Leadership in the Wilderness: Am I willing to embody what I’ve previously been unwilling to accept?

  Filed under: Empowering Leadership, Leadership in the Wilderness 

Exodus 3:7-14 When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, ‘Moses! Moses!’ And Moses said, ‘Here I am.’ ‘Do not come any closer,’ God said. ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.’ Then he said, ‘I am the God of […]

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This post by Nigel Coles was originally published at Seventy Two

Exodus 3:7-14

When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, ‘Moses! Moses!’ And Moses said, ‘Here I am.’

‘Do not come any closer,’ God said. ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.’ Then he said, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.’ At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

The Lord said, ‘I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey – the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.’

But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’

And God said, ‘I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.’

Moses said to God, ‘Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is his name?” Then what shall I tell them?’

God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: “I am has sent me to you.”’ 

We’ve all been there. You discern God is calling you to do something, ‘but’ …!

Forty years previously Moses had a gut feeling the Lord wanted to set his people free from Egypt, but his feelings ran away with him, literally. He took things into his own hands, killed an Egyptian and then buried the evidence (Exodus 2:11-12). We have no real idea how clearly Moses either heard or saw God at work in the forty years which passed, until he hears the voice of God calling him at the burning bush. Forty years without any headlines, profile or leaps of faith. Forty years when, to the outside world, nothing significant was going on in the life of Moses. Sound familiar?

It’s always a huge mistake to assume nothing significant is going on simply because we don’t see the immediate evidence before our eyes. Remember Jesus, concludes preaching his manifesto of the kingdom of God in Nazareth, where he grew up, by quoting Isaiah and saying, ‘today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’. This episode ends with his old neighbours and fellow Nazarenes ‘furious’ and they ‘drove him out of the town’ (Luke 4:1-30). What was going on in the life of Jesus during those thirty years?

For forty years in Moses’ life; for thirty years in Jesus’ life; they lived in relative obscurity, but we can be sure of one thing: I AM was working his purposes out. This is because the primary desired way for God’s purposes being worked out are in us, before they flow through us. The pandemic has pulled back the curtain on our reality, the spotlight is on. Now is the time to ensure what’s on the inside and the outside match up. Am I living on purpose?

No mistake these are big questions, but we all need to answer them. I need to answer them for myself. Here’s where I am with this one:

I want to pursue every step of the purpose of God

These are the kinds of words I pray … in my best moments! There’s a recognition here I must act. If God calls me in a particular direction, my job is to follow. If God calls me to stand up and be counted, my job is to step up.

Jesus’ all-embracing call is ‘come follow me’. [1] Paul tells us we have an ‘obligation’ and ‘those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God’. [2] John reminds us ‘we know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands’. [3] Peter comes straight to the point ‘just as he who called is holy, so be holy in all you do’. [4] I’m sure I don’t need to remind you of the biblical imperative to avoid compartmentalising Christianity and driving a wedge between doing and being, but I do need to remind myself. I find it interesting it is James who, I believe was the earthly brother of Jesus, warns us: ‘do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says’. [5]

‘Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God’ (Exodus 3:6). This is not very present day is it? We live in a day when the primary appeal to the world appears to ‘come and find a new best friend called Jesus and walk together with him’. I’m not suggesting that is an invalid basis for first encountering Jesus, but if we don’t get beyond this to recognise more of the character of God, we don’t end up following the Jesus revealed to us in our Bibles.

I’ve needed to face again, whilst I am influenced by and sometimes carried along by the cultural tide of post-modernity, so my feet don’t feel as if they’re on the ground, that God has called me to faithful obedience, or as Eugene Peterson put it, ‘a long obedience in the same direction’.

Mark Sayers makes me uncomfortable, because his words resonate so deeply within me when he writes about:

The disappearance of a mode of church engagement characterized by commitment, resilience, and sacrifice among many Western believers. In its place a new mode of disengaged Christian faith and church interaction is emerging. This new mode is characterized by sporadic engagement, passivity, commitment phobia, and a consumerist framework. [6]

When I boil this down to my ordinary life, pursuing the call of an extra-ordinary God, the daily time when I both listen and seek to discern my next steps, beyond listening, has become again the wellspring of my life. Covid-19 if nothing else has provided a wake-up call to the UK church: this is not a game; eternal issues are at stake; ‘apart from me you can do nothing’ [7] Daily, a step at a time, incremental change is what I’m committed to. If unforgiveness, bitterness, or any particular kind of sin is what I need to attend to, then that’s my next step.

