11 October 2016

Therefore Go

But Moses said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.”  Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man's mouth?  Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind?  Is it not I, the Lord?  Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” (Exodus 4.10-12, ESV)
Intelligent rhetoric and dialogue were high priorities to the Egyptians, whose feats of engineering and complex written language still baffle the modern world.  To Moses -- a man who may have had a legitimate speech impediment, or who may have simply doubted his own ability to communicate -- the task God was assigning him seemed better suited for a more gifted speaker.  Which is why he literally asked God to send someone else, even after receiving three miraculous signs that God promised would verify Moses' testimony to Pharaoh.

The mistake Moses made is a mistake that many of us who find ourselves in leadership or teaching positions (especially ministry-related leadership and teaching) can also tend to make.  That mistake is thinking that I am responsible to make a difference.  In other words, presuming that it rests on me to change people's views, and that if they aren't impressed with me, then I'm failing to do something right.  And when I fall into this kind of thinking, it's easy to allow the monumental task of communicating the Word effectively to eclipse the One who gave me the task in the first place.

This is something I personally wrestle with.  Like Moses, I doubt my speaking ability.  That may be surprising since I'm a writer, but that's exactly it -- I'm far more comfortable with and confident in the written word than I am with my speaking ability.  I cringe at all my own "um's" and "uh's" and harshly critique my word choice after the fact.

What Moses failed (and I often fail) to understand is that -- as God's mouthpieces -- our responsibility  as Christians is not to make a difference, to get followers, or to impress anyone.  If we see those things as the objectives or the signs of success, then we are thinking far too highly of both our own abilities and the role God intended us to play.

As servants, ministers of God's Word, leaders in churches, or messengers of Christ to a lost world, our priority must be to communicate God's Word without getting in the way of the message itself.  When I'm more concerned about impressing the ones I'm teaching, I make the priority my image and not the teaching itself.  When I measure my success by others' estimation of my abilities (or my own estimation of my abilities), then my purpose is skewed and I'll miss any real success my ministry might otherwise have.

"Well, yes, but if I'm doing a good job won't they be affected?"

"Shouldn't my students see me as a leader and have a sense that they can come to me with questions because I have answers?"

This is some of my own sinful reasoning.  Making the focus me, my ability (or inability), and missing the real priority.

I won't beat around the bush.  God's message is the real priority.  I must magnify Him through the communication of His Word, not myself.  THIS is my responsibility, and it means I can let go of my own insecurities and simply walk in faithful obedience.

Is it wrong to want to be wise, so that students can feel comfortable coming to me with their questions?  If that's my goal, then yes -- yes, it is wrong.  It is sin, because I am setting myself up as the guru on the mountaintop who can filter God's Word to those on spiritual journeys, selling truth at the cost of respect -- instead of seeing myself as a servant who has simply been blessed by God with an opportunity to teach and to guide, and making my goal to help them discover the truths of God's Word for themselves as they grow in their faith.  May I never be accused of preaching the gospel out of selfish ambition (Phil 1.15, 17)!  Let me be a guide on someone else's journey with Christ and nothing more -- someone whose only job is to share insight from the Scriptures so that others can get closer in their relationships with Jesus!

It is not my responsibility to make a difference or to impress people.  My responsibility is to understand that God is the one who designed my mouth and gave me my purpose, and that He is the One who is going to make my work effective.  No amount of training, preparation, or study can help me accomplish anything but my erect my own monument -- that is, if I'm trusting in that and not God's provision as my foundation for effective ministry.

My responsibility is to "therefore go" -- "therefore," because God is in control and because He is both the source and proponent of truth; "go," because He has called me out of darkness and into marvelous light to be part of His chosen priesthood representing Him to the nations (1 Pet 2.9).

My responsibility is to trust that God is with my mouth and that He will teach me what to speak (Ex 4.12).

Altogether, this means I am not seeking to be impressive, but to impress gospel truth upon my students.  If I trust that God is truly the creator of my mouth and that He can put the words on my lips -- words sourced from deep study of His Word and the burning purpose of teaching the Word, stirred up by the Spirit acting within my heart -- then (and only then!) can I be an effective minister, teacher, leader.  A faithful Christian.

Are we all called to ministry, to teach God's Word as our vocation?  No.  But we are all called to be disciples and disciple-makers, to communicate the truth of sin, redemption, and resurrection to the world.  I can't shirk that responsibility just because I'm not comfortable talking with people, just because I don't think I have the right words, just because I don't know how to answer all their questions.  If the message of Jesus Christ has truly, radically changed my heart, I can't ignore that calling.

And that's why it's so immensely freeing to remember that it's not my job to change people's hearts.  "Heart change" is not in my job description.  That's above my pay grade!  The role of the Holy Spirit is to bring truth to bear on the heart and mind (John 16.13).  My role is to responsibly, faithfully, and earnestly teach the Word so that the Spirit can effectively work the change.  My role is to be responsible, faithful, and earnest in my task so that those whom I lead and instruct can see not my ministry or my eloquence, but the ministry of the Spirit vitally at work in me and in them.  Through humility, I must direct focus away from myself and onto the God who is truth and Who makes truth known to us (1 John 5.20).

John the Baptist said it best, after all: "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3.30).

Lord, use my mouth.  All this for Your glory, not for mine.