Praying with eyes open

Why did Moses go up on the mountain in Exodus 17:8-16? Everyone who’s ever attended Sunday School will tell you he’s praying, but the passage doesn’t actually say it. The only thing we know is Moses’ hand positions, and the resulting impact on Joshua’s gains or losses. The account of what happened on the mountain was written later and second-hand, by someone who was a distant and distracted observer on that day.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Moses will soon establish a pattern of praying in a tent  (Ex 33:7-11), but he doesn’t head for his tent this time; instead, he climbs a mountain. Joshua can understand that instinct. After all, a military man like him would see elevation for its strategic advantage—for reconnaissance purposes, artillery placement (arrows or stones) or infantry positioning. The common thread is that any of those options requires communication of some sort, and Moses and Joshua make no signalling plans. Moses has a different strategic purpose in mind, and a different form of communication.

There’s only one reason to go up on a mountain to pray: clearly, Moses intends to have his eyes open. On the mountain, he is helpless and completely dependent to act save for a single priceless weapon: a direct connection to the Almighty. If he sees an ambush or an advantage, his only recourse is prayer.

In Moses’ day, the only way to have the full picture, to see the scope of the battle, was to gain elevation. In today’s world, there are so many other ways we can broaden our view. I believe this is one of the indispensable roles of a leader.

My studies of this passage have led me to refine my times of prayer as a leader. I start with two questions prompted by Moses as he stood on that mountain with eyes open, hands lifted up and no temptation to action.

A. What can I see that others don’t?
B. What should I see that is not visible?

I’ll cover the first one here.

Seeing what others don’t

There’s an old adage that a leader is the one climbing the tallest tree, surveying the situation and concluding, “We’re in the wrong forest.” Leaders have a mandate to see the bigger picture and assess the situation, but they also have the privilege of access to a more complete set of data than anyone else.

Strategic prayer is prayer with knowledge. It’s significant that the intercessor in Exodus 17 is the one who can observe the entire scope of the situation and direct his attention accordingly. No one else can see the big picture the way a leader can. Therefore, she should pray for the larger issues, the deeper underlying themes, rather than the obvious surface-level requests. Where she sees with spiritual eyes—because she takes the time to ask and look—she prays for what others can’t see. She can sometimes pray with confidential knowledge of world events.

Don’t shy away from connecting the pieces. Ask the Lord, “How should my prayers be directed?” And, “What can I pray about that others don’t or can’t?”

There are three advantages and responsibilities that come with the vantage point of leadership.

1. Gaps. From above, it’s easy to see the gaps and weaknesses that open up in battle lines. I can pray for reinforcements, and I can pray for healing for the sick, strength for the weak, encouragement for the fainthearted, justice for the oppressed and comfort for the afflicted (Ez 34:4,16, 1 Thess 5:14, Ps 10:17-18, 2 Cor 1:3-4).

2. Traps. I can also see ambushes and traps. I can pray for shielding, for cover, for light to overcome darkness and truth to expose lies. I can pray for other leaders, that they would not give Satan a foothold.

3. Opps. Weaknesses in the opponent’s strategies are laid bare, and I can see where my team is making breakthroughs. I can add my prayers behind initiatives pressing the advantage. I can pray for unity, love, confession, forgiveness, mutual submission and truth as proactive moves against Satan’s strategies of division, accusation and deception.

During my quarterly days of prayer, I have taken to posting sheets of paper on the wall and labeling them with these categories. As God shows me something in each of these areas, I write it down so I have a takeaway, and perhaps an action point.

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Moses on the Mountain series:

Part 2: Young leaders take what they get

I’m sure you’ve heard it before: a leader talking about what once was and lamenting change. I’m not sure you can fully take advantage of the situation you’re in if you start from that vantage point. Young leaders don’t have a lot of patience for that sentimentality. They aren’t concerned with the way things used to be or how much easier it was in the past. Instead, they’re willing to take what they get and work toward solutions.

Is it lack of experience? Granted, their institutional history is much less than an established leader, but some of them have been around long enough to see some of the downward trends. Is it that they don’t value history? Many are well versed in history, especially the period predating the Enlightenment. It’s basically realism. They don’t find it constructive to worry about where we’ve come from when there are so many opportunities in front of them. Each period in time demands a different set of tools and resources. They want to use fresh eyes to figure out what works today, and then get moving. Let me give you a few examples.

1. Post-Christian. Whether or not America was founded on Christian principles as a “Christian nation” is irrelevant. Our purpose as the Church and non-profit parachurch ministries is to engage the culture as it is now. We work with young people  that don’t generally attend church, don’t read the Bible and don’t have much personal exposure to either. On the other hand, the people around us are open to spiritual discussions, interested in our personal stories and keen observers of our lives. They respond well when they see believers open about their failings and active about their faith, especially to the point that they care about the world we live in and its inequality and injustice.

While we can’t assume context or cultural support for the Bible and Jesus Christ, we shouldn’t necessarily assume bias against either, other than the negative associations young people have made between hypocritical Christians they know. As at least one has said, “I’d be a Christian if it weren’t for all the Christians.” There’s opportunity there to put Jesus Christ front and center. Redemption is always relevant — just ask Hollywood.

2. Postmodernity. This is certainly a controversial issue, but frankly, while you may argue whether postmodernity is bad or good, my response is that it is. Postmodernity is not going to cease to exist just because someone doesn’t like it. And while I try not to make predictions about the future, I wouldn’t advise trying to hold your breath until postmodernity passes like a fad. It looks to be multi-generational. Instead, young leaders prefer to jump in and work with what we’ve got. The Bible says the gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church. The Church will be relevant to postmodernity; it will translate itself into the new context sooner or later. And in Wycliffe’s case, that last Bible translation project that we long to see started by the year 2025 will be started by postmoderns.

There’s so much more I could write about postmodernity, but that’s another topic for another day.

3. Biblical literacy. No doubt, this is a big concern: a Church separated from the Bible is prone to drifting.  The young leader responds in two ways. First, how do we operate in a post-literate world? Our culture doesn’t value reading, especially dusty old things like books, so how do we engage people through story, through podcasts and through web 2.0? How do we make the gospel active and alive and relevant?

Second, what are the challenges and opportunities related to using the Bible? How do we teach the principles of the Bible through other means? How do we make relevant a book that’s lost its power through years of abuses: verses used to support pet causes or scientific theories; “biblical principles” reinterpreted to build a moralistic society; and extreme views of the Bible, such as “guidebook for life” or “textbook” or even “love letter” (it’s all of those and none of those). How do we give an ancient book hands and feet so it becomes alive?

The only real thing that matters to young leaders today is today. They want to understand the times and develop strategies that address today’s issues and opportunities. Last week’s strategies might not even be relevant today.