ … This is my name, forever … ” Then – after this encounter – Moses stepped out in obedience which had the further consequence that – within a very short time – he was absolutely abandoned by everyone. For God – he had risked everything: He went back to Egypt, offered himself as leader to his people and confronted Pharaoh. But – nothing worked out. The Pharaoh became angry and increased the burden on the Hebrew slaves which made them snub Moses. Before long he was on his own – alone.

Yet – and this is a sign for how much Moses had already surrendered his own will to God – Moses did not whinge with self-pity. He did not complain about his own lot but prayed for the Hebrew slaves – Exodus 5:22: “ … O Lord, why have you brought trouble upon this people? … ” Then, God again revealed himself to him. I read from the Bible – Exodus 6:2-8: “God also said to Moses, ‘I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the Lord I did not make myself known to them … ” Moses was the first who would know God by name. Neither Abraham nor Isaac nor Jacob knew God – had access to God – like Moses – on a first name basis.

Moses’ surrendering continued. Pharaoh remained obstinate. The people never showed him – or God – much respect – always grumbled. For instance, when they became thirsty, the Bible immediately records – Exodus 17:2: “ … they quarreled with Moses … ” This was not nice. At one time even his own brother Aaron and sister Miriam – co-leaders – betrayed him in open revolt. Yet, Moses had come a long way in the process of giving up all of himself because – in the midst of the crisis – the Bible account included this information about Moses – Numbers 12:3: “Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earthHe did not lash out against his brother and sister – even prayed for them when they came under God’s judgement. Therefore – for that reason –  he also penetrated deeper into God than anyone else which God himself made this clear to Aaron and Miriam. He said to them (and us now) – Numbers 12:6-8: “Listen to my words: When a prophet of the Lord is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him him in dreams. But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful [humble] in all my house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles … ” (cf. Numbers 16:15). The more you decrease (the more faithful and humble you are), the more God can increase – until you come face to face with God. Do we want that?

In the most dramatic event of Moses’ life God had reached the limits of his patience with his people and was ready to wipe them out. They had made for themselves an idol (a golden calf) – against his specific instructions – and therefore God offered Moses a most tempting deal, saying – Exodus 32:9-10: “I have seen these people and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that … I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation

The sinful human nature loves this kind of deal because it appeals to our pride. We may have already nurtured this kind of thinking in our hearts: “Yes – God these people – the traditional church – the comfortable church (those that have hurt me) – all these others are so wrong. Therefore, we separate from them and you work with us – ushering in revival through us – and leaving these ‘old wineskins’ behindMoses did not buy into this deal but prayed for the people – repeatedly – and even prayed the ultimate prayer.

Exodus 32:31-32 – I read from the Bible: “ . Moses went back to the Lord and said, ‘Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. But now, please forgive their sin – but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.’”

“Blot me outMoses prayed like a dead man. There was no selfishness left – not even self-preservation – and therefore – after the ultimate prayer – came the ultimate experience of God. When God relented from bringing destruction on his people, Moses pushed deeper into God than anyone before him. The Bible records – Exodus 33:17-23: “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.’ Then Moses said, ‘Now show me your glory.’ And the Lord said, ‘I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence … But … you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live … When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by … you will see my back … ” Exodus 34:5-7: “Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet, he does not leave the guilty unpunished … to the third and fourth generation

Hallelujah! This is what we live for. God grant us – as a church – that – one day – when we pray: “Show me your glory”, God does – show us his glory. God comes down – on us – in a glory cloud. This is what Moses experienced and this is where he was leading his people – deeper into the presence of God – the gift of God himself – in worship – which was more precious than all the milk and honey of the promised land. And this is what we also want.

All right. This was Moses and we learn from him – as he was decreasing, God was increasing – but how is God doing the same for us – in practice? Rees Howells was born in 1879 and grew up in Wales. From his earliest days he was conscious of God and would walk for miles to hear someone preach. He neither went to concerts nor football games but was at home in churches and prayer meetings and, therefore, he felt that he could face God every night because he lived such a clean, pure life.

