When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” Exodus 32:1
I am a fairly patient person. I actually think it is a gift of mine. Nevertheless, I have no problem at all understanding the restlessness of the Hebrew people waiting for Moses to return from 40 days on Mt. Sinai. At a time in their new chapter when there were precious few “routines” upon which they could rely, one routine had become Moses’ “felt presence” among them. Another had become God’s visible presence through the pillar of smoke (by day) and fire (by night). And now, they had neither. All they had was Aaron, who was pretty clearly a far cry from Moses’ dynamic leadership. So, with Moses’ disappearance up the stormy, thunderous Mt. Sinai for an unscheduled, undisclosed amount of time, the hours turned to days and the days turned to weeks. They had no idea IF or WHEN he might ever return. I have no problem understanding the immense pressure these people began to place on Aaron’s not-so-broad shoulders. “Don’t just stand there…DO SOMETHING,” became the mantra of a restless, fearful people waiting for their God to show up and really set them free. As a church leader, you are probably familiar with that refrain.
In my experience, patiently waiting for God to show up can be the most difficult assignment we are given as God’s people. There is nothing easy about it at all. In a world and a culture where we are taught to take responsibility …
In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord‘s Passover. Exodus 12:11
Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.” Matthew 8:21-22
Spontaneity is not really a thing for me. I just don’t do well with it. But if you tell me that change is coming and that I need to “ready” myself to be able to respond quickly, I do pretty well with that. I always tend to think of it in terms of trimming the sails on a ship, being prepared for when the wind starts to blow. Because, you never know when it will start and you have no idea how long it will last when it blows, so you definitely want to be ready.
Walking with God is a lot like that. There is an urgency to the gospel message. He expects us to be ready to move so that, when we receive a clear word from Him about our next step, there is no delay whatsoever. In the kingdom of God, delayed obedience and disobedience are the same thing. God’ story is filled with references to this very notion.
I sometimes wonder if there were any Hebrew families who got the passover blood on the doorposts right (and were spared from the plague of the death of the firstborn) but who did not eat the passover meal all packed and ready to move out, like they were instructed. I wonder how many Hebrew slaves did not obtain their freedom because they delayed in making preparations to …
Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. 1 Samuel 15:22
My dear (now deceased) friend and Board member, Warren Clark, loved telling a story about teaching some of our materials on reconciliation in a church in Eastern Ukraine some years ago. He was in the middle of the teaching when people started getting up and leaving the church building. Not all at once…just a few here and then a few more there. During a break in the conference, he asked the pastor if he had done something wrong to offend them, since they were leaving. The pastor smiled at him and said, “No, brother, not at all! They are hearing a word from the Lord about reconciliation and they are going to reconcile with brothers and sisters. Isn’t that what you want?” Well, of course it is. We in the American church would just never have expected it.
Immediate and complete obedience is really the only obedience. Anything less (delayed obedience, partial obedience, etc.) is just a form of disobedience. That was Saul’s lesson in 1 Samuel 15. And that will be the lesson ultimately for the American church, I fear. We talk a lot about God and Jesus and God’s Word and other such spiritual things…we can argue theology all day long, thanks to 200 years of freedom to study it…we can write books and blogs about building churches and vision and preaching and small groups and creative programming…but in the end, it is going to matter to God that his people followed some social or political or personal agenda first, and His agenda second. Any agenda, you see, which comes before God’s …
“If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses? And if in a safe land you are so trusting, what will you do in the thicket of the Jordan? Jeremiah 12:5
Church leadership, especially the pastorate, can feel a little like the plight of Sisyphus…forever pushing that boulder up the hill with little or no results to show for it. They won’t pray…they won’t listen…they won’t volunteer or help…they won’t commit. But, oh, how they will complain! Sometimes you just feel like giving up.
I think every pastor who feels oppressed and burdened and stressed to the point of giving up should take a break and study Jeremiah’s ministry…really try to crawl around in Jeremiah’s skin. I promise, you will feel much better about your own circumstances!
Jeremiah spent 40 years obediently delivering a message nobody wanted to hear. Nobody. At all. He pushed and he pressed. He obediently spoke, again and again. He was ridiculed, beaten, imprisoned, and his own family scoffed at him. And through it all, to the very end, he was so very, very alone. And at the end of 40 years of these tireless efforts, he had not a single conversion to show for it. None. Jeremiah prayed and he begged God to change his assignment. He cried and he pled. He wished he had never even been born. And at one particularly low point of his depression, God’s response to him was something along the lines of “You think this is bad? The hard part hasn’t even started yet!”
But Jeremiah’s plight teaches us something important about how we measure our “success” in answering God’s call (and, just as importantly, how we should NOT measure our success). Maybe there will be amazing results to …