Updated: Jun 26, 2020
I'm not immune to the desire to be in control of situations in my life. Over the last few months, I've found myself in the predicament of being unemployed in a global pandemic during the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression. Mine and other's current situations would typically beg for a certain desire for perceived control and change. If I'm being honest, though, much of the change I desired early on in this current season was inherently for my good above all else. Although yearning for a job to have the means to pay bills and have food to eat are not bad things, God pressed upon my heart early within my layoff season the common misorder of wanting those things for my good above His glory.
Throughout the Bible, we see both explicit and implied actions and commands by God which reinforced the order of glory going to Him first and our good second. In addition, we see very specific feasts and statutes in which the Lord gave the Israelites in order to remind them of the glorious and mighty things that would have been impossible apart from Him. Specifically, one of the first instances we see God instating a remembrance for what He has done for the Israelites, in the Passover. In addition, we find many instances both in the Old Testament and the New where God calls us to be set apart in both lifestyle and action in order to point towards His glory and grace.
A common refute to the idea of God's glory first and our good second is, "why is that even a good thing?" In a history of a world where mankind continually imputes action for their glory and their good, this objection is not unexpected. As God's character is revealed throughout the entirety of the Bible, I'm going to point us again to His attributes and characteristics in order to understand why His glory is ultimately for our best, and why our heart's should desire to see His glory on display above all else.
For this, we will engage the text where we are introduced to enslaved Israelites, Moses and the burning bush, plagues and calamities, a hardened Pharaoh's heart, and eventually the Exodus of Israel. Although the people of Israel were fruitful, increased greatly, grew exceedingly strong, and Egypt was filled with much of them (Exodus 1:7), they were under great oppression from Pharaoh. Prior to this time, although foreigners in the land, the Israelites were not living as we find them in the book of Exodus. During the time of Joseph, the people of Israel had much favor in the eyes of Pharoah. After that Pharaoh's death, there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. Because of this, this king felt increased fear, insecurity, and dismay with regards to the size in which Israel had grown. As a result, as the text says, "they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens." (Exodus 1:11)
During a time of great oppression and hatred, Egypt's dread over the size and strength in which Israel was growing caused them to ruthlessly make them slaves and have lives bitter with hard service. (Exodus 1:14a) Even more, as they continued to multiply greatly, Pharaoh instated a command that every son born to the Hebrews was to be killed. To say it was a difficult time for the people of Israel would be to understate the season their history was in. Between a Hebrew baby being put in the Nile to save his life, to him growing up as the son to the Pharoah's daughter, to him killing an Egyptian for beating an Israelite, to eventually him fleeing to a land known as Midian for fear of Pharoah, we come to know Moses.
As Moses continued to live and create a family in Midian, the rest of Israel remained as slaves to Egypt. As their days of enslavement were many, and their own solutions for their predicament were presumptively none, they began to groan and cry out to God for help. In utter desperation, the people of Israel called upon God to rescue them from slavery. The text says, "And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel - and God knew." (Exodus 2:24-25)
Throughout the proceeding chapters, we find a common theme said in a few different ways. First, we find Moses insecure about his ability to convey to Israel that it was God sending him to them to deliver the news of their eventual delivery out of Egypt. As a response to whom Moses was to say sent him, God tells Moses to say, "I am sent me to you." (Exodus 3:14) By saying this, God is declaring that He is the alpha and omega, existing before and after time, all-powerful, uncaused cause to all things. When I Am is used a stand-alone descriptor, it is the ultimate statement of self-sufficiency, self-existence, and omnipotence. By this, God is declaring to both Moses and Israel that His existence and all He does, is not contingent upon anything or anyone. Moreover, His plans, His character, and He Himself are ever-present, unchanging, and His will is always perfect.
This fact about God is in many ways unattainable for our finite brains to fully grasp, but let us keep this in mind as we move through the text. In the continuing chapters, this theme of God alone being the only I Am manifests in both His merciful and loving character eventually rescuing Israel out of Egypt, but even more in what He continually says are His reasons for how He does it. God continually reiterates three things to Moses, Israel, and the Egyptians throughout these chapters.
Speaking to Moses and presumptively Israel through him: "And you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of Egyptians."
Speaking to Moses to tell Pharoah: "Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness."
Speaking to Moses about Egypt: "The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them."
Although God's act of delivering His people out of their enslavement under Egypt is from hearing their cries, seeing their affliction, and knowing their suffering (Exodus 3:7), we cannot escape the obvious theme of God's glory being displayed to both Israel and Egypt through what He was to do for the people of Israel. Out of His I Am name being declared, both Egypt and Israel knowing that He is the Lord (Yahweh), and Israel going to the wilderness to serve Him, we have the byproduct of the what is best for the people of Israel manifesting (brought out of enslavement and going to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey). Do you see the order throughout these chapters? God's glory first, and Israel's best second.
