Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Weight of Hardships

I know what it means to be out of work.  Even pastors can be laid off when the economy is tough.  Our church was 2 months behind in payroll and God had already laid it on my heart that it was time for a move.  So when the tough decisions had to be made, I was the obvious choice as the sacrificial lamb.  I was at peace with the decision for I knew that God was in control of “all things”.  Days, weeks and months passed by with virtually no nibbles, few prospects and no money coming in.  I thought I would have a new job in 1-2 months, how naive I was. 

It has been said that it is easy to trust God in the good times.  How true, the real test comes under the weight of hardships.  In those Joseph and Job moments, when our lives are ripped out from under us and we are plunged into great difficulties, will our faith stand strong?  We will trust in God?  Do we take everything to Him in prayer and set aside our anxieties and fears?

My quiet times have been in Exodus.  Moses had been shepherding for 40 years when he sees a burning bush that is not consumed.  Out of the bush God calls Moses to lead his people out of slavery to the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  This is overwhelming for Moses as he is a fugitive from Egypt.  He has shed the life of prince to be a shepherd and family man.  He repeatedly fights God on his choice of calling him.  Finally, Moses relents when God overcomes every objection.  As Moses packs up the family and begins his journey to Egypt I can’t help but wonder if Moses is having second thoughts.  Was Moses choosing death over going back to Egypt?  Along the way God “sought to put him to death” (Ex. 4:24) because he didn't obey the covenant of circumcision.  He was almost killed by God if it wasn’t for the actions of his wife.  Can you imagine the Exodus without Moses?

One of the traditions of my seminary was to have 3 graduating seniors preach, it was cleverly titled, “Student Preaching Week”.  To my surprise I was picked.  Evidently they look at grades and the number of preaching classes you have successfully completed.  Because I did some student teaching in our preaching workshops (because no one else wanted to and I needed the credit hours), I had accumulated a lot of class credit hours.  I was so excited when they asked me, but oh so terrified.  I had never spoken to a crowd anywhere close to this size.  In fact I suffered from a great fear of public speaking...probably not the wisest career choice as a pastor.  I have vivid recollections of the morning I was to preach.  I was sitting on the steps of our gym and I couldn’t be closer to physically throwing up.  My nerves were off the chart, my stomach was churning, my head pounding and I was seriously contemplating calling in sick. 

I have no doubt that Moses was feeling the same.  He was returning to the land where wanted posters were still hanging in the Nile Post Office.  After his near death encounter, he seems to suck it up, meet up with Aaron and they gather with the elders of Israel.  How did they respond?  “The people believed...they bowed their heads and worshiped.” (Ex. 4:31) Moses begins to relax, “hey this isn’t so bad, I’ll talk to Pharaoh tomorrow and no worries”.  Boom, hardship!  Pharaoh not only turns down Moses request to let the Israelites go (as God said he would) but he punishes them because Moses made this request.  “Let them get there own straw but still meet the same quota”, making their harship worse.     

Remember those elders that were worshiping?  Not so much now.  Exodus 6:9 says “they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery.”  Everyone, except God, expected Pharoah to just bow down and let the people go.  Moses cries out to God, “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people?” (Ex 5:22)  God had a plan to take the Israelites out of Egypt forever and to do it in a way that His name would be glorified and forever remembered.  Forty years later, the people of Jericho are still talking about the wonders that God performed when He brought Israel out of Egypt.  Forty years later and this is mostly a new generation that wasn’t alive when this happened and yet they are still in awe of the Israelite God.
God has a plan for you as well as for me.  His ways are always right, perfect and true.  Remember my preaching story?  Do you know what happened?  I sucked it up and preached to about 700 students, staff and faculty.  My method was a bit unconventional, I wasn’t as polished as the other student preachers but the simple message that God had laid on my heart was received.  The students lined up for 30 minutes to shake my hand and tell me what an impact the message had on their life.  I was amazed, humbled and blessed.  Looking back on that moment, I can’t imagine the extreme regret and embarrassment that I would have now if I had called in sick.

Trust in God.  Take everything to Him in prayer.  It is amazing how quickly the peace of God will come when leave those burdens at the foot of the cross.  Suddenly, those hardships don’t seem as hard.  Amazingly, you begin to see things to be thankful for.  Miraculously, a peace overwhelms you that can not be man-made.  His Word is true, His Ways are right and He has a perfect plan for your life.   

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