Some of you may remember the song, “Day by Day” from the 1970’s musical “Godspell.” As I was thinking about preparing for this message those words came to my mind and have washed over my soul all week. The simple little songs says:
Day by day
Day by day
Oh Dear Lord
Three things I pray
To see thee more clearly
Love thee more dearly
Follow thee more nearly
Day by day
This Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, we will begin a 40-day adventure along with sister congregations around the world. It’s called “Focus Forty.” It is season of prayer and fasting leading up to Easter for the express purpose of seeking God in a more focused and intentional way through the disciplines of prayer and fasting. The focus of the prayer time is to pray for people to come to Christ during the 40 days. I want to add a request that you pray specifically for the immediate future of this congregation as our 74 acres of property down the road is concerned.
I did a lot of teaching on the subject of fasting last year. To access those sermons, visit our website and go back to February 13th and February 20th under the sermon link. If you didn’t read the book, “Fasting: Opening the door to a deeper, more intimate, more powerful relationship with God” by Jentezen Franklin that many of us read, I encourage you to pick up a copy or download it to your Kindle.
There are several resources to assist you during the “Focus Forty” time period that can be accessed by going to: www.chog.org Click on “Focus Forty” and you’ll find daily devotionals there along with some other resources that will assist you during our 40-day adventure. We have printed out the devotions for anyone who might not have Internet access. They are on the Welcome Center. There is also a prayer calendar that will be used which will start the Wednesday after Ash Wednesday. We will have those available for everyone next Sunday.
I want to challenge you to fast from some kind of food beginning this Wednesday. Choose to skip some meals each week or give up a certain food entirely during “Focus Forty”. In order to come up with 40 days, Sundays may be omitted from the fasting time period. So, you don’t need to fast on Sundays unless you want to. I believe Scripture teaches us the spiritual discipline of fasting will help us “See God more clearly, love Him more dearly and follow Him more nearly, day by day.” I hope you will join us this Wednesday at 6:45 for our experiential Ash Wednesday service which will be the official start to our journey.
I’d like to share this morning some ways I believe we see and experience God more clearly and communicate our love to Him more passionately when we fast using a 40- day experience Moses had with God during which time he fasted.
Turn in your Bibles or onto your cell phones to Exodus 34:1-10 J
1 The LORD said to Moses, “Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I will write on them the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. 2 Be ready in the morning, and then come up on Mount Sinai. Present yourself to me there on top of the mountain. 3 No one is to come with you or be seen anywhere on the mountain; not even the flocks and herds may graze in front of the mountain.” 4 So Moses chiseled out two stone tablets like the first ones and went up Mount Sinai early in the morning, as the LORD had commanded him; and he carried the two stone tablets in his hands. 5 Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. 6 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, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” 8 Moses bowed to the ground at once and worshiped. 9 “O Lord, if I have found favor in your eyes,” he said, “then let the Lord go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, forgive our wickedness and our sin, and take us as your inheritance.” 10 Then the LORD said: “I am making a covenant with you. Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the LORD, will do for you.
Verses 27-28 27 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” 28 Moses was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant–the Ten Commandments.
During the forty days and forty nights Moses spent with the LORD, as he fasted and was supernaturally sustained by God, he experienced God in some dramatic and powerful ways and he expressed himself back to God in some passionate and intimate ways. I believe the fasting and focus on God for the 40 days enabled these experiences and responses.
In the chapter before our text, Exodus 33, we get a sense that Moses is in a place where he is sincerely desiring to get closer to God. He asks God some questions. He needs clarity on some things. He also asks God to show him His glory. He wants to get as close to God as possible. In chapter 34 he got as close as any person could get without being killed in the process as he stood in the cleft of a rock while God passed by (see 33:22).
