Being included and being enough – Thoughts on Moses’ calling (Exodus 3:1-12, 4:1-9)

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of leading a day-retreat for The Salvation Army’s divisional (regional) prayer co-ordinators. The retreat was based around these thoughts on Moses and his calling.


Invitations can say so much. If a friend asks you along to their dinner party because ‘you’ll be the life and soul’ then you could be forgiven for feeling under pressure. If a friend says, ‘Just come as you are and we’ll get take-away,’ then a wholly different evening is in prospect.


A calling is basically an invitation, and when we listen to the language of that invitation, it gives us some idea of what is (or isn’t) expected of us. Are we being invited for a relaxing evening with take-away, or are we expected to make the evening go with a swing? Since Moses was being invited to lead a whole nation out of slavery, we might reasonably assume this was a call to deliver something immense – far more immense than livening up a dinner party. But when we examine the burning bush encounter more closely, we discover that God’s invitation to Moses wasn’t so much an invitation to super-hero-dom as to just being himself.


1. God invites Moses to join in (Exodus 3:1-12)


The God Moses meets is full of energy and action; not a God sitting at a desk, reading worrying reports about recent developments in Egypt and sending the nearest lacky to go and sort things out, but a God who has seen and heard, a God who is concerned and who has now ‘come down’ to deliver. Moses has walked right into the middle of a rescue mission, with all the urgency and anticipation that entails. And Moses certainly isn’t just the nearest lacky to hand. He is a man with a reputation for being a freedom-fighter – albeit a disgraced one. God has come looking for him because he’s tailor-made for the plan that’s already in motion.


God’s call on you is not a memorandum from a distant boss, it is the invitation to join in with an expedition that’s already underway. God is doing something … God is doing thousands and millions of somethings … and you are invited to join in. But make no mistake – you’re not invited because God needed to give you a job or because you can only be a worthwhile person if you’ve got a vocation of some kind. You’re invited because who you are, and everything that’s happened to you in life so far, makes you the perfect person to join the ‘something’ which God has called you to.


2. God invites Moses to use his staff (Exodus 4:1-5)


Moses isn’t convinced he’ll be any use at all in the rescue mission. He’s all too aware of his limitations and his bad reputation. After 40 years of shepherding in the desert, the only thing Moses is convinced he can do is … shepherding in the desert. Perhaps that’s why God’s first question points him straight back to his shepherd’s staff. Other gods might have swapped it for a magic wand or a lightsaber, but not this God. This God wants Moses to use that staff – to stick with what he knows … what he does so well. Over the next 40 odd years, that shepherd’s staff will be used to split seas and open rocks, but it will always remain a shepherd’s staff.


‘What have you got in your hand?’


That’s the question God asked Moses, and it’s the first question God asks any of us, when we’re not convinced we are good enough for the adventure we’re being invited to join in with. What you’ve got in your hand is the tool of your trade. It’s the thing you’re good at, the talent you’ve been born with or the gift you’ve been given. God’s not about to swap it for something more suitable. It’s exactly the right tool for the task ahead of you.


It would be remiss of me to skip over the scary snake bit that comes next. God asks Moses to throw the staff down, at which point it turns into a snake. Moses, rather understandably, runs away, only to be told to pick it up again. He does, and it becomes his familiar old staff again.


The trouble with using the thing I have in my hand is that I am completely familiar with it. The things I’m good at are the things I know inside out. My skills and talents are where my expertise lies, and if I’m the expert, no-one gets to take over. God asking me to let go, to let him take control of the stuff I know so well … that’s terrifying. I’m guessing Moses never sees that staff the same way again. Yes, it’s his old familiar staff, the symbol of his greatest skill in life, but it also holds potential he never imagined. Letting go and letting God take control for those few crucial moments has been profoundly uncomfortable, and it’s changed things. He’s still called to shepherd, but now he’s shepherding with a wholly different engine under the bonnet … if that’s not mixing my metaphors too much.


3. God invites Moses to offer his hand (Exodus 4:6-7)


At this stage in his life, Moses is basically a pessimist, so you can almost hear the ‘but’ in between verses 5 and 6. ‘That’s all well and good, but what if I lose the staff?’ God’s answer is to ask him to put his hand inside his cloak, at which point said hand turns leprous. (On a side point, have you ever noticed that God does little to reassure pessimistic people … choosing instead to accompany them to the very depths of their worst-case scenarios?) I rather suspect Moses hadn’t even considered leprosy as a possible disqualifier until that moment.


If the staff is Moses’ skill, then his hand is his very self. By putting it into his cloak, he puts it over his heart – the place of his passions. Calling is not a commission to complete a task because we have the right skill-set; it is an invitation to bring ourselves, all that we are and have, to participate in something. Our skills certainly have their place, but we have far more to offer. That’s a particularly comforting thought when you have no idea what skills or talents you have! Just sign up as you … bring yourself, your heart, your passions, even your leprosy, because there’s a place for unique you in the mix of what God is up to.


4. God Invites Moses to use Nile water (Exodus 4:8-9)


This little trilogy of signs has one more part. If the staff/snake thing and the leprous hand thing don’t work, then Moses is to scoop up some water from the Nile and throw it on the ground, where it will, God assures him, become blood. It’s not a sign Moses can test in advance, like the other two, because it depends on him being there, in the right place at the right time. In that moment, with everything going wrong around him, he’s to reach for something unremarkable – something that will just be there as part of his surroundings – and God will use it, transform it, speak through it.


Even if we believe that God will use our talents and skills, our identity and passion, we often feel disqualified by our circumstances – the situation we’re in at this precise moment. If it wasn’t for this illness, this family crisis, this work situation or this personal struggle, we think, then I’d be able to take God up on his invitation. Or we think we’re disqualified by our past: the things we couldn’t change and the things we didn’t change. Yet God isn’t limited by circumstance. If Nile water is what’s around, then Nile water will become part of the plan. If sickness or conflict or stress or sorrow are what’s around, then God will work them in. Our experiences are part of what makes us who we are. In fact, they are part of what makes us unique in this world. Moses had history with the Nile. It’s where he’d been left as a baby, floated away in a basket made of rushes, his life in danger and his future a complete unknown; and it was from the Nile that he was drawn, to be raised by the Egyptian Royal Family and to become the man who would lead the Israelites out of slavery. Your story, past and present, is what qualifies you for your calling today. Far from wanting to erase it or air-lift you out of it, God wants you to reach for it – to sprinkle it out in the telling, so that he can speak through it.


Before I close this already slightly too long piece though, I really should come clean about the next bit of the story. Moses still didn’t really believe or trust God. Only a few verses further on, God is burning with anger at his stubborn refusal to see past his own issues, and when the staff/snake moment comes, it isn’t Moses’ staff that gets used, it’s his brother Aaron’s. On a whole heap of levels, Moses didn’t receive the invitation, and he didn’t step confidently into the calling. He was at best ambivalent about the idea of joining in with God’s rescue mission. Yet even that was somehow OK, in the great scope of God’s grace, because he did indeed lead the people to freedom, and his part in this world’s story was so significant that I’m writing about him today.




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