In last weekend’s message, Pastor Aries Zulkarnain reminded the congregation to treasure their relationship with God, and to seek God’s heart and not just His blessings.
This past weekend, 1 and 2 July, marked the midpoint of 2023. Pastor Aries Zulkarnain, the executive pastor of City Harvest Church, used a conversation between God and Moses in Exodus 33 to encourage the members of CHC to reflect on their personal relationship with God.
The exchange between God and Moses happened after the Israelites sinned against God by worshipping a golden calf. In response to their sin, God threatened to destroy them, but following Moses’ intercession, relented and spared the people.
Later in the same chapter, God brought Moses up to Mount Sinai. It was evident that God was still unconvinced that the Israelites had realised the gravity of what they had done—they had broken their covenantal relationship with Him. This revealed the lack of regard they had for their relationship with God.
“Did they consider the value of their relationship with God?” Pastor Aries asked. He reminded the church that they too need to realise how precious their relationship with God is.
“Where are you at today in your relationship with God?” he posed this searching question to the congregation.
It is vital that Christians treasure their relationship with God, just as Jesus did. Pastor Aries revisited what senior pastor Kong Hee had preached the previous weekend, about the seven manifestations of the Spirit of the Lord. He highlighted that of the seven manifestations of the Spirit, six were for effective ministry while only one was for delighting in God: the gift of the fear of the Lord. Yet, this was the gift that Jesus loved the most, for He valued His relationship with God more than the success of His ministry.
In contrast, the Israelites treated God conditionally, as if His presence was disposable. Pastor Aries noted that it is often only in times of crisis that people realise the worth of a relationship and start to treasure it. He gave the example of parents whose love and sacrifice are often taken for granted until something bad happens. He especially reminded the youths of the church to honour their parents and to love them for who they are.
“How much we value our relationship with God is shown by how much we put a value on these spiritual elements,” the pastor said.
1. Do you value the presence of God?
God assured Moses that He would keep His covenant with Abraham by giving them victory over their enemies, blessings and success. However, His presence would no longer travel with them (Ex 33:1) “At this point, Moses had to decide if he wanted the blessings or their relationship,” Pastor Aries explained.
To illustrate, he contrasted an arranged marriage with a covenantal one. The former is laden with conditions and is bereft of “true love” while the latter is motivated by love. It is also what distinguishes religion from a relationship with God. Pastor Aries quoted the late Timothy Keller: “Religion says, ‘I obey God in order to get things from God’. The Gospel says, ‘I obey to delight and resemble Him.’”
Religion can be conducted without relationship—the main reason why Christians lose their value for the kingdom of God is because of an idol that has replaced Him in their hearts. However, it will not only hurt God but also themselves if they only pursue religion without a personal walk with Him.
Moses understood the value of the presence of God which was evident in His reply to God (Ex 33:15). He responded by saying that God’s presence carried the grace and favour in his life that could not be compared to earthly pleasures or blessings. It was also what distinguished God’s people from the people of the world.
He also explained that while God’s presence carries with it the grace and favour of God, not every person who is blessed carries the presence of God. “On the other hand, the presence of God will ensure that you and I will remain blessed and highly favoured, both in good times and also when you’re going through the toughest moments,” he preached. Those who only have material blessings would realise that those things have no power to rescue them in tough times.
“Blessings are not indicative of God’s grace and favour on you!” Pastor Aries reminded. Just as David composed in Psalms 139:7-12, God’s presence during the highs kept him grounded and even in low seasons, God would give him peace. God’s constant presence gives His people the assurance that everything will be all right.
Engagement when seeking God’s presence is paramount. To illustrate this, Pastor Aries gave the example of losing weight. To do so, it is not enough to go to the gym—one has to actually exercise. Imagine a person expecting to lose weight just standing inside the gym, as if expecting the “atmosphere of the gym” to have an effect on his body.
“Go after the presence of God. Engage and connect with God with your body, during worship,” Pastor Aries urged. “Don’t just sit and listen—say Amen! Write down the parts that speak to you.”
Pastor Aries shared that he was blessed to see the youths in his zone waking up for 8am Silence and Solitude sessions during the recent youth camp, despite the fact they had gone to bed at 1am the night before. Though they struggled to stay awake through the camp session, God was able to work inside them.
2. Do you value God over the good?
In God saying that He would not go with the children of Israel to the Promised Land, there was an key implication. “The difficult choice is actually not between good and evil but between God and good,” Pastor Aries preached. God wanted His people to value Him over the good, even if that “good thing” is supposedly God’s gift to them.
“If all you can see is good equals God and not God equals good, then when you experience bad situations, you cannot see that God has something good in store for you,” the pastor explained.
Moses was discerning enough to know that having blessings without God was empty. He was not afraid of the hardship ahead as long as God was with Him. “If you have the presence of God, the anointing of God will cause you to have a different perspective. You’re able to see God in every circumstance,” the pastor said.
To lead a population of three million “stiff-necked” people was going to be challenging. Yet Moses was willing to stay committed if He had the assurance of God’s presence with them.
Moses then asked God for a glimpse of His glory (Ex 33:18). To Moses, seeing God’s glory would make his hard work worthwhile.
Pastor Aries told the church about his recent trip to Bali where he witnessed the sunrise on Mount Batu. To make it to the mountain top in time for the sunrise, Pastor Aries and his family had to wake up at 3am and make a two and a half hour ascent in cold weather. Yet, the glory of the sunrise made all the effort worthwhile. Similarly, for Moses, just a glimpse of God’s glory makes all his hard work leading the people worth his while.
In Exodus 33:19-20, God told Moses that he cannot see God’s face and live, so God showed Moses His goodness instead. God wanted Moses’ first understanding of Him to be that His glory lies in His goodness. Moses needed to understand that in order to conquer all the challenges ahead.
“If your notion about good is only about blessing and comfort, then you do not know much about God,” Pastor Aries pointed out. Like Moses, Christians need to understand that God is good all the time so that they can survive tough challenges.
He cautioned the church against thinking that blessings and riches are the sources of their security. “Don’t think that money and power are enough to navigate through this world. They are never enough, only the presence of God can ensure that you are able to survive the world,” he stated.
3. Do you value God’s heart?
When the Israelites heard that God wanted to withdraw His presence, they mourned and put away their ornaments (Ex 33:4). Pastor Aries noted that the expression of His people matters to God.
He reminded the church members that every time God looks at them, He makes His face shines upon them—an expression of pride, love, mercy and joy.
Expression is a reflection of the heart’s posture (Prov 15:13). Hence, Pastor Aries reminded the congregation to be aware of their expression towards God during worship and the time spent with Him.
He gave the example of the youths lifting their hands and praising God excitedly during the Emerge camp—God showed up in that atmosphere. Many of them received breakthroughs in their lives. One member wrote in and shared that she had a vision of her father apologising to her and she was healed of all the pain he had caused.
In closing, Pastor Aries encouraged the church to value their relationship with God and to seek after His heart.