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Presence Matters Most

Presence Matters Most

Have you ever been given a major assignment from someone that felt quite intimidating? At first you responded by saying, “I don’t think I can do this.” Eventually you said something like, “If I’m going to do this, here’s what I need” or you at least said, “Here’s what I want in order to do this thing you’re asking me to do.” Maybe you asked for more team members to join the project. Or you asked for a raise or more shares in the company. Maybe you told your boss you’d do it if you were given 2 additional weeks of vacation. Or you needed to attend a conference or purchase software that would help you do this significant task you had been assigned.

I believe living the life you were designed for is a major assignment. I believe the mission God has given us as Epic Church is also a major assignment. If we are going to fulfill that mission, there are some things we need.

We need a clear vision. A great plan and strategy. A skilled team, both on our staff and with hundreds of volunteers. Overflowing generosity to fuel our mission. Incredible kids’ and students’ ministries. A great small group system. Yes, we absolutely need these things to be present, but these aren’t the things we need most.

To fulfill the divine purpose of your life, you need the divine presence in your life.

To fulfill the divine purpose of Epic Church, we need the divine presence in Epic Church.

Today we begin not only a new year together, but also a new series that we believe will set the spiritual tone for all of 2024…a year we’re entering with much anticipation and much expectation. We’re calling this series We Want You Here. Here at Epic, we’ve always been committed to offering Biblical teaching that is accessible and gives you practical steps so you can apply the teaching to your life. I and the other teachers in this series are going to do that. But we’re going after more than just knowing the truth and being able to apply it with this series. With God’s help, we’re coming after your desires, affections, and passions.

God has used Jon Tyson, pastor of Church of the City in New York, to awaken my desires for God and what God wants to do in my life, our church, and this city. He was talking about his approach to hiring staff and he said this:

“I don’t simply want to work with people who believe what I believe. I want to work with people who want what I want.” -Jon Tyson

I love this, but I want to apply it beyond just the Epic staff team.

What if we were not only unified in our beliefs, but unified in our passions?

Passion is not about personality. Passion doesn’t mean you have to become an extrovert. Passion doesn’t mean you have to be super emotional all the time.

If we’re honest, some of us are apathetic as we begin this year. And if that’s you, we’re praying God will use this series to awaken your desires and affections. Others of us are so passionate as we begin 2024. We’re passionate about our new role, our new salary, going after our annual quotas and targets. We’re passionate about the 49ers as they attempt to get back to the Super Bowl. We’re passionate about seeing where our kids will get into school. If you’re a person full of passion, we’re praying that this series will align your desires and affections towards what matters most.

Jesus was known to ask some version of this question and I’ve tried to also develop the habit of asking myself and lots of people some version of this question:

What do you want most?

Whether you attend church on the regular or this is your first time in a long time or ever, I’m guessing you’ve heard about Moses. You’re at least familiar with the part about him leading the nation of Israel out of their slavery under Pharaoh. As they left Egypt, God’s intention was for them to journey towards the Promised Land called Canaan.

Moses and God had a habit of meeting with each other on a mountain. On one of these occasions, Moses goes up the mountain. He’s gone a while, so the people gather around his brother, Aaron. They convince him to make some other gods. He tells them to take off their gold earrings and he begins making idols for them. This makes God angry. God was ready to destroy them. But Moses sought God’s favor and God relented.

From there, God tells Moses to go to the land He promised, but God threw in this line, “But I will not go with you.”

As long as you’re getting where you want to go, are you content to live your life with the absence of God?

If you got the job your heart longs for, the girl or guy your heart desires, the home you’ve been saving for…but God wasn’t involved in your life, would that be okay? For Moses, having a good destination wasn’t enough. I want to show you what we wanted most so we might get a hunger for the same.

Exdous 33:12-17 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.”

God has told Moses that he won’t go with him, but Moses isn’t okay with that. While we are called to be content, we are also called to contend.

Do not let your contentment keep you from contending for more of God.

Moses asked God for favor and so should we. I pray for God’s favor daily over Shauna and our kids. I pray for favor over our church, our future church home, and friends who are pursuing new opportunities or wanting to have children or going after some impossible initiative. Praying for favor is a good thing. But we often stop there.

Don’t ask for God’s favor from a distance. Pursue intimacy with God.

Moses says to God, “Teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you.” We don’t only want God’s favor when we need healing or a job or financial provision. I don’t want God’s favor just for a moment. I want it to reside over me, my family, our church, and all of you at all times.

Psalm 30:5 For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.

God tells Moses, “My presence will go with you.” May this be what we long for. I’m calling this message, Presence Matters Most. When I say presence, let me try and articulate what I mean. There is a sense in which God is present everywhere. This is true, but this is not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about how God’s presence becomes manifest in our lives. This explanation from A.W. Tozer is helpful:

“The Presence and manifestation of the Presence are not the same. There can be the one without the other. God is here when we are wholly unaware of it. He is manifest only when and as we are aware of His presence. On our part, there must be surrender to the Spirit of God, for His work is to show us the Father and the Son. If we cooperate with Him in loving obedience, God will manifest Himself to us, and that manifestation will be the difference between a nominal Christian life and a life radiant with the light of His face.” -A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

I love this line from Moses – “If you presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.” What if we adopted this posture in our lives and in this church? God, don’t send us anywhere you aren’t going with us. Not into a dating relationship, even if the person seems amazing. Not into that job opportunity, regardless of what they’re offering. Not into our future church home at 414 Brannan St. We only want to go where you’re going. Unless you go with us, what else will distinguish us from everyone else?

What do you want the greatest distinction to be in your life?

Your family of origin. Where you’re from. The university you attended or the degrees that you’ve earned. The number of social media followers you have. The size of our church. The natural abilities you have or even the spiritual gifts you’ve been given. Starting today, we’re saying, “God, we want your presence in our lives to be the thing that most distinguishes us – full stop.”

God says to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked.” Jon Tyson says that, “God comes where He’s wanted.” He also wrote this

“God’s presence among his people has always been his heart.” -Jon Tyson, A Beautiful Resistance

Today begins a 21 day prayer and fasting journey for us as a church. Both of these practices are intended to grow our dependence on God and our desire for God. Our team has given you a guide for our daily prayers. Our encouragement for fasting would be for you to have dinner one night and not eat again until dinner the next night. Use both your physical hunger and the time to hunger after God. Pray for His presence. Pray for needs in your life, our church, this city, and the world. Also, each Wednesday night during these 3 weeks, beginning this Wednesday, we’re going to host nights of prayer and worship here at Epic – a time for us to pursue God together for all we want to see Him do this year.

What do you do if you don’t want more of God in your life? Maybe you start with this prayer, “God, help me to want You. Awaken my affections for more of your presence in my life.”

When he was on the cross, Jesus experienced what absolutely felt like the absence of God…for the first time in his entire existence. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He was willing to go through this so that we would never be forsaken by the presence of God. Receive this today.

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