Allow me to make some observations from Exodus 34:
- Fasting gives us a special opportunity to PRESENT ourselves to God. In verses
2 and 3 we read that God told Moses to come to this meeting alone. This was a one-on-one experience between God and Moses. Moses was also told to “present himself to the Lord” (vs. 2). Fasting enables us to put into practice the New Testament command to: “. . . present our bodies as living sacrifices to God.” (Romans 12:1)
During the upcoming 40 days, I want to challenge you to “show up” and present yourself to God for an encounter that will change your life and the lives of people around you. Your parents can’t create this God-encounter for you. Your spouse can’t obtain the God-encounter for you. You have to desire to focus on God and be interested in hearing what He has to say if these upcoming 40 days will transform your life. There has to be a personal investment. Moses was told to chisel out some stone tablets (34:1) to bring to this encounter. That was some hard work. Those tablets represented not only Moses’ obedience, but his faith. He came full of faith to the encounter, believing God was going to write something important on those tablets, that his effort wouldn’t be for nothing and that this encounter would change his life and the lives of the nation of Israel.
Church of God, friends and guests, God wants to write on the tablets of your hearts. Jeremiah 31:33-34, it says, “33 “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
after that time,” declares the LORD.“I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
Will you bring your heart to the table during these 40 days? Only when you make a personal investment to present yourself to the Lord can you truly receive what He desires to give you. You coaches know this is true. Players may show up for practice or a game, but you can tell when their heart isn’t in it. The end result isn’t the same. The process is simply the process of going through the motions. Ritual without passion is religion and it is dead! No wonder many people think Christianity is boring, binding and a burden. It’s because many professing Christians don’t have their hearts in the game. Get your heart in the game. Get passionate about your relationship with Christ by making time to meet with Him every day during these forty days and bring your heart to the table.
As Jeremiah 29:13 reminds us, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD. Fasting helps us to put our hearts into seeking God. In Joel 2:12-13 the Lord commanded: “Return to me with all your heart; with fasting and weeping and mourning. Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God.” Make yourself available to meet with God and offer Him your whole heart.
40 days focused on God will mean saying “no” to some other things in order to make special time for God. It might mean getting up an extra hour early. It might mean limiting time on the computer or cutting it out altogether. It might mean turning off the TV. If two people who are dating declare they are madly in love but never spend any time together, you would have to question the sincerity of their statements. What better way to express your love for God than to give Him 40 days focused just on your relationship with Him! Add the sacrifice of fasting to the devotion of your time and you can expect amazing things to happen!
Fasting gives you a special opportunity to focus on God’s PRESENCE.
Moses’ real concern was with experiencing the presence of God. You can see it in chapter 33. Turn back to verse 14: 14 The LORD replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” 15 Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. Moses was all about the relationship, all about being in God’s presence.
The New Testament Pharisees fasted twice a week (Luke 18:12) but it wasn’t to connect them to the presence of God. It was merely for show. It was an outward display of their empty piety that they wanted everyone else to notice. Jesus condemned that kind of behavior. Fasting isn’t about self-promotion but self-denial and self-examination that result from desiring and being in the presence of God.
Moses asked God in Exodus 33:18, “LORD, show me Your glory.” Charles Spurgeon said that was the greatest request ever made of man. He’s probably right. What could be greater than seeing the glory of God? To see God’s glory is to see God Himself.
“Glory” is from a Hebrew word that literally means “weight.” God’s glory is the full weight of all that He is. Moses wasn’t asking to experience God’s power, although he did. He wasn’t asking God for physical or material goods. He didn’t ask God for success or personal gain. He sought to see God in His fullness. And God revealed Himself as fully as God can without consuming the person at the same time. What did Moses see?
He saw the compassion of the Lord. He heard the special message that our God is a “compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” Doesn’t it endear you to people when you see them demonstrate compassion? (Psalms 103:8 NIV) “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.” When God revealed His compassion to Moses, Moses had to breathe a great big “Whew” or sigh of relief. This was good news to his troubled soul. Israel had messed up big time, and Moses feared for their future.
