Thursday, November 1, 2007
Deserts and Burning Bushes
I went to a conference with some friends in early November and told them I was looking for a “burning bush.” That is to say I was seeking clarity about the future of ministry for me and a clear path to what God wanted me to do and be about. This, of course, comes from the story of Moses coming across a burning bush that was not consumed in the wilderness and God giving the reluctant prophet clear instructions about his ultimate task in life. Four different speakers during those two days mentioned burning bushes. It become such a recurrent theme that one of my friends looked and me and said, “you know I paid for this conference too.” The problem is that I’m still not sure how to get out of the desert.
I pulled out my Bible and backed up a bit, before the burning bush narrative and had a profound, if not disappointing realization or two. First, Moses spent a lot of years in the desert before his path was clearly laid before him. This was not very encouraging actually. Forty years is a long time to spend with sheep. When Moses left Egypt it wasn’t under the best of terms. Then he spent years of his life, having gone from a prince to an employee of his father in law, essentially doing what he needed to do to survive. I am pretty sure that during his time herding sheep and chasing off bears, he may not have been living ‘his best life now.’ He was doing what he needed to do to survive. He was, however, learning essential lessons about desert survival that he would not have known if he had stayed in Egypt. He was learning how to live as a nomad, rather than as a settler. Surely this lesson would prove invaluable when we would spend another forty years wondering around the desert.
Another thing I realized is that Moses wasn’t really looking for the bush when it found him. He was not praying to understand God’s will or to figure out how to invest his life to make a the biggest difference for the Kingdom, he was just going to work every day and doing his job. I have spent a lot of time trying to hear God, and all Moses, the preeminent leader of God’s people did, was “tend the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro.” We live in a culture that tells us to create opportunity. To “make things happen.” I like that idea, that I have the ability to make things happen. That I can make my plans and work out a strategic path in order to obtain a goal. I like seven habits of effective people and master planning my way to success, but so far it hasn’t worked for me. Every time I make a plan, it falls apart. Like the biblical author wrote, “there is a way that seems right to a man but that is foolishness.” Here is the amazing thing, the bush found him. Surely he had been by that area before, he had passed the Mount of Horeb many times and there was nothing extraordinary about it, but this time the bush was ablaze and not consumed. It seems to have been a confluence of timing, training and Moses ability to hear the call. The timing was right for God to lead the people out of Egypt, Moses had learned what he needed to learn from his desert experience and now had the ability to hear the call of God. Waiting on divine confluence is extremely frustrating. God does not work in accordance with our Daytimers, rather God’s time is perfect and call is sure.
Thirdly, when God gave Moses the instructions, he wasn’t all that excited about them. How many times have I benignly prayed, “God, if you will show me what to do, I will do it”? Really? If you spend any time at all in the Scriptures, there are a lot more reluctant prophets and leaders than there are people who are pursuing leadership. Actually, those who pursue and cling to leadership (ie. Saul, Herod, etc.) are usually those who should least have it. When God told Moses of the destiny before him, he repeatedly told God why he was NOT the right guy for the job. Maybe that is how you know when it is God, when the calling is so big and overwhelming everybody knows that you can’t do it alone.
God asked Moses what was in his hand. Rick Warren did a great job with this. He explained that in Moses’ hand was a shepherd’s staff. What we are is most often defined by what we “carry around.” In this case the staff defined identity, income and influence. It was essentially the three gifts God gives each of us that allow for some degree of self-understanding. Identity, the staff told of Moses position in the community. Income, lets face it, when we are identified in the community, everybody had a general idea of how much we are worth, at least in the world’s eyes. Influence, position carries with it the ability to influence. The words that keep ringing in my ears are “what is in your hand?” I do not know how to answer that? What unique skills, abilities and talents do I have “in my hands” and how is God calling me to use them? What is it I need to put down to allow God to use?
Lastly, God’s instructions were going to be darned inconvenient and costly. I have some understanding of this. I have never taken a significant raise to change ministry positions. A couple of times I have even moved backwards financially. Where I am now I am moving backwards with astounding consistency. I have not even received enough of a raise in the three years I’ve been here to make up for the rise in fuel costs to get to work. Moses was about to sacrifice stability for insecurity. Sure he had a tough job, but working for Jethro had its advantages. There was food, shelter, a warm bed and a wife to come home to. I can’t even imagine the conversation with his wife when he told her a bush told him to go back to Egypt and get a few hundred thousand people and walk across the desert to a “promised land.” This isn’t the life of the prosperity gospel proponents. This is a life of costly discipleship.
So, where does that leave me? In the desert I’m afraid, trying to figure out what is in my hand and waiting on God’s sense of timing. Every time I think that God is giving me a sign, it turns into a disappointment. We are humans are ‘meaning makers.’ We create meaning even when there is nothing there. Perhaps that is what I have been doing, trying to make meaning and get direction. I guess I’ll just keep wandering.
I must say, I’m a little sheepish about the prospects. I remain:
Consumed by the Call,
Gracious God, give me the strength to live in the desert with the sheep and to see the burning bush when you put it in my path. In the name of the One who calls us to follow, Jesus, I pray. Amen.