Hiding in Plain Sight—
What Ever Happened to the Cleft in the Rock?
As my glorious presence passes by, I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed. Then I will remove my hand, and you will see me from behind. But my face will not be seen.”
Exodus 33:22-23 NLT
Rock of Ages, cleft for me. Let me hide myself in Thee.
Augustus Toplady, 1763
Where Was Moses when the Glory Passed By?
Somewhere stone tablets lay crumbled in a heap with God’s own handwriting still visible. Somewhere the people of God lay in their tents with unprecedented bellyaches from drinking water laced with gold, ground from the golden calf they had worshiped. Moses was climbing Sinai—again. This time Yahweh would write the terms of the Covenant on fresh-hewn tables of stone Moses himself had carved.
As he climbed he thought of all he had seen and heard:
- the voice of God from the burning bush and the revelation of God’s covenant name, “I AM,”
- the power of God before Pharaoh,
- the splitting of the sea and the drowning of the pursuing army,
- the clouded majesty of the One who tread upon the heights of Sinai,
- Yahweh’s fiery finger burning words into the rock,
- while descending with the tablets in Moses’ hands, accompanied by the noise, not of battle, but of profane celebration around the golden calf,
- the crash of the stone tablets to the ground, so easily broken by a man’s anger,
- the terrible plague with so many dead, and finally,
- the holiness of the fire-filled cloud that covered Moses in the Tent of Meeting where he met with Yahweh.
Now he was climbing Mt Sinai again, with two blank stone tablets in his hands. The clouds, lightning, and thunder at the summit beckoned him onward.
The scripture says that at the Tent of Meeting, Moses and Yahweh communed face to face, but this must not have been a visible communion because Moses’ request was to see the One whose voice he had heard and whose power flowed through his walking stick to the peril of Pharaoh and the parting of the sea. To fulfill this desire in the heart of His friend, Yahweh placed Moses in a broken place in a rock, covered him with His hand, and passed before Him.
Moses knew then why the mountain trembled and the atmosphere erupted. When Yahweh was almost out of sight, he lifted His hand and Moses saw Him, just a glimpse of a divine exit. It was enough to kindle Moses’ heart so that his face began to glow like a lens focusing an inner flame.
Finding Our Place to Hide
As worship leaders we want above all things to see the “glorious presence” of Jesus revealed as we lead worship. However, if we are not hidden in the cleft of the Rock and covered by His hand, all the people will see will be us. We have to find a way to hide in plain sight.
Jesus is the Rock but how does one enter solid stone? Fortunately there are clefts in the Rock, broken places—torn places—in His resurrected body. These wounds in His hands, feet, and side, were inflicted by our sins.
We hide in His atoning love for us.
One of the promises of the New Covenant is that our sins are truly gone and forgiven. From Mt. Calvary Jesus has stricken the sins from our record in a bolt of mercy as dramatic as a bolt of lightning on Mt. Sinai. As the Roman soldiers nailed his hands and feet, He was nailing our sins to His cross. There in the atoning wounds of Christ we can hide in plain sight as His glorious presence passes by and He calls out His Covenant name so that all may hear and be healed.
In other words, when we sing a solo, lead worship or conduct our choirs, orchestras and productions, let us do so from pure hearts.
- If we have pride hidden in our hearts, it will not remain hidden when His presence is revealed. We will stand out against the glow of His nearness like a sinister shadow in some film-noir nightmare.
- If our motives are selfish, people will know this is a show. They will sense that this music is really all about us and their job is to watch us and marvel at how tight we are musically, how clever and well prepared.
- If there is competition underway between leaders or among musicians, the congregation will know that this is a sporting event. They will pick their favorites and cheer for them.
- If we have expectations from the people, giving them hoops to jump through—“What’s the matter with you people today? Don’t you love Jesus anymore? Get those hands up and fill this room with sound!”—the people know that this is really a circus and they are trained performers jumping to the threats of our whip, whistle, and chair.
In public worship something is always revealed. It may be the bankrupt, powerless “form of godliness,” Paul warned Timothy about, or a pride-filled presentation, or a needy presenter. Maybe, just maybe, it will be “the glorious presence.” If the presenters are hidden in the cleft of the Rock and covered by His hand, the glory can pass by us and we can hear the sound of His voice calling out His covenant name.