This wasn’t Moses’ first round of fasting for forty days in regard to the people he was leading. No. We see in Exodus 20 that it was during a forty-day fast and adventure with God that God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, the first of which was “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Moses trotted down the mountain from this amazing spiritual encounter with the Most High God, full of passion and ready to tell the Israelites all of the good things he had just learned first-hand from God Himself, and what did he find? They were already hard at work breaking the first of those Ten Commandments. They had gotten tired of waiting on Moses to come down the mountain to hear what God had told them, so they decided that they would make their own god out of their gold jewelry in the meantime. They started acting like fools, dancing around a golden calf that they had created, as if they weren’t the Covenant People of the One True God who had brought them out of Egypt. It was like they hadn’t ever encountered God or known the truth. I can almost hear some of them saying, “Jehovah who?” Talk about losing your senses!
Moses was outraged. He took the two tablets the Ten Commandments were on and smashed them to pieces. That symbolized that God’s people had broken His covenant. Though Moses hadn’t communicated all that God had said yet, they knew better. He took the golden calf and threw it in the fire which symbolized God’s wrath. He then pulverized the golden calf to powder, put it in the water and made the Israelites drink it! Those actions dramatically demonstrated how powerless and worthless the idol was. If the people could actually consume that which constituted the idol by ingesting it, what a farce it was that they ever thought it could save or help them in any way.
If you think Moses was furious with them, multiply that by infinity. God wasn’t amused! 3000 of the Israelites were killed that day. Moses knew they were all one breath from being wiped out by God, so he started praying real quick-like. He begged God to forgive them and to spare the nation of Israel as a whole. God’s answer is hard to interpret at the end of Exodus 32, but He didn’t just say, “That’s alright. No problem. No big deal.” No. He said he would blot everyone out of His book that had sinned against Him and He sent a plague on the Israelites. They had to have been quaking in their boots. The last time they had experience with plagues, they weren’t the target audience. They had to have known God was really trying to send them a message and that it wasn’t a happy one.
So God told Moses He was sending the Israelites into the Promised Land, but He wasn’t going to go with them (chapter 33). That’s bad news. Without God’s presence, they weren’t any different than any other people group. It was the presence of God with them that set them apart. Hence, we see Moses not only now begging for forgiveness, but begging that God not withdraw His presence from them as well. What a sigh of relief, what freedom from fear Moses would have experienced when God reminded Him that He is compassionate! The guilty would not go unpunished, but at the same time, those who repented wouldn’t go unforgiven! Hallelujah!
Moses didn’t wait to respond. Exodus 34:8 tells us he got as low as He could to worship the Lord. You see, God’s presence makes us aware of God’s love and when we get a revelation of how much He loves us and how compassionate and forgiving He is, the only appropriate response is worship. Moses combined worship and prayer and begged God again to not only forgive the Israelites, but to journey with them as well. How could God resist a prayer like that? He wants to be with people who desire His presence to go with them!
Fasting gives you a special opportunity to renew God’s Covenant PRINCIPLES.
Look at Exodus 34:10: “Then the LORD said: “I am making a covenant with you. Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the LORD, will do for you.” God reiterated what He wanted to do for His people. He said, “I will drive out before you the Amorites, Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.” (Exodus 34:11)
And verse 24: “I will drive out nations before you and enlarge your territory, and no one will covet your land when you go up three times each year to appear before the LORD your God.”
It was in the context of 40 days of fasting that God reminded Moses that Israel was still His special people. He still had plans for them as a nation. He still wanted to bless them, help them, and support them. He still wanted to see them through on their journey all the way to the Promised Land and beyond. He still wanted to BE THEIR GOD!