Maybe this doesn't feel like good news to you. If you're anything like me when I was first becoming a Christian, I had a hard time wrestling with desiring God's will before what I wanted His will to be for my life. I can tell countless stories of me trying to grasp tightly onto any perceived control I had over relationships, friendships, jobs, and circumstances throughout my life before Christ. In all of those stories, I was continually left anxious, fearful, and worrisome the moment any of those things seemed as though they were going to fall apart. Even now, I can find myself sometimes wanting to 'fix' the problems in my life without first remembering God's glory ultimately results in whatever is actually best for my life.
In these moments, I remind myself that God is the only I Am, and I and all other humans are not. As we read the rest of Israel's exodus out of Egypt, we see God's power and majesty on display in ways no man could ever construct and design outside of Him. We see the Red Sea parted, devastating plagues, pillars of cloud and fire for both leading and light, bread coming from Heaven, water flowing out of a waterless rock, and on and on. Even as God's glorious power and might continued to prove that He alone is the great I Am, the Israelites groaned and complained as if they weren't watching and experiencing all of this first-hand.
As we look to why God's glory is what we should seek first in all things and above all things, I think there is an important lesson as we see the inherent nature of mankind in relation to God within these passages. As Israel quickly feared the Egyptians marching after them, God fought on behalf of them in their silence. As the Israelites grumbled about what they were to drink, God showed Moses a log that made the bitter water sweet. As the people of Israel grumbled about being hungry, God sent manna (which tasted like wafers made with honey...yum!) from Heaven for them to gather and feast on for forty years. As the Israelites quarreled with Moses about their lack of water, God led Moses and elders to strike the rock at Horeb making water come out of it.
We see both throughout these chapters and the rest of the Bible, humans instinctive desire to complain, fear, and worry about any given circumstance in their life rather than looking to the I Am that created them and all things; that is all-powerful, holy, and love Himself. It is an inherent desire to seek first our good before we even look to the one that holds all knowledge of what is actually best over any of our given circumstances. We see even in just this chapter how God's glory displayed resulted in Israel's best beyond what they could ever construct. As the Israelites sang together to worship what the Lord had done, they declared "You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed; you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode... Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;" (Exodus 15:13,21) As Christians, we believe that God is unchanging in His character and reliant on no one else for all things. So then, why would we not desire first His glory knowing it results in not just our best, but the best of all His creation? Even in times where it seems as though the world is in utter chaos around us, we must first desire for God's glory above all things. So, how do we as Christians do this?
As my life has looked in a bit of shambles over the last few months, I have seen God's sovereignty and glory fully on display in my inability, weakness, and finite knowledge. If you were to ask me at the beginning of 2020 if I would be furloughed, laid off, oftentimes stuck at home, and searching for work during a global pandemic, I would have quickly dismissed that prediction. Even more, if someone were to tell me I would have simultaneously grown exponentially in my peace and trust in God's sovereignty, started taking courses from a Christian apologetics academy, began working in ministry coordination at my church, developed unexpected and new encouraging and gospel-centered relationships, accepted contract work as a freelance donor relations manager, and had a callback for the show the Voice, I would have looked at you with tremendous doubt. I will not ever operate on the knowledge of God; none of us will. That is one of the many reasons that makes Him God, and us, made in His image - but not Him. If I were to have had the foreknowledge of what this season of life would have looked like, I can with full honesty disclose the fact I wouldn't have orchestrated all in which my life consists of now in the way it came to be. What I would have come up with, would have been far less than; even more, in my flesh I would have instinctively wanted to avoid all of the hard parts of what I have experienced this year. I think I can fairly say that would apply to almost all other parts of my life as well.
None of what my life looks like right now is as a result of any control that I have expressed over it. All of the hardship, suffering, and simultaneous blessings have been as a result of God's grace, mercy, and omniscience over what was best for me (not what I thought was). Moreover, all of what I have experienced has ultimately drawn me closer to His infinite throne of glory and grace. In a world that offers us much pain and suffering, I have seen God's glory on display in mighty ways both in my life and others. Trusting in His sovereignty over both the entirety of my life and this particular season is truly where my soul finds Sabbath rest; not in my ability to create what I think is best for me or desire my good before His glory. I say all of this to say, God's glory will be displayed upon all the earth, whether our hearts desire it above all else or not. For as Paul teaches us, "so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Phillippians 2:10-11)
Therefore, our desiring God's glory above all things both in our lives and the world around us is not as a result of conjuring it up through a bunch of action steps. Rather, having a heart that seeks first the Kingdom of God, His glory, and ultimately trusts that, that is what's best, is done first through His grace and sanctification, and second through our response to that by denying ourselves (what we inherently want), picking up our cross, and fully following Jesus.
If you are a Christian today, it is not as a result of your works or ability to choose Jesus. God chose you, pursued you, and revealed His glory to you even as you were dead in your sins. Our response to that undeserving gift of salvation should be to desire in our hearts, souls, and minds God's glory to be displayed on all of the earth, knowing that, that is where we find what is our best.