From the Mountain to the Microphone
Before we pick up the microphone we need to visit the mountain. Like Moses, we have heard God’s voice. His word has penetrated our lives and set us on the leadership path. Now we need to see Him, to see His glory. We need to find the cleft in the Rock, the place of humility where we can hide under the hand of God. This is the place of revelation where we can “see” the one whose voice we have heard.
What We Can See from the Cleft in the Rock
Because he lived under the Old Covenant, all Moses was allowed to see was the Lord’s back after He had passed. Under the New Covenant, we are privileged to see Jesus’ face as He lingers. We can contemplate His glory. This is not in a fleeting glance that leaves a residue of glory on Moses’ face, bright but fading, requiring a veil to hide both its light and its diminution. This is an abiding revelation, like an infant looking into its mother’s eyes, a bonding of parent and child. This New Covenant glow need not fade. Such contemplation is for the Secret Place and for the public worship service.
The New Covenant promise is that as we contemplate His glory, we are changed. A recent widely read book stated that we are conformed to the image of Christ by trials, tests, and temptations. This is certainly true but it is only one side of the coin. We are also conformed to His image by the power of the Holy Spirit when we hide in the cleft of the Rock and contemplate the face, heart, and mind of Jesus through meditation, scripture, and prayer. We don’t have to live with bad motives, selfish ambitions or wounded spirits. These things have also been nailed to the cross. Jesus was wounded for our iniquities. As we hide in him, He will bind up our broken hearts and break the chains that wounded and bound us. He will soften our hearts and open our eyes to the tenderness and boundlessness of His Kingdom. As we delight in Him, new desires will form in our hearts.
As we worship Him privately, in the Secret Place, we are hiding in the cleft of the Rock and we are being changed.
- We emerge from cleft of the Rock (private worship) free to hide in plain sight as we lead public worship.
- When we lead worship that is all for Him and all about Him, we are hiding in the cleft of the Rock.
- When we preach His words, His deeds and their meaning for us today, we are covered by His hand, safe in the cleft of the rock.
- We find the cleft of the Rock in baptism and at the Table of the Lord, for in the first we publicly declare ourselves to be in a covenantal relationship with Yahweh and at the second we renew the New Covenant in the emblems of Christ’s body and blood.
From Stardom to Servanthood
We have been taught by the world that to succeed is to have every eye on us. The truth is, when the worship leader succeeds he or she has spiritually disappeared into the blinding glory of the revelation of Jesus. How can this be when for most of us it is “lights, camera, action!” when the service begins?
We can hide in the liturgy. Do we realize that the liturgy, “the work of the people,” is also the cleft in the Rock? Worship leaders can hide in the words the congregation says, the prayers they pray, and the sacred actions they present to the Lord. If we have made the congregation into our audience, they have a right to critique us. On the other hand (and thank God there is another hand!) if we are all praising God “in the presence of the congregation,” (Heb 2:10-12) we are hiding in the work of the people. They are no longer an audience but a worshiping congregation that also includes their leaders. When Jesus is revealed, the people will see Him and not us.
The Cult of Personality
Today we live in a celebrity-mad society.
- Major news organizations lead with stories about the latest fascinating personalities with or without talent.
- National politics is a personality parade rather than a thoughtful process of deliberation and decision.
- Image has become substance.
- In Christian culture, trivial things like shirttails and ties have become matters of primary concern and leaders often build their ministries and churches on their own giftedness and personalities
When taken to the extreme, this is called the cult of personality—idolatry found center stage on the church platform and lurking in the board room, like hungry a wolf in the dark. Even in smaller doses, this is a sickness that endangers every one of us in Christian leadership. Leading by personality is something we learn from the culture. Leading by the power of the Spirit is only learned at the feet of Jesus.
Our people don’t need another set of celebrities, they need leaders who will go to the mountain but choose to wear a veil of humility. They need leaders who will hide in the cleft of the Rock, under the mighty hand of God, and stay out of their way so the whole church can see Jesus.
- Jesus turned away from the applause of men and so should we.
- He refused to lead by manipulation. How can we then so freely lead by manipulation? I heard of one teacher advocating something he called “manipu-leadership.”
- Jesus welcomed responsibility but shunned political power with all its trappings. The one true VIP the world has ever seen refused to be treated as such.
It is time to lead like Jesus led.
If we want to see the glory of God revealed, then let us hide ourselves in cleft of the Rock. As He did with Moses, God will cover us there with His hand.As we lead like Jesus, our veiled faces will be the lenses focusing the holy fire within, beaming through our humility, with the abiding flame of the Spirit.
© 2009 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved