The Bush Is Still Burning (Part I)
(Vocational Guidance From the Life of Moses)
One day in early autumn Mrs. Jefferson’s second grade class was discussing “What I want to be when I grow up.” The teacher got the usual answers– nurse, fireman, astronaut, soldier. But one little boy still hadn’t said anything. He sat at his desk deep in thought. When the teacher asked him what he’d like to do he said seriously, “I don’t know. I haven’t even decided what I want to be yet for this Halloween!”
I know a lot of folks like him. And not just age eight, but eighteen or twenty-eight or thirty-eight or forty-eight! “How do you want to spend your life? What work do you want to do?” There’s much frustration and confusion in the answering.
So, let us turn to the Bible for some direction. And more specifically, let us focus on the life of Moses and his vocational journeys.
One of the best habits one may ever develop is to read the autobiography and biography of other people. Nothing can quite match it in teaching how others did it, how they struggled through confusion, what they faced, felt, feared, and how they failed and triumphed. One comes away with a sense of companionship, a sense of “Hey! I’m not the only one! Others have gone on before me.”
Moses was a Hebrew who had been adopted into the house of Pharaoh. Next in line for the throne, a murder, however, forces Moses to flee into the wilderness to escape prison. There he became a fugitive shepherd, married, fathered two children, and, at God’s bidding, returned to Egypt to become an emancipator, lawgiver, and the author of the first five books of the Bible.
Such a fine amount of work, eh? Certainly a life well spent. So how did he do it? How did Moses affirm his life vocation? Let us look closer and see.
First of all, Moses was born into a troubled time. His own family and people had become Egyptian slaves. And they had grown so large in population that Pharaoh felt threatened and had given the order to kill every newborn male born of Jewish women. Moses, however, was spared. For months his family hid him in order to save his life.
You and I have been born into similar woe, into a world enslaved by sin. Way back in the garden of Eden God extended man the dignity of work. To Adam the Lord said, “Dress the earth and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). And there was a God-selected job for each person, a job with dignity, that of the farmer.
After the fall, however, work became less ennobling. The frustrations of sweat and thorns took man down the path toward the grave. And all along that path obstacles like famine, unemployment, under-employment, and injustice blocked the way to vocational happiness.
So, you see, Moses and we share birth into a labor market that is abnormally difficult. But note also that we share a special birth. Psalm 139:14 teaches that each of us has been “fearfully and wonderfully made” by God. In fact, Ephesians 2:10 reads, “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.” Even Esther 4:14 says that we were each born “for such a time as this.”
The Bible tells us that Moses was born a Hebrew from the priestly tribe of Levi. His given name, Moses, means “to draw out” and had both an immediate meaning– he was taken from his floating cradle on the Nile by Pharaoh’s daughter– and a prophetic meaning– he was to draw out God’s people from slavery.
You undoubtedly know the story. Unable to hide Moses any longer, his parents set him adrift on the Nile River where he came to the attention of Pharaoh’s daughter, was adopted, and reared in Pharaoh’s court. There he was offered a life of privilege and ease. Wealth, rank, education– it was all before Moses. All he had to do was fit in, hang loose, stay put, and keep quiet, and he could have worn comfortable slippers and reclined on silken cushions.
But Moses began to affirm his birth, his God, and his people. And in so doing his vocation was to radically change.
What is there in all of this for you and me? Just this: As Moses was born for a specific task so are you and I. And along the way to our tasks the world offers us detours into false vocations. “Be a prince in this world!” Nehemiah was a cupbearer to the king of Persia. He lived in a palace and kept company with royalty. But he gave it all up to go to Israel and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Jesus was with God in Heaven but for our sakes became a poor servant that we might know the riches of God. Along the way, however, Satan tempted Christ to set Himself up as a king and give the people what they really wanted– not morality but magic, not eternal reconciliation with God, one’s spirit, soul and body, but bread for the body alone.
In graduate school one of the most promising ministerial students I knew got his pilot’s license and was offered a job with fabulous wages flying for a corporation. He dropped out of school to take it. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that piloting can’t be a noble job. That’s just not what God called Jerry to do.
You see, the path of least resistance or the job that offers the most money or the most adventure or fame isn’t always the path God has sent us to walk. But it is the path most people take. Leo Tolstoy as a young man wrote in his diary, “There is something inside me telling me I was not born to be like anyone else.” And it is true for you and for me. You are a name, a special birth, a priestly calling, fearfully and wonderfully made for such a time as this, His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.
So, Moses had a special birth and name and calling even though the world had put him in Pharaoh’s house. He could have made himself comfortable, taken the easy way; but God was calling, his Jewish blood was rising and he went out among his own people. What he saw there appalled him. Slavery, ill-treatment, injustice– there was no way he could let it go on. His temper boiled over and he struck out at it all, killing an Egyptian task master and burying his body in the sand.
Notice here the burden that Moses felt. As he walked through his society God quickened his spirit to see the work which he was being called to perform. One may see this same principle at work in Acts 17:15-17. The apostle Paul had gone to Athens to rest. But as he walked among her citizens his spirit was provoked by the idolatry he saw and he couldn’t help but preach Christ. He didn’t see injustice or the need for housing or medicine or transportation. He saw the need to preach Christ. God was burdening him with the task he was to perform.
George W. Carver was a young black student in the Midwest during the later part of the nineteenth century. His first love was oil painting and he was quite good. But a Christian friend said to him, “George, painting is fine, but look to your people. Their land is overworked. They are poor. And they need agricultural experts to help them farm productively again.” And George W. Carver gave up what he most wanted to do in order to do what most needed doing. Earning his doctorate in agriculture from Iowa State University, he took a low paying job in Tuskegee, Alabama, and there discovered with the help of God over 300 uses for the peanut and almost single-handedly revolutionized world agribusiness.