Some of you here this morning need a covenant renewal experience with God. You need to know He still loves you. You need to be reminded He still wants you. You are in need of a re-start or re-do with God. You need to hear that even though you may have run to a worthless idol for comfort or security that God will take you back. He isn’t through with you. He sees beyond where you have been. He sees beyond where you are at this moment. He sees into eternity for your life and there the possibilities are endless. Let God speak to you during the forty days about what He can do for you. Let Him show you what your future could look like. Let Him talk to you about what it means to be in a covenant with Him. I didn’t say, “Let Him show you what it means to be a good church goer.” I didn’t say, “Let Him tell you what it means to be a nice moral person.” I said, “Let Him teach you what it means to be in covenant with God Almighty!” It will change your life!
Fasting puts us in a position to receive the words of the covenant from God. It puts us in a spirit of humility. Moses had this kind of disposition. We read in Exodus 33:13 that Moses said, “If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you.” It was critical that Moses maintained this kind of teachable spirit and humble attitude. God was the One re-establishing the covenant. It wasn’t a dialogue where God said, “Okay, Moses, here is what I think would make for a good covenant, what are your thoughts? Do you have some suggestions? What parts can you live with and what parts would you like Me to change?” No! God is the initiator of the covenant, so when we renew covenant with Him, we accept the terms He lays out. In this way, covenant renewal causes us to realign ourselves with His plans, purposes and ways and not the other way around. Fasting assists us in this process. It helps us realign our will with God’s will. Fasting isn’t another “trick up our sleeve” to get God to hear and answer prayer the way we want. No! It puts us in a position of submission and surrender so that we can say, “God, what do you want?” and whatever answer we receive from God, our reply is simply, “Then that’s what I want!”
God shared what He would do for His people which is part of the covenant, but part B of the covenant was when God laid out His expectations for His people. From Exodus 34:10 to verse 28, Moses said nothing. He was writing it all down. He was taking it all in. He was receiving the commands. He didn’t even ask any questions. God had a lot to say and Moses spent 40 days listening. God has high expectations. He listed a whole lot of stuff that He expected His people to obey. It was a tall order. You could say he gave Moses a stern talking to. The truth is Israel needed correction. They needed redirection. Apparently they needed so much correction it took 40 days to get it all communicated.
Why was there no argument from Moses? Why didn’t Moses ask God to dial it down a bit? Why didn’t Moses plead for a lesser covenant for the Israelites who so easily could get off track? I believe it was because he was in such a spiritually empowered place where God had been sustaining him now for 40 days where he was so full of the presence of God that he realized that nothing God was asking was beyond his ability to do through God’s abiding, empowering and sustaining presence!
Listen, God isn’t into laying traps for people. He doesn’t set us up to fail. Anything He asks of us He makes possible through the power of the Holy Spirit! Israel needed a do-over and God was going to make it possible.
We can’t know what pleases God without listening to Him. We can’t know what God expects without listening to His voice. We might not even know we are off track until we get still enough to listen to what God wants to say. I’m asking you to spend 40 days out of the 365 you have been given this year to listen to God on purpose and renew your covenant relationship with Him by simply taking it all in and by allowing His abiding presence to empower you to be in a successful covenant relationship with Him.
So in this 40-Day fasting experience Moses (1.) presented himself to God (2.) focused on God’s presence and (3.) remembered God’s covenant principles.
What happened after the 40 days? Moses was distinctly different inside and out.
Exodus 34:29-30 “When Moses came down Mount Sinai carrying the two stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant, he wasn’t aware that his face had become radiant because he had spoken to the LORD. So when Aaron and the people of Israel saw the radiance of Moses’ face, they were afraid to come near him.”
The glory of the LORD was literally radiating from Moses’ face. The people knew he had been with God and they were afraid of what Moses would have to report. They knew it had to be intense for Moses to come out of the whole experience literally glowing with God’s glory.
Do you want people to know you have been in the presence of God? Is there something about you that causes other people to have a holy fear of God and His presence? Can you be a spokesperson for God like Moses because you have: presented yourself to God and sought to be in His presence on purpose? Today is the day to recommit to following God “day by day” for the upcoming 40-Day adventure. Lord, help us see You more clearly, love You more dearly and follow You more nearly, day by day!