In the book of Exodus, Moses describes portions of his lifeís journey for us. Often, the writings of Moses are considered to be lists of rules and regulations. This is unfortunate, because a careful analysis of his "daily diary" reveals a humble man of profound wisdom and faith. He was a leader of sterling character, who had a genuine compassion and fervent love for a group of very stubborn and undeserving people. Yet, if you read a description of Mosesí character as a young adult, it would reveal actions that were fostered by impetuousness, poor decision making, brashness, impatience and anger. So, what brought about the change? In Exodus 33:13, I believe we find a clue. Moses prayed:"If you are pleased with me, teach me Your ways so I may know You and continue to find favor with You."And the Lord replied:"My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest."(verse 14). I am sure all of us would love to know the Presence of God in our daily lives and the rest and peace that accompanies it. Yet, when we further examine Mosesí life, the record shows that it was anything but peaceful! The nation of Israel had a way of standing on every nerve in Mosesí body, constantly challenging and pushing him beyond the limits of normal human patience, forgiveness and love. Yet, time after time, Moses managed to rise above the situation he was facing, demonstrating wisdom filled with compassionate judgement and leadership. How did He do that? Look again at Exodus 33:13 and ponder this phrase:". . . teach me Your ways so I may know You . . ."This is the door that leads to victorious Christian living.
Since this verse is found in Exodus, you might immediately conclude the phrase "teach me Your ways" means rules or doctrine. Yes, it is important to have sound doctrine and a faith based on the solid foundation of Godís Word. God gave the written word to Moses for instruction, however, we have missed the point if our focus is on the rules. Jesus made that radiantly clear when He addressed the Pharisees (the teachers of the Law), calling them hypocrites, blind guides and whitewashed tombs. (Matt 23) Jesus told them that an outward display of "living by the rules" is not the goal! The Pharisees were proud because they had an extensive knowledge of Scripture and believed they had reached a "higher standard of holiness." Many people today have fallen into this pit. Unfortunately, they have "woe-fully" missed the point of Jesusí reprimand and have failed to see the essence of successful Christian living. How ironic that the Phariseesí quoted Moses to justify their behavior, demonstrating how a carnal heart can turn truth upside down. In fact, if Mosesí life shows anything, it proves how God can internalize His character within a human heart and mind. In spite of all the stressors that constantly assailed Moses daily, I believe he learned how to have "peace" in the midst of a storm.
Moses wanted to know God on a personal, intimate basis. Without wanting to seem irreverant, Moses wanted to know what made God "tick." Sometimes in life, we are privileged to meet someone we admire. We long to associate with them and know them better. We like their company and are anxious to learn the "secret" of their positive lifestyle. In the same manner, our greatest desire should be to know God. We should be so impressed with His magnificence and graciousness that we long to know what makes Him so loving and fair. We should be so enamored with the attributes of His character that we would do anything to be with Him and model our lifestyles after Him. When we exercise strenuously, our bodies crave water to quench dehydration. God promises that if we will thirst after His righteousness, our spiritual cravings will be met and we will be filled with His righteousness, just like Moses was. (Matt 5:6)
In like manner, Paul admonishes us to "be filled with the Spirit." (Eph 5: 18) So, for just a moment, let us reflect on a few attributes of Godís character by reviewing what Paul calls the "fruit" of the Spirit. The attributes of Godís character are beyond human understanding, but Paul does mention love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Gal 5: 22,23) This "list" is far more than a simple list of positive traits we should strive for; instead, it gives us a glimpse into the wonderful personality of God. Isnít it interesting that each of these characteristics listed by Paul are relational? For example, if Godís Spirit lives within us, we will be kind and gentle (to others), patient and faithful (to others), etc. These characteristics, by their very nature, indicate that our relationship with God is not a one-sided affair. He is a real being constantly striving to develop a relationship with us. As His children, we are to actively respond to Him and His love. Even more, we are to follow His example and treat people we associate with in a similar manner. Believe me, there is more truth to the saying "like Father, like son" than a simple human example.