Why not take a day of quiet to seek the Lord’s burden for your life. Write down the things that concern you most about the world in which you live. If you knew you could not fail what would you most like to accomplish in life? Describe the perfect job for your skills, your burdens, your practical considerations.
The abiding principle is that each of us is called by God at birth to some special life vocation that can be done as a ministry. Then we are given direction, mostly through the things God quickens to us that we call our burdens.
So far we have studied Moses’ birth and burden as steps to vocational guidance in our own lives. Now let us look at a third area and that is Moses’ preparation for his task.
For forty years Moses grew up in the household of Pharaoh. During that time he learned the in’s and out’s of Egyptian society. The next forty years, however, were spent as a fugitive from Egyptian justice, shepherding sheep in the Sinai peninsula. By now Moses is eighty years old when God calls him to lead the Exodus. A little late, you might think, but Moses is well prepared. For there is no other person on earth who knows the court of Pharaoh and the Sinai peninsula as well as the man Moses.
Mark this well. God believes in preparation. He sends no one off to do His work half-cocked. He is thorough, so very thorough in His preparation.
In biography the years of preparation are often called “the quiet years.” Take President Lincoln as an example. Born in Kentucky, reared in poverty, he spent his childhood splitting logs for rail fences, borrowing books and studying by firelight to become a backwoods Illinois lawyer. He was defeated in his bid for political office at least five times. Yet he wrote in his diary while a young man, “I will study and I will prepare and maybe my chance will come.” And it did. But not before he was thoroughly prepared. As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote, “The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.”
The fact is, Moses spent more time preparing for the Exodus than he did leading it. And that is something this generation refuses to acknowledge. We like to start quickly and near the top, then move rapidly upward until we retire at age 45 to play and to write our memoirs.
But Jesus spent thirty years preparing for a three-year ministry. Paul spent fourteen long years after his conversion preparing to go on his first missionary assignment as assistant to Barnabas. Winston Churchill, always on the fringes of power until his sixties, was elected prime minister of England at the outset of World War II. “I feel,” he wrote, “that my whole life has been a preparation for this moment.”
If you would affirm God’s vocation for your life then you must affirm the preparation for the task that goes with it. And that includes time and lots of it. Jesus spent years doing good jobs in a carpenter’s shop. David tended sheep. Paul sewed tents. So do not disdain your labors in a fast food store, or warehouse or tiny church. Others have been there before you! It’s a portion of God’s preparation that includes schooling, experience, failure, criticism, character, stamina, service, sensitivity, humility and so much more.
In my small group a few years ago a minister came and sat down and cried his heart out. The pressures and expectations had built up in him so that he felt like he had to succeed. But he failed and failed miserably. And now he sobbed, “All I ever wanted to do was be used of God!” And one of the elders went and put his arms around him, hugged him and said tenderly, “God doesn’t want to use you. He just wants to love you.”
Oh, the joy, the freedom, the peace that comes in knowing that we don’t have to do great things for God. We don’t have to succeed or be famous. We only have to bask in His love and let Him love through us. Helen Keller put it so well years ago, “I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble. Green, the historian, tells us that the world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker.”
Please allow me to be personal and share with you how the bush burned for me back in 1973. Prior to that I knew that I was a Christian, and that as such, I was called to the full time ministry. But I didn’t have any direction. I seriously considered astronomy, selling furniture, preaching, or oil painting as life vocations for my ministry with Christ. Preparing myself for whatever it was that God had for me I had spent quite a few years struggling to balance my life between work and play and worship and sleep and the like. There were so many quiet years of study, frustration, menial tasks, loneliness and discouragement. And now I was single and in graduate school studying the Bible.
While at Emory University, I found myself surrounded by the most amazing people. There were classmates who were excellent evangelists, superb musicians, competent counselors. And they all eventually got around to asking me who I was and what did I expect to do with my life. And I wasn’t sure. But I kept doing the task at hand. I kept up my studies and worship and exercise and job as assistant resident manager of my apartment complex.
Late one morning between classes I took a long walk across the campus. Going no place in particular, I was simply praying to God, brooding over my vocation, yearning in His presence to be His beloved and to love for Him in my work. Tiring, I sat on a bench to think some more. And there I prayed, “Lord, what can I do with You? What is my life’s work to be?”
And the Lord answered, “Stephen, what is it that you want to do?”
And from deep within I knew. “Lord,” I said, “I want to write and speak and live together in a church your truth so that the world may believe.”
And the Lord said, “Then, Stephen, that is what you shall do!”
And immediately I began to write letters to friends encouraging them in the faith. I taught Sunday school, small groups, and retreats. As I found my way into church staff work I wrote for the newsletter, the local newspaper, and printed out my sermons. Then came the books and the magazine articles and the big conferences and starting together with other Christians, Christ Church. And so is my life fulfilled!
Seated in a restaurant I overhead a mother behind me say to her son, a soon-to-be college graduate who was job hunting, “Son, the only advice I will give you is this, go where the money is!” And the life of Moses teaches us otherwise. Go where God is. Ask Him what He is doing and if you may do it with Him. To affirm your life vocation examine who you were born to be, ask what burdens you, prepare thoroughly in Christ for such a ministry, and get busy working whatever job comes to hand. And when God is ready, His word will come to you even in a bush that burns!