When he was twenty-two, he had the strong ambition to make money and retire early. Therefore, he sought work in America, earned a good wage over there and at the same time continued to be a member of a church and never missed a prayer meeting. According to the minister he was “the best young man in the congregation” (Norman Grubb: Rees Howells Intercessor, Cambridge: The Lutterworth Press 1952, p21). However, a cousin asked him whether he was “born again”. Rees had never heard the expression. His cousin asked: “Do you know that you are savedRees answered: “I am a Christian and that’s good enough for meYet, his complacency was shaken. He even relocated a hundred miles to avoid any more conversations with his cousin. But – after reading another book – he asked himself: “Could I say that the Saviour is as real to me as my mother? Do I know God as a daily Presence in my lifeThen he saw it. He believed in the Saviour Jesus Christ but was not born of him – despite being such a “good” person. There was no relationship.

Rees contracted typhoid fever, came close to death and discovered that he feared death without feeling any assurances from God. He cried out: “Lord, give me one more chance, and I will give my life to youRees was puzzled. He had always believed in the incarnation, the atonement, the resurrection; they were the most precious truths in his life. Why then were they not real to him?

Then – after five months of searching – he went to a meeting with the preacher Maurice Reuben, a converted Jew. Maurice Reuben told how he belonged to a wealthy family and had the best the world could give him. He was the director of one of the largest stores in their city. But the life of one of his buyers used to put him under deep conviction, until one day he said to him: “You must have been born happy.” “Yesreplied the buyer, “in my second birth. I accepted the Lord Jesus Christ and was born of God. In my first birth I was no happier than you

Reuben was so moved by this testimony that he began to read the Bible. He came to the story of the rich young ruler. The way that Reuben saw it was that if Jesus had told the young man to sell all to inherit eternal life, how could he, Reuben, inherit the same gift, unless on the same condition? It was his supreme test? If he became a disciple, he knew that he stood to lose all. But it was too late to go back; he had seen it, and he must follow.

Reuben faced it fairly and squarely and counted the cost. His wife might leave him, his brother put him out of the business, and not a single Jew follow him, but he had made up his mind; if he lost everything, he meant to do it. Then one day, on the way to the store, Reuben heard a voice repeating to him the words of John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes to the Father, but by meThe truth flashed before him – he accepted Christ and entered into life that moment (born again).

He then told his brothers and others with the consequence that he lost his entire inheritance (whatever he possessed) and – with his family exerting political influence – was locked up in a mental asylum. He became bitter and poured out his heart to the Lord. He did not know how long he was there but a vision of the cross appeared to him. He said that he witnessed every stage of the crucifixion. He forgot his own sufferings in the sufferings of the Saviour, and as he gazed on the cross, the Lord himself said to him: “And must I bear the cross alone, and all the world go freeFrom a broken heart Reuben answered: “No. There’s a cross for everyone and there’s a cross for meFrom that hour he was a new man, saying: “Lord, let me suffer for you. Whatever you allow me to go through, I will never complain again

After six weeks he was released but his brother and also his wife refused to shake his hand and turned their backs on him. One year later his wife came to hear him preach somewhere, became a Christian and for the first time Reuben saw his little boy who was born after she had left him. His wife was willing to live with him again on the condition that he would get regular work to support his family. This seemed a reasonable request and Reuben pleaded with God for release but he knew that he was meant to preach Jesus Christ and live by faith. His wife left him again – not to return for another three years.

As Reuben shared his testimony, the cross of Christ and all of his sufferings became also more real than ever to Rees Howells. He began to feel as if Jesus had died just for him. He understood Jesus’ love for him. Then Jesus spoke to him, saying: “Behold I stand at the door and knock. May I come in to you, as I came to Reuben and took the place of wife and son, and home and store and world? Will you accept meRees replied: “YesAnd in that moment Rees changed – born into another world – the kingdom of God. Jesus came in and became everything to him. Rees testified: “When you receive the Saviour, your receive the love of God. That love flooded my being, and it has flooded my being ever since

Rees (and also Reuben) experienced in practice, what we already learned from Moses in the Bible book of Exodus. God must increase, but I must decrease. The more we surrender own own ambitions and self-will to God, the more God will come in and intensify his presence among us. As soon as Rees was prepared to do the same as Reuben – let Jesus come in and take the place of any wife or son or home or store or world – as soon as Rees was prepared to decrease all of his natural ambitions, Jesus did increase. Jesus came in. Jesus’ love began to flood his life and – in his own words – “it has flooded my being ever since”.

