Last Tuesday I was ready to quit. I had thrown in the towel. In my mind, at least, I was already in another job, possibly hundreds of miles away, as far from people who counted upon me as possible. I was done. The work had taken too much. The Lord had asked too much. Last Tuesday I had quit. This is not the first time I have quit and there are always various good reasons why. ‘Things are not working out...’ is one of the many soothing justifications I tell myself. ‘I don’t have anyone, it’s all on me...’ is another. Whatever the reason this time was different. I didn’t bottle this one up, but told others, I am finished, ready to quit, leave preaching behind, leave Christ knocking at the door and move on to a new chapter, a new part, something and someone else.
And telling others all along had been the key.
It is not for nothing that God gives us this church, these brethren. So often we can be a discouragement to one another. Yet, without the people of the church I am fully convinced fewer of us would ever reach heaven.
I recently read, during my despondency, the book of Exodus again. I am studying the life of Moses with one of our teens. I reached chapter 4 and saw a familiar scenario. Moses and Aron go to Pharaoh and do everything God has asked. Yet, Pharaoh refuses to set the people free for even a day. In fact, they will work harder. Surely, there has been some kind of mistake? Did Pharaoh not read God’s script? He was supposed to be overwhelmed by God’s name, the demonstration of His power wrought by Moses and Aron. He should have been satisfied with the humble request to leave for
a while before dutifully returning to slavery. Pharaoh is not impressed. He is so unimpressed that he imposes more work on the already enslaved Hebrews.
Exodus chapter 5 then continues to disappoint as Moses, one of our greatest heroes, does not just dust himself off and jump back on the horse. Neither does he just man up. When the people complain to him, he despairs, he gives up. In fact, Moses has some choice words for God;
‘Then Moses turned to the LORD and said, “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all,”’ – Exodus 5:22-23 (ESV)
Very few people in Scripture are as revered as Moses and yet, here, he seems to have given up. He doesn’t see the way forward, God has made things worse. The people hate him, things aren’t working out. He and Aron are alone and they cannot do these things alone.
It seems Moses is as familiar with thoughts of throwing in the towel as the rest of us. And, if we stop at this verse, the story is thoroughly discouraging.
But, of course that is not the end of the story;
‘But the LORD said to Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for with a strong hand he will send them out, and with a strong hand he will drive them out of this land.”’ – Exodus 6:1 (ESV)
In the end, the right thing to do is rarely easy.
Being God’s spokesman and prophet, leading Israel out of Egypt, being Moses, wasn’t easy. But, it was right. And Moses wanted to give up. But, it had to be done. So, he did it. He stood in front of Pharaoh again. And again. And again, until God’s chosen people walked out of Egypt to the Promised Land. He took the insults, the burdens, and God was there with him through it all. For often, just when you feel like giving up, God says; ‘Now you shall see what I will do ...’.
Last Tuesday I had given up. This Tuesday, I had not. But, I did bump into someone who was close. I have a friend I met while he was selling the Big Issue on the street one day. I always parked the car in the same place before and would always pass the place where he sold the magazines designed to help the homeless or those recovering from drug addiction find a new purpose and place in the world. Every time I saw him, we would talk. Eventually, I started to park somewhere else and he was involved with drugs again. Recently, when I have seen my friend, he has avoided me. Today was different. I was walking, listening to music, when I saw my friend coming towards me. Instead of walking past, he starting talking to me, loud enough I could hear through the music. He was telling me about the difficult things in his life just now as he continues to struggle with addiction. He told me how his family has left him and his friends won’t talk to him unless he has drugs. He became emotional as he asked me if I believe in God. ‘Of course I do,’ a confident answer that I would have blurted out much less vociferously only a week before. He then asked if suicide is a sin. He wasn’t asking for a friend, or because someone he loved died tragically in a suicide. He was asking because he was contemplating taking his own life. He shrugged, ‘Who would miss me?’
Last Tuesday I had given up. This Tuesday it was my friend. In different ways, we had given up.
‘I’d miss you, mate,’ I told him as we sat in a cafe nearby. ‘But, I won’t have to. I’ll see you on Sunday, and right here again next Tuesday,’
Now we shall see what God will do.
A week ago I had this notion that preachers should not be afflicted by doubts or a desire to give up. The kind of doubts that I think every Christian has at one time or another. This week, I don’t think that anymore. I thought because I was strong, I had this privilege to preach. But, what if it’s just the opposite? You see, I think God knew. I think He knew that I was too weak to not preach, that I wouldn’t last that way. I think the whole secret of preachers is that we are weak. For people in the pews, godly, wonderful, loved people; it takes a strength to remain. To continue in faith. Last week, if I had thought I could, I would have walked away. Yet, this week I am back in front of Pharaoh, back to His work. And my relationship with God feels stronger and deeper than before. Why? Not because I am strong, I think I have demonstrated I am not. But, because if I am not here nobody else will be. Because, if I don’t, I would let others fall. Because if I give up, others may also.
‘Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But, He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.’ – 2 Corinthians 12:8-10