Believers understand many doctrinal truths in the mind, but those truths seldom make the journey down into the heart except through disappointment, failure and loss.
I’ve just returned from traveling in Europe where it’s easier to see the contrast between wealth and biblical Christianity. Seasons of comfort, affluence or economic abundance can make reliance on God seem irrelevant. This mind-set is not unique to Europe. The late John Stott believed that “there is an urgent need in the church today for more genuinely Christian thinkers who have not capitulated to the prevailing secularism”. He emphasizes his point by citing Harry Blamiers “The Christian mind has succumbed to the secular drift with a degree of weakness and nervelessness unmatched in Christian history”. He goes on to define what is meant by Christian thinking; “it’s a (1) a recognition that the world is God’s, and transient, (2) its awareness of evil, (3) its conception of truth, (4) its acceptance of authority (God’s revelation requiring from us not an egalitarian attachment but a bending submission)”. Much of these orthodox doctrines are deemed archaic today but the price however is spiritual bankruptcy.
Moses was born into a similar cultural climate. He grew up with opulence and wealth. He was educated at the finest institutions of the most powerful empire in his day. He was a prince of Egypt and had power and status. But he had to make a choice. A choice between the faith worldview of his parents and the almost scientific worldview of Egypt. A worldview in opposition to the God of the Bible. Ironically, the precursor to his spiritual authority was a recognition of his spiritual bankruptcy, a lesson he struggled to learn.
Greatness through failure
Exodus 3 records the call of Moses. The context reveals that he felt completely overwhelmed by God’s commission. Alec Motyer suggests that the verb “tending” (Ex 3.1) stresses continuance. In other words ‘Moses was watching the sheep, and watching the sheep, and still watching the sheep, day in day out, week after week, month after month, year after year, for 40 years’. The verb carries a sense of repetitive monotony. Moses was at a dead end and ok with it. He once had physical strength, money, influence, and status but that was gone.
Moses was forty years old when he first tried to rescue Israel. He tried and failed (Acts 7.25). He beat an Egyptian to death and unexpectedly his own people turned on him. This failure and rejection by his people left an indelible scar. So he fled to the desert and spent forty more years as an obscure shepherd. But now God appears to him. And God says “Now I have heard the cry of my people… come now and I will send you” (Ex 3.9-10). Now! The irony is that ‘now’ he was eighty years old. Why now? Why not back then? As a prince he had social capital, physical strength, status and powerful allies. Now that Moses has experienced failure, failure so great that he never recovered from it. Because now he’s ready.
Self-reliance is tenacious. It remains scarily active even post-conversion. It turns knowledge of God into a weapon of self-righteousness. It makes God seem smaller than he is. It signals a self-destructive cycle of pride, sin, shame, and worldly sorrow. Sometimes the only way we stop to hear God is through humiliating failure. C.S. Lewis said that “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain.” It is failure that transports doctrine from the head to the heart. This is why Moses is finally ready.
Time – A thorough teacher
In chapter 4 Moses responds to God’s call with a series of excuses expressing the indelible imprint of his past failure. First he says “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’?” (Ex 4.1). Basically ‘I’ve tried this before but I failed. I don’t know if I can trust you again.’ Then he speaks about his limitations: “I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue” (Ex 4.10). And as you would expect God responds by assuring Moses that God himself will rescue; “I have come down to rescue them” (Ex 4.8). However, just when you think that Moses finally gets it – God nearly murders him!
He is about to confront the most powerful man alive on God’s behalf. But he hasn’t circumcised his own son (Ex 4.24). God had commanded him to do it but he obviously didn’t think it important enough. The desperate dependence on God’s power has not yet hit home! It has literally not worked its way into his home life.
The problem with affluence co-mingled with sin is that it works into our bones a deep seated self-reliance. It took Moses eighty years to start to see his bankruptcy and start depending on God. The only way we can sustain faith in ever increasing secular city life is by depending on God daily. A recognition of orthodox theology; our sinfulness and God’s holiness, leads us to the cross of Christ. This is our remedy. The self-reliant life is a burdensome life. Relying on one’s own ability to succeed, to please people and to please God is not only tiring. It is a curse. The apostle Paul called faith based on rules and law “cursed” (Galatians 3.13). Being one’s own saviour is hard work. Jesus took the punishment of sin upon himself so that we wouldn’t have to. Self-reliant people know first-hand the guilt and shame they feel when they miss the mark. But reliance on God frees us by resting on grace. Growing as a Christian is growing in grace. Ultimately the victory of God in the Exodus was a victory of grace. Everything was stacked against the nation and against Moses the man, but for grace! As the well-known acronym goes; grace is God’s resource at Christ’s expense. A pardon for sin and victory in life!
Keller, pg 5, Walking with God through pain and suffering
 Stott, pg 59, Life in Christ
 Stott, pg 60, Life in Christ
 Motyer, pg 50, The Message of Exodus