Heading Paulís list of Godlike attributes is love. When Adam was created, he was given a perfect love, just like God. When Adam sinned, however, his capacity to love became limited. Carnal man cannot love his neighbor like himself, but people who are "born again" do have an opportunity available to them to experience that original love. Jesus said,"love as I have loved you."(John 13:34) How does this happen? Romans 5:5 states:"And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us."Peter revealed a wonderful insight into Godís character when he said:"His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires."(2 Peter 1:3-4, italics mine) You see, as we study about Him, behold His character, watch how He interacts with human kind, His divine power is passed on to us through the Holy Spirit.
Of course, this is not just a one-sided deal. God will help us, but He expects us to have a compelling desire to be like Him. It takes effort! Peter agrees:"For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love."(2 Peter 1:5-8, italics mine) It takes effort to harness our natural carnal nature. We have a natural bend toward sinning Ė it flows out of carnal hearts almost effortlessly. Habits, good or bad, are formed by repetitive behavior. Unfortunately, by the time most of us realize that we have made a mess of our lives, we have already spent many years forming bad habits and consequently, making bad choices. The only way to stop a consistent habit is to use consistent effort. We know that successful parenting is the direct result of consistently setting the parameters. Each time the child presses the edge of those parameters, good parents remind the child it is time to change their behavior. God sent the Holy Spirit to help "parent" us. When you make a commitment to become Godís child, the Holy Spirit will consistently remind us if we push the edge of inappropriate behavior. If you are fortunate enough to have a good friend, you know that these types of friendships are usually developed over a long period of time. As you converse and associate with one another, friendships become more intimate as you learn to trust each other and the love you have for one another. A good friend will always caution us if they think we are about to make a bad choice. In a similar way, our relationship with God develops with time. As we learn that the Holy Spiritís counsel is never wrong, we learn to trust Him more.
Unfortunately, few of us have developed the level of intimacy that allows us to be comfortable when we are alone with God. The Holy Spirit, who enables us to develop coping abilities, has been treated like a silent partner, instead of our constant companion. So, when trials come, we feel uncomfortable running to the Lord for our reassurance and solace. To be sure, if the magnitude of our trial is significant enough and really touches our soul, we may fall to our knees and offer up a one-sided prayer. How sad that so few of us remain on our knees in the silence, listening for His voice and sensing the Holy Spiritís Presence. What a blessing we miss! Instead, we run to our friends and loved ones for advice and comfort. Truthfully, human help is pitiful at best. People are awkward and rarely say anything that soothes our emotional needs. In fact, many of us know very little about how to deal with stressing situations and would prefer not to face them with a friend. How long will we chose to struggle on our own? Our Creator, through the Holy Spirit, has been with us from birth. He has seen every emotional upheaval that has shredded our lives and only He can address our emotional needs and frustrations. It is rare to find a person who exhibits true compassion. It is rare to find a person who "has the patience of Job." It is rare to find a person who loves unconditionally and is faithful, trustworthy and honest. Why? Is it that the majority of us are such a miserable group of people? Is it that we really donít care? No, I donít think so.
I believe that we have gotten the horse before the cart. We live in a society where book learning is highly valued. It is an age where we "run to and fro" making money, keeping appointments, keeping ourselves entertained and in good physical shape. Before the age of technology, there was time to be quiet, gaze at Godís marvelous creation, and search your soul. Technology may have eased the drudgery of life in many ways, but it has also created an environment where people are addicted to "noise." From the moment most peopleís feet hit the floor after a nightís sleep, they are immersed in noise via the car radio or CD, television, phone calls, job-related meetings, conversations and on and on. Satan is clever. He has created the kingdoms of this world and their operating economies. They function in such a way that assures him that most of the human population has very little quiet time to be with God. He knows that if he can keep us busy and surrounded by noise, few of us will be able to hear Godís voice. Job number one for the born-again believer is to spend time meditating on Godís character, sensing His Presence, and listening for that still small voice. This was Mosesí life line Ė it allowed him to have peace, even though those around him were constantly complaining, murmuring, and pressing his patience to the limit. Toward the end of his life, he encouraged Israel, ". . . Now choose life , so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice , and hold fast to him . For the LORD is your life . . ."(Deut 30:19,20) And Jesus told this parable:"The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. . . But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a strangerís voice."(John 10:2-5) We often remember that Godís people "hear His voice," but we usually stop reading there. To me, what is even more significant about Jesusí remark is that He reveals to us that if we do this correctly, we will become absolutely familiar with the Holy Spiritís inner voice. Then we will immediately recognize when "another voice" Ė that of a stranger (the devil) Ė tries to lead us astray. If we spend time contemplating the ways of God, reading about Jesusí life, learning what the principles of His kingdom are, we will be prepared for Satanís assaults.
