The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
August 20, 2017
Last Sunday, in the first part of this two-part look at Moses as a model of faith, we noted how the four commitments that according to Hebrews 11 defined his life were rooted in his humility: a humility that made him gracious and merciful to people and devoted to his friendship with the God of all grace and mercy.
Moses grasped that the main thing in life is to live out of God’s merciful grace and to live it out to others. Moses bore in mind that the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.
Moses’ four life-defining commitments arose from this main focus of his life. They are not so much four different commitments as four approaches to living in good faith with this focus.
Last Sunday we reflected on Moses’ commitment to be the person God wanted him to be. Let us now look at the other three life-defining commitments.
The first of them is his commitment to seek long-term gain from God even if it takes short-term pain and loss. Because Moses was holding out for a “greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt”, because he had his eyes on the prize God was holding out to him and “was looking ahead to the reward”, he refused to hold on to his privileged identity as “a son of Pharaoh’s daughter” and let go of “the fleeting pleasures of sin”, and all the perks of comfort, ease, advantage and wealth his old life afforded.
Moses’ determination to keep the main thing the main thing made his life harder, more stressful, more dangerous and in many respects more deprived than it would have been. Yet, despite his loss of goodies he might have continued to enjoy, he acted like someone who didn’t think he was making a lasting sacrifice, but a wise investment whose return in the future would more than compensate for what’s given up in the present. Moses appears to be exercising delayed gratification for the sake of greater gratification. To have settled comfortably in the wealth of Egypt would have been for him to have settled for too little, to have struck a poor deal. Moses had his heart set on the greater wealth of God’s merciful grace: a friendship with God, the liberation of His people, and the revelation of His eternal wisdom.
In today’s culture, we have to fight the illusion that we can get something for nothing and that instant gratification is ours as due course. We have to subdue our impatience with waiting and discipline our presuming to have what we want the moment we want it.
I often have to remind myself that waiting, struggle perseverance, and dogged diligence are actually blessings in disguise which in the end elevate the quality of my life and deepen my satisfaction with it. I very much have to work on being patient, for example. At a slow red light I have to resist the temptation to jump out of the car and push the pedestrian button to hurry things along; in a long conversation I have to fight down my impulse to interrupt a person and move things forward more quickly; before some worrisome problem I have to hold in check my tendency to resort to some quick fix that will relieve my anxiety for a while but not allow God the chance to bring about His better solution.
As Moses dealt with long years of tending sheep before meeting God at the burning bush, a long battle with Pharaoh, and a long journey to the Promised Land, he lived true to the reality that self-discipline, self-denial and patient persistence are often the price of admission for getting in on life’s best gifts.
Moses defined his life by his commitment to be the person God wanted him to be and to suffer short-term pain for long-term gain. Third, he defined his life by his commitment to align himself with God’s purposes.
All sorts of things tried to pull Moses off the straight and narrow path of living in line with God’s agenda: the needlessly drawn-out journey from Egypt to Palestine, the constant temptation to abandon the fight with folks who were to follow him but were always fighting him instead, the betrayal of his trust by those to whom he delegated leadership. Yet, Moses kept bearing the main thing in mind, and stayed aware of the great purpose he had to fulfill: to know God and to make Him known, to deliver God’s law to people, and to lead God’s chosen people to their true home. It was out of his commitment to God’s agenda that Moses chose “to share ill treatment with the people of God” and to endure all the discomfort, difficulty, stress and strain that involved. He was like the hospital orderly who – upon hearing someone exclaim as he cleaned up the remains of a patient’s diarrhea, “I wouldn’t do that for all the world!” – smiled and said, “Nor would I. I do it for the Lord of all the world!”
Moses kept the main thing the main thing; and thus he put up with the bad things he had to go through to accomplish the best things, and he let go of the good things that might trip him up or distract him from pursuing those best things.
Moses defined his life by his commitment to be God’s person, to suffer short-term pain for long-term gain, to align himself with God’s agenda and – finally – to give his faith the upper hand over his fear.
With no army and next to no resources, Moses took on the leader of the superpower of his day, a man who could end his life with a snap of a finger and kill all his followers with a few troops of the mightiest fighting force in the world. Yet, “by faith he left Egypt, unafraid of the king’s anger; for he persevered as though he saw him who is invisible.” Moses only saw at most God’s back, and often saw God not at all; but Moses still lived to serve that invisible God who is, for all His hiddenness, real. That faith conviction made Moses brave.
Plato once observed that courage results from knowing what to fear fully and what not to fear much. Moses had a realistic fear of pain and death, of loss of property and position, of failure and humiliation. But he had a greater fear of giving God less than his all, of breaking faith with God, and of losing touch with God, and that fear energized him to defy his lesser fears.
Feeling no fear is not courage, but a foolhardy obliviousness to danger. Courage is doing the right thing despite being scared. It is, as John Wayne once said in a Western, “being scared spitless, and saddling up anyway.” In the spiritual life, it is putting your faith in the faithfulness of an invisible God and thereby gaining the upper hand over fear about very visible dangers. It is doing bold things because of your belief in God.
May we all emulate Moses, our model of faith, and so perhaps become a model for others to encourage them to live by faith and not fear, in dependence on what is always the main thing: the merciful grace of God!