God’s Presence Is the Strategy with Missions
By Dave ButtsIt doesn’t sound exactly like the Great Commission of the New Testament (Matt. 28:16–20), but God put Israel on mission. He told them, “Go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” (Ex. 33:1). The land promised to Israel was already inhabited—and it was going to take an immense amount of effort to dislodge the current inhabitants and establish Israel’s Promised Land. Moses had the wisdom to realize that could not happen unless God Himself went with them on their mission. In one of the more amazing conversations in Scripture, Moses and God talked about how important it was that the people of Israel have the Lord’s Presence with them if they were to accomplish their purpose. As you read this passage, carefully consider how Moses’ insight regarding the Lord’s Presence might impact the effectiveness of your own mission today.
Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’ If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.” The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” 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” (Ex. 33:12–17).This man of great leadership skills, Moses, understood that the Lord’s Presence was the key to the success of their mission. To put it in another way, he realized that focusing on the vertical accomplished what God was calling them to do horizontally. Moses’ strategy for success was to look to God and plead for His Presence. As long as God was with them, they could not fail in the long run. Overwhelmed by the Impossible It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the horizontal—the size of the task before us. Israel’s mission was huge! Maybe yours is too. When we focus on the horizontal—the people and the mission in front of us—we can wear out from the immensity of the task. In today’s world, literally billions do not know Jesus as their Lord. Even using the word billions can cause us to want to curl up and watch TV instead of giving ourselves to a calling that seems impossible. When we think of world missions, we almost always focus on the horizontal. We show videos and pictures of people in great need, physically and spiritually. The statistics we present of those without Christ move us to compassion. The possibilities of reaching the world for Christ galvanize us to action. There is nothing inherently wrong with looking horizontally at the great needs around us. But focusing on the horizontal will not sustain and empower us to finish the task. Like Moses and the people of Israel, what we really need is the Presence of God. Our focus must be vertical in order to be successful horizontally. The author of Hebrews commands us to “fix your thoughts on Jesus” (Heb. 3:1). That’s a vertical focus! It’s not a command to pay attention to what you are doing for Jesus, but to actually look to Him. Isn’t it very possible that our attention is in the wrong place? Have you wondered how modern-day Christian leaders might have led Israel on their mission to take the land? After forming their team of key leaders, they would certainly have opened with prayer. Then they would have embarked on writing their mission/vision statement, followed by developing their one-, three-, and five-year strategies. Budget and staffing issues would also take quite a bit of the discussion time. In the same way, for the leaders of Israel to organize a nation for conquest and then settle into new lands would take a great deal of training and strategic thinking. Even then, they probably thought it could begin happening in a matter of months. Only God knew it was going to take 40 years to get them ready for the task! Please don’t misunderstand. All of those elements of planning and preparation are good—and often necessary. You can find many of those issues in the rest of the Book of Exodus. But Moses correctly started with the essential and then moved to the peripheral. The one thing that distinguished Israel and the leadership of Moses was the Presence of God. Moses models this strategy: Go vertical before the Lord prior to any horizontal move you might make!