When I think about my leadership of others, I have to recognise I’m limited in what I can achieve. I need to regularly work through in the presence of the Lord, my own issues (for which I need to take responsibility) and others’ issues, which are not my responsibility. However, sometimes I can shine a light, just a little ahead, to help another’s next step.

Evangelicals were criticised a lot when I became a Christian in the mid 1970’s, for making people feel guilty if they missed their daily quiet time and for not providing much guidance beyond ‘pray and read your bible’ to new Christians. I must admit, my experience wasn’t like that. But please take some time out to reflect on:

  1. What pathways do I/we encourage new Christians on today?
  2. What is the cultural framework new Christians are most influenced by today?
  3. How can I more clearly reveal the pathway of Jesus, ‘the way’?

Today I am called to be braver, truer and kinder than ever before. My conviction has never been greater: I can trust the word of God and I can trust the Holy Spirit. Both are true for me, so they must be true for others too.

I want to align my whole life with the purpose of God

Will I allow God to sift my heart, so the purposes of God are not eclipsed? ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ (Exodus 3:11) Where did Moses’ reluctance come from? Is he merely recognising who he thinks he is? Was it low self-esteem, a lack of personal ambition or a lack of leadership capacity? My hunch is probably a blend of all.

Contrast this day with the day he killed the Egyptian forty years before when outwardly he didn’t appear to be struggling with any of these (Exodus 2:11-14). As I ponder this, two conversations come to mind, this week: one where the person in front of me tried their best to convince me what a great job they were doing, which included a demolition of their predecessor. The other, with someone who appeared too keenly (in my opinion) aware of their own limitations but was determined to press on in pursuit of God’s purposes. To other people, what they see of me, tends to be the edited version I’m prepared to reveal. I know sometimes my weaknesses can sound like strengths and my humility can sound like arrogance. The truth is the Lord sees me, like Moses, for who I really am, plus who he’s called me to become. In his presence, I need to allow him to search my heart, because I find it too easy to allow either my strengths, or my weaknesses, to distract me from pursuing God’s best for my life, which turns out to be his purposes too.

I want to guard my heart, to make God’s purpose, my purpose

Will I recognise God has equipped me to follow him in my life? I am learning from Jesus to live my life as He would live my life if He were me. Plenty of people have said these words before me, but I don’t put them in quotation marks because I’ve made them my own. What has the pandemic revealed to me? Following Jesus is about following Him! It’s his way, not the Church way, I’m looking for.

‘Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it’ (Proverbs 4:23). I keep coming back to this one and I marry it up with what Paul says, in Philippians 4:7 when he says ‘the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus’. This is how it actually works. Everything does either flow or get dammed up, depending on my heart before the Lord. It is the reality of our relationship with Jesus: it’s ‘If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you’ versus if you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers’ (John 15:6-7)

If we fast forward through next forty years of Moses’ life, we see he comes up against two particular challenges time and time again: himself and the people of God. (oh no, this really is acting like a mirror). The reality is Moses’ journey was far from straightforward – ‘wandering though the wilderness was more than a metaphor! But then, when I stop and think about it, why wouldn’t it be? Here we have a human being, trying to lead other human beings.

What keeps Moses on track, or keeps bringing him back on track, is he keeps stepping into the presence of God. Moses does get drawn away by busyness, He does moan again and again about the people of God. He does get down, he does allow his reserves to practically run dry. But note this, it’s not so much the Lord has an answer for his every question, more his presence is the answer.

‘I will be with you’ (Exodus 3:12). God’s call is God’s enabling.

 

[1] Mark 1:17

[2] Romans 8:12-14

[3] 1 John 2:3

[4] 1 Peter 1:15

[5] James 1:22

[6] Disappearing Church: From Cultural Relevance to Gospel Resilience.

[7] John 15:5

 

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