If you are here this morning and you have not yet quite broken through to the same experience of God, then do not wait any longer. Jesus died also for you. Going to church and believing the truth and doing good works are – by themselves – not enough to receive Jesus. Rees Howells made this discovery. You must decrease – give up everything – for God. I know that this is radical and, therefore, count the cost. There is no other way. This does not mean that you are earning your salvation on account of any good behaviour. No! But Jesus can only increase his life in you when there is room for him to come in. This morning – let him in. Promise: His love will also begin to flood your life.

For Rees the day of his conversion was the beginning of his life with God and then he discovered – like Moses – that there was more – a whole life-long process of decreasing more and more so that God can keep increasing in us. Rees returned home to Wales and the joy of God was on him. However, when in a meeting the Bible passage of Romans 8:26-30 was read slowly: “Predestinated … justified … glorifiedhe was not sure whether he himself was also “glorified”. Then – at a convention – he heard another preacher expound the Bible passage of Ephesians 2:1-6 where Christians are made to sit with God in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. The preacher asked: “Have you been raised up to sit with in heavenly placesIn his heart Rees answered: “I have been saved but have not been raised up with Christ to that place of powerand when Rees was thinking this thought – at that moment – he saw the glorified Lord. He said in his own words: “As really as I had seen the crucified Christ and the risen Christ, I saw the glorified Christ, and the voice that I had heard [earlier] … said to me, ‘Would you like to sit there with him? There is a place for you

The next day the preacher explained the Holy Spirit – that he is a person – he comes to live in people – he must be given full possession of the body. Rees began to understand that as the Holy Spirit would take possession of him, he would be seated in heavenly places (with God in Christ) – for power. The Holy Spirit said to Rees: “As the Saviour [Jesus] had a body, so I dwell in the cleansed temple of the believer. I am a person. I am God, and I am come to ask you to give your body to me that I may work through it. I need a body for my temple (1 Corinthians 6:19), but it must belong to me without reserve, for two persons with different wills can never live in the same body. Will you give me yours? (Romans 12:1). But if I come in, I come as God, and you must go out (Colossians 3:2,3). I shall not mix myself with your self

The Holy Spirit made it plain to Rees that he would never share his life. It meant that every bit of Rees’ fallen nature had to go the cross, and then the Holy Spirit would bring in his own life and his own nature. It was unconditional surrender. When Rees understood all of that, he went out into a field, where he cried his heart out, because, as he said – I quote his own words: “I had received a sentence of death … I had lived in my body for twenty-six years, and how could I easily give it up? … ” Rees wept for days and lost seven pounds in weight. He saw what God was offering him but it was so hard.

It took five days to make the decision, days which were spent alone with God. The Holy Spirit put his finger on each part of his self-life, and he had to decide in cold blood to let it go. Step by step the Holy Spirit replaced the self-nature with his own divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). First there was the love of money. The dealings on that lasted a whole day. Then there was the fact that he would never have the right to a choice in making a home. Other things that were dealt with included ambition. On the fifth day his reputation was touched. By Friday night each point had been faced. He knew exactly what was offered, the choice between temporal gain and eternal gain. The Holy Spirit summed up the issue for him: “On no account will I allow you to cherish a single thought of self, and the life I will live in you will be one hundred per cent for others. You will never be able to save yourself, any more than the Saviour could when he was on earth. Now, are you willingRees was to give a final answer.