You can be sure that if you make a sincere commitment to take time to know God, Satan will press into your personal space. He will do everything he can to distract you. He will send people to take up your "special time" and create circumstances to fill up your days. He will send trials, attempting to fill your mind with fears and anxiety, stealing your peace and faith. 2 Timothy 3:12 makes it clear:"In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted."That certainly is a backhanded promise, isnít it? Why is it then, that when we make this type of commitment, we seem startled and unprepared for the inevitable. It should not surprise us then, when hardship darkens our door. Jesus tried to warned us, telling us that the world would hate us. (John 15:19) He prayed:"My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth ; your word is truth."(John 17:15-17) Knowing God, being filled with His truth, is the only way we can survive the devilís attacks. There is no other way! Peter was absolutely right! It will take effort and a heartfelt desire to know God above anything else in life.
For most of us, the thought of persecution or a test takes on very negative connotations. Some people are so afraid of trials that they are afraid to follow Jesus. Yet if we view it appropriately, a test given by a Master Teacher can be a very positive tool, indicating where we may be weak and providing an opportunity to prepare for the next test, until we pass. So, if our weakness happens to be in the area of patience, for example, it is possible a test may come daily. But if we are serious in our desire to "be like Him," then with each test of our patience, our ability to handle frustrating situations will become more developed. With His guidance, the day will come when we will pass the test and that particular discipline will no longer give us problems.
Luke wrote a profound statement in Acts 4:13. He reported:"When they[the elders and leaders]saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus ."(italics mine) Believe me, if you spend enough time with Jesus, it is self-evident! Just as people were drawn to Jesus because of His character, love and words, people will be drawn to you. There will be something different about you. John 13:34, 35 says:"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another ."If a converted Paul had been in the audience that day, he would have shouted a hearty "Amen!" His agreement can be read in Ephesians 5:1, 2 which says:"Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children[children who are loved by their parents want to emulate their parents]and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."Take just a moment, open your Bible and read James 4:1-12. James was writing to the believers in Jesus Christ and it sounds like they were struggling with relatively the same issues that believers do today Ė problems with self-control, not enough love and inappropriate motives. Time has not changed much. To be truthful, as sin marches on, I am sure our generation is far more degenerate than our first century counterpart. More than likely, we are far more intolerant and critical of each others beliefs and actions. But Paul goes on to say, that if you will "decide" to love that person, even if you disagree, you will gain the "fruit" of goodness, righteousness and truth (promised traits of Godís character) for making that commitment. How critical is it then, to take our eyes off each other and concentrate on reflecting Godís character? Is it easy? Not at first. But just as consistency pervades when raising children, so does consistent decision-making prevail when seeking to model Godís characteristics. Do you see how it works? Each and every time you pause before you act, allowing the Holy Spirit to infuse your mind and heart with a willingness to follow Godís lead, your actions to obey will become easier. Eventually, the intense struggle to love those people who misuse you will not be so severe. Why? Because God will do for you, what you cannot do for yourself. If you are anxious to please God, you will decide, even in the hard times, to rise above the situation (just like Moses) and allow Godís character to shine through you. Even in the face of injustice, even in the face of ridicule, even in the face of rejection, the Holy Spirit will give you the grace to rise above your situation and love those who may be hurting you. This kind of lifestyle is unearthly Ė it is not normal. Why should it be?"For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men."(Romans 14:17,18)
There it is again . . . a short summary of Godís personality. The Holy Spirit longs to instill and develop these traits within you! Moses knew the secret Ė "teach me Your ways!" Do you feel like your "connection" with God has become faint? Allow the Holy Spirit to fan the flames of familiarity. James encourages us:"Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?"(James 2:5) Love is developed over time, spending precious time getting to know one another. Now is the time to get intimately acquainted with God, making Him our number one priority. Then will you be able to say with a heart overflowing with thankful emotion: "How do I love You, let me count the ways!