I’ve been working on a writing project during the past few weeks that has caused me to dig deeply into some scriptural passages about the call to God’s service. It never ceases to amaze me how God continues to show us new things through old and familiar texts.
I was rereading the account of God calling Moses to return to Egypt to set free the people of Israel. The text says God hears the cries of the people and knows their sufferings. And then God puts the question to Moses of going to work on God’s behalf, and Moses offers several good excuses: “Why me?” “They won’t listen to me.” “I’m not any good at public speaking.” You remember the reasons and resistances, and most of those reading this have preached a sermon, taught a class, or led a youth discussion about the story.
The line that I’ve probably read a thousand times, but never really focused on is this: “O my Lord, please send someone else.” (Exodus 4:13) You can’t get any more explicit than that, and Moses’ plea before God expresses complete exasperation, fear, and near despair at the overwhelming task ahead that God is calling him to do.
After Moses gets into the task and makes his first few attempts without success, you can sense the utter sense of failure when he says to God, “Why ever did you send me?” (Exodus 5:22)
Ever felt that way?
Every single significant endeavor that God has ever called us to undertake has begun with a bucket load of excuses, justifications, and attempts to avoid the task. A regular and predictable part of responding to God’s call (in little daily things and big audacious projects) is overcoming the sense that we are ill-quipped, under-prepared, ineligible, unworthy, too old, too young, too inexperienced, not strong enough, not courageous enough, not faithful enough, not smart enough to meet the overwhelming need and challenge. And while we have a thousand ways of wording it, we basically want to say, “O my Lord, please send someone else.” And even after we get into the task, we slip back into, “Why did you ever send me?”
Any mission and outreach initiative, the start of any effective ministry, the genesis of any social change, the founding of every congregation we now serve—all required the gifts of women and men who doubted, questioned, resisted, and tried to avoid the task by saying, “O my Lord, please send someone else.” But they also had enough faith and trust to open themselves to let God’s spirit work through them despite the insecurities and self-doubts. They feared and fought and avoided and denied, but in the end, they said, “Yes. Here I am. Send me. Use me, Lord.”
These passages from Hebrew scripture resonate with the powerful scene in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus, in the moment that for me pierces through any shallow or naïve notions we might have about the call, says, “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say – “Father, save me from this hour? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.” (John 12: 27)
Early in my ministry, I was called at 4 a.m. to go to the hospital. A couple I knew closely as friends and church members had unexpectedly lost their child in the middle of the night. The drive to the hospital that morning was longer and darker and more forbidding than any I’ve ever taken. What would I say? What would I do? Nothing in any of my training, and nothing in my experience or natural intuitions gave me a sense of confidence. I felt totally inadequate to the task and not at all sure what the task would require. “O my Lord, please send someone else.”
As I parked the car and moved toward the emergency room entrance, I stopped and prayed. The passage from Gethsemane came to mind in that moment. In my own words, I found myself sighing, “What do I say, Lord? Take this away? Get me out of here? Save me from this hour? No. This is the reason you have sent me. This is why I am here. I don’t know what I’m going to say, or what I’m going to do, but I trust that you have me here for a purpose. I’m here for you.” I walked into the room where my friends stood, and we fell into a profound and lasting embrace, weeping together. Every step and every action and every word from there came one at a time in its proper season. The Lord provided.
The occasion of my revisiting this scripture this week has been some reflection on Risk-taking Mission and Service. Part of the risk, I guess, is that we might surrender to the resistances, that we might let our own fears and excuses win the day, and that we could miss out on what God has planned for us in his calling of us. The next time I hear myself say, “O my Lord, please send someone else,” I hope I remember to stop, listen, pray, breathe, and then think about what God may be offering.
Yours in Christ,