When God Speaks

Thus did Moses; as the LORD commanded him, so he did.

Numbers 17:11

One complaint I’ve heard among unbelievers – including yours truly in the years before God got through to my stubborn heart -is that prayer doesn’t “work.”

I confess I only have my own pre-Christ experience to draw from when I’m breaking that phrase apart. However, what I meant at the time (and what I think most unbelievers mean today) is that their prayers do not achieve the results they want.

Of course, if every prayer whispered or shouted resulted in a concrete and predictable outcome, prayer would merely be the coinage for the vending machine on high. But that’s a rant for another day, perhaps.

My prayer habits after nearly two decades of following Christ are markedly different then the demands I haughtily tossed at the Most High back in my arrogant youth. During those days, I evidently thought that I, the creation, had some inalienable right to order my Creator around. Talk about role reversal!

It can be argued that Moses made his share of bold and unseemly comments and requests. Especially for a person who had witnessed several mind-boggling displays of power, the guy had a bit of steel in him when it came to talking with the Lord of Hosts.

If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness.

Numbers 11:15

Read Exodus and Numbers. There are plenty more. The intriguing thing is, despite Moses’s alarming audacity, God grants a great many of his petitions!

For me on this, my anybody’s-guessth time through the Bible, a refrain of sorts has captured my attention. It always begins with, “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying…” and often ends with a variation on, “…Moses did as the Lord commanded him.”

Another way of putting it is the book is full of God’s instruction and Moses’ obedience.

When I think about it in these terms, what I called “prayer” in my unbelieving days – those imperious attempts at imposing my will upon God’s – were highly ignorable. Not because they were bold or demanding, but because there wasn’t a single atom of obedience tied up in them.

Though his start may have been a trifle reluctant, Moses did spend a good portion of his life obeying God. Even then, his disobedience was addressed and dealt with by God. Sin is always serious even if it is seldom.

So when the Lord speaks to us, do we listen and obey? Or are we more apt to filter the words of God, discarding the uncomfortable bits and keeping only the attractive and cozy ones?

If as the Lord commanded does not often appear in the refrain of our lives, why would we expect any of our requests to be granted? And if we aren’t hearing from the Lord at all, we might want to check our obedience and cooperation levels as well.

He is, after all, God. King.Creator. Above all things, He is to be reverenced and obeyed.

And Behind Door Number One…

Confession: Sometimes I doubt my calling.

Am I alone here? Probably not, yet even so I easily slip into feeling alone; into doubt and discouragement instead of faithful perseverance. I am particularly prone to such mental agonies when I have been praying for a door to open yet find myself standing in a hallway filled with doors which are all securely barred.

Or worse, when my efforts are called to mind with the crystal-clarity of hindsight and I recall all the ways that I failed to demonstrate love, joy, peace, patience, and the rest during my stint as a homeschool mom. My blunders stretch as far as the eye can see; great heaps of error which threaten to topple and bury me in inadequacy.

And yet… my King reminds me that not all obstacles are blockades.

In fact, my current situation kind of reminds me of Moses. In Exodus 3, we can read about God’s dynamic calling on Moses’s life – the burning bush and the undeniable command to speak to Pharaoh and ask him to free the enslaved descendants of Israel:

Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.”
(Exodus 3:10)

Personally, if I had heard the very voice of God speaking from the depths of a flame that did not consume the vegetation it engulfed, I like to think I would move forward in my calling rather eagerly and certainly anticipating a high degree of success.

With all the ways the Lord equipped Moses – a staff that became a snake, an apparent miraculous manifestation and subsequent healing of leprosy – I imagine myself in his place approaching the great Pharoah with a slightly cocky swagger and a confident demand for the freedom of the Jews. Most likely while I stepped jauntily up to the throne, my mind would be filled with a pleasant fancy of the grateful masses hoisting me upon their shoulders and roaring, “Three cheers for Moses!”

But Moses did not exactly sprint from the burning bush to the throne room:Shh006

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?”  (Exodus 3:11)

Not only did Moses begin his conversation with the Almighty with this apparently self-deprecating question, he continued to hem and haw and generally drag his toe through the dust like an unwilling child through a rather lengthy dialog, eventually submitting his final request:

But he said, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.”  (Exodus 4:13)

If I am brutally honest, that sounds more like the actual me. When I look at the strewn remains of my failed attempts, I hear my own voice echo very similar words: “Do I have to, Lord? I don’t seem to be very capable. Can’t You find someone else?”
Eventually, Moses did go, albeit reluctantly and only after God agreed to send his brother, Aaron, along as the key spokesman. Of course we do not know whether Moses entertained grand fantasies of being hailed as the rescuer of the people or not, but naturally one would expect a seamless success from such an unmistakably clear calling, especially when bolstered by the confidence of the people:

Aaron spoke all the words that the LORD had spoken to Moses and did the signs in the sight of the people. And the people believed; and when they heard that the LORD had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped.  (Exodus 4:30-31)

Things were bound to go well from here, right?

Wrong.

The first interview with Pharaoh did not precisely result in an open door to freedom. Instead, the door slammed firmly in Moses’ face:

The same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people and their foremen, “You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as in the past; let them go and gather straw for themselves. But the number of bricks that they made in the past you shall impose on them, you shall by no means reduce it, for they are idle. Therefore they cry, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifice to our God.’   (Exodus 5:6-8)

And rather than receiving honors and accolades, the formerly worshipful group of slaves now criticized their mighty deliverer:

“The LORD look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”  (Exodus 5:21)

This was not going well at all.

Of course, most of us know that after many such interviews, several broken promises, and no small amount of signs and wonders which Pharaoh’s stubbornness escalated to dire proportions, the people were finally allowed to go free. The Egyptians even gave them much in possessions, very possibly in the hopes of being well rid of the calamity.

Persistence and faith won out in the end, and at some point Moses even gained enough confidence to take over the office of spokesman from his brother. Yet the fact remains that Israel’s circumstances became much worse before they improved.

Today, I am reminded that not everything that looks like failure is.

Just because my calling has not brought the success I imagined does not mean I have misunderstood it (although that possibility remains!). Sometimes, obstacles in the path make the journey more rewarding in the end.

But at other times, the obstacle is the point. Real-life success often appears in different clothing than fantasy success, and not all locked and barred doors are impassable.

Sometimes, learning to trust God in the face of repeated failure is what we were called to do all along…