BOLDNESS OR PRESUMPTION?
We cannot conclude our discussion on attitudes without dealing with boldness. What do we mean by boldness? Is it legitimate to be bold in our approach to God in prayer?
First of all, we must distinguish between boldness and presumption. What is the difference and on what are they based? The presumption is based on personal expectations; boldness is based on the character and promises of God. Presumption makes demands because of what I want; boldness is the expression of my confidence in God because of what He has made known and what He wants.
There is no better example in Scripture of a bold prayer than that of Moses. The children of Israel had hardly received God’s covenant at Mount Sinai when they broke it. They demanded a golden calf idol from Aaron so that they could worship it while they waited for Moses to return from the mountain. In spite of God’s express command that they should not worship idols, they disregarded Him and launched into an orgy of idolatrous worship at the base of the mountain while Moses was with God receiving His written instructions (Ex. 32: 1-6)
God was enraged and Moses was heartbroken. God threatened to wipe out the entire Israelite nation and start afresh with him (Ex. 32: 7-10). Moses entreated Him not to do it because of His covenant with Abraham – and God relented! (Ex. 32:11-14). Then Moses returned to the camp to find out for himself what was going on. He was furious when he witnessed the extent of their disobedience. He smashed the tablets of stone and called for backup. When the Levites stood with him, he ordered them to kill the renegades. Three thousand people died in the slaughter.
Moses returned to God on the mountain. He knew that the people had broken the covenant and were now subject to the consequences of disobedience. God was no longer under obligation to honour His side of the deal. The outcome for God’s people was unthinkable. He was no longer their God. He refused to go with them (Ex. 33: 2-3). He would abandon them in the desert because they had rejected His authority over them. They would no longer have His presence and protection.
Moses got very personal and very bold with God. First he dug in his heels and insisted, “If you don’t go with us, I’m going nowhere.” (Ex. 33: 12-16). God relented and promised to go with him. It was Moses who pleased God, not his people. It was on these grounds that God relented and promised to continue accompanying them on their journey.
Then Moses, emboldened by God’s response, took his entreaty a step further. “God, since I have found favour with you and you are pleased with me, show me your glory.” (Ex. 33: 18). In an earlier chapter, we learned that kabod means “weight” or “splendour” – that part of God’s character that is the weightiest. Moses was pushing God to reveal something in His character to which he could appeal. He wanted God to renew the covenant with His people so that Moses would have the security of God’s legally-binding agreement with them.
God agreed to tell Moses His name – a declaration of His character, and especially that part of His character that was the most prominent and significant in Him – the heaviest part of who He was. This is what He promised:
I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. (Ex. 33: 19)
Did you get that? God declared Himself to be the very thing Moses wanted Him to be – merciful and compassionate towards His people.
On the following day, Moses presented himself on the mountain again with another two tablets of stone. God hid him in the cleft of a rock and passed by, proclaiming:
The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin . . . (Ex. 34:6)
It almost as though Moses said to God, “I’ve got you now!” From His own mouth God had proclaimed His mercy, compassion and love, and His willingness to forgive sin. On those grounds, Moses entreated God to renew the covenant with His people –
Moses bowed to the ground at once and worshipped. ‘O LORD, if I have found favour 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.’ (Ex. 34: 8-9)
and God reciprocated:
Then the LORD said, ‘I am making a covenant with you . . .’ (Ex. 34: 10)
On what grounds could Moses act with such boldness? He had the reassurance from God’s own mouth that He was gracious, merciful and forgiving. Moses was treading on solid ground because he stood on God’s character and His word.
Jesus Himself invited and applauded boldness. In the hubbub of the people milling around Him, He heard the cry of a blind man and called him. What did he hear?
When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, ‘Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!’ . . . Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him.’ . . . ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Jesus asked him. ‘The blind man said, ‘Rabbi, I want to see. ‘Go,’ said Jesus, ‘your faith has healed you.’ Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road. (Mark 10: 47; 49a; 51-52)
Boldness is an appeal to the mercy of God. Jesus never ignored a cry for mercy because mercy is who He is. The weight of His glory is revealed in his mercy in this life, and will be in a radiance upon which no human eyes can gaze in the life to come. It is only in the life to come that we shall be able to see Him in all the beauty of His glory.
Prayer! Our connection with the Father and the greatest privilege on earth – not to whine and complain and expect God to wait on us like a servant, but to wait on God, to love and be loved, to listen and learn and to obey so that we can get in on what God is doing on the earth to restore everything that is broken and put His rule of righteousness and peace in place. It starts with us when we are willing to trust and obey Him, and spreads to the world around us wherever the influence of the good news of God’s reign will infiltrate.
Our confidence rests securely in what God has revealed of Himself. We can persevere with humility, boldness and faith because we stand on the solid ground of His character and His promises. Anything else is presumption and will not hold up in His presence.
When everything that can be written and can be said about prayer is written and said, prayer is not so much about getting things done, or getting what we want from God as it is about being intimate with God; about getting to know the Father and allowing the Father to know us.
“The most important thing that ever happens in prayer is letting ourselves be loved by God.
Be still, and know that I am God. (Psa. 46: 10)
“It’s like slipping into a tub of hot water and letting God’s love wash over us, enfold us. Prayer is like sunbathing. When you spend a lot of time in the sun, people notice. They say, “You’ve been to the beach.” You look like you’ve been out in the sun because you’ve got a tan. Prayer – or bathing in the Son of God (Son bathing!) – makes you look different. The awareness of being loved brings a touch of lightness and a tint of brightness, and sometimes, for no apparent reason, a smile plays at the corner of your mouth. Through prayer, you not only know God’s love, you realise it; you are in conscious communion with it.”
(Brennan Manning – The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus – ©1986, 2004, Fleming H Revell, Grand Rapids, MI).
Scripture is taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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