That night a friend said to him: “If some of us come after the church meeting, will you tell us of your position in ChristAt once the Spirit challenged Rees: “How can you do that? You have seen what is offered to you, but have not yet entered in. I have been dealing with you for five days; you must give me your decision by six o’clock tonight, and remember, your will must go. On no account will I allow you to bring in a cross-current. Where I send you, you will go; what I say to you, you will doIt was the final battle of the will.

Rees asked for more time but the Spirit insisted on six o’clock. “You will not have a minute after six o’clockThe Spirit spoke again: “You are not forced to give up your will, but at six o’clock I will take your decision. After that you will never get another chanceOnce more the question came to Rees: “Are you willingIt was ten minutes to six. He wanted to do it, but could not. How could he be willing to give up self? Five to six came. He was afraid of those last five minutes. He could count the ticks of the clock. Then the Spirit spoke again: “If you can’t be willing, would you like me to help you? Are you willing to be made willing?” “Take carethe enemy whispered. “When a stronger person than yourself is on the other side, to be willing to be made willing, is just the same as to be willingAs Rees was thinking upon that point he looked at the clock. It was one minute to six. He bowed his head and said: “Lord, I am willing

Within an hour the Holy Spirit had come in. Rees said: “ … I was transported into another realm, within that sacred veil, where the Father, the Saviour and the Holy Spirit live. There I heard God speaking to me, and I have lived there ever since … ” The church meeting did take place later that evening and an eyewitness shared that no words can describe the glory of God that came down. Rees started the chorus “There’s Power In The Blood” and they couldn’t stop singing for two hours; then from 9pm to 2.30am it was “nothing but the Holy Ghost speaking things I had never dreamed of, and exalting the SaviourThe next morning Rees woke with the realization that the Holy Spirit had come in to “abide for ever”. He said: “It is impossible to describe the floods of joy that followed” (Norman Grubb: Rees Howells Intercessor, Cambridge: The Lutterworth Press 1952).

As Rees gave himself to the process of decreasing, God was increasing which – finally – enabled Rees to be the same kind of leader that Moses was in the Bible book of Exodus. He knew the presence of God and therefore knew the way for others to come into the same experience of worship where God shares himself with his people – the greatest gift. Even on the first day when Rees Howells was taken over by the Holy Spirit, the worship meeting at night had people singing for hours – with the glory of God coming down.

How much are we prepared to decrease so that God would increase in our life? This is not an easy question to answer (can you give up your self-will – money – family – reputation) and, therefore, we may need a few days to think over what is offered to us but – then again – Rees Howells – once he had made the decision – had no regrets – in this life and (more importantly) in the life to come. God wants you to have an increase of him. He loves you.

May I also say – and I finish with this point – the more God increases and takes possession of us, the more our relationship with him changes. It is strange but the more we surrender to him, the less we are – actually – treated as slaves. Absolute surrender brings us not into bondage but freedom because – now – in a new way – we are becoming the friends of God and – instead of bowing to him in unquestioning submission – we are invited to partner with him.

The Bible says – Exodus 33:11: “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend … ” And the level of intimacy became so intense that Moses could persuade God not to bring judgement on his people and God would listen because Moses had become a friend. He said to him – Exodus 33:17: “ … I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by nameJesus himself spelled out the same truth to his disciples (and to us now) – John 15:14-17: “You are my friends if you do what I command [if you decrease completely]. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you … the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name … ” (cf. Genesis 18:17-19).

 [The flip-side of the privilege is that the more intimate the relationship with God becomes, the more even small sins matter. The betrayal is so much greater. E.g.: Numbers 20:7-13.]

Now – the conclusion of this morning’s message is simple but radical. If – as a church – we want to lead a city – a nation – into the promised land where God grants the gift of himself in worship and prayer, then we need to know more of God ourselves – first. We cannot lead people deeper into the presence of God, when we have never been there ourselves. Therefore – you and I – take the same journey as Moses and Rees Howells and others. Keep decreasing for God to keep increasing. Your money – your past – your reputation – your hurts – your ambition – your comfort: LET IT GO. Count the cost and become the friends of God. Amen.