Sunday, September 15, 2013

Do it All? (Exodus 18:13-26)

Most of us find a lot of comfort in taking on an entire task by ourselves. It will be done the way we think it needs to be done. We can make sure it's all being handled. Nothing left out.

BUT, as we find out, if we do that for every responsibility we have, then we wind up stressed out and with schedules crammed full of events and activities that totally depend on us. We are responsible to many people about completing the things we've said we will do, and we have the additional stress of knowing we don't want to let people down who are depending on us.

It's then we need to listen to the wisdom of Jethro (a phrase that, ever since Paul Henning created The Beverley Hillbillies, has been uttered but rarely, I would imagine). He sees his son-in-law Moses doing something very similar to what I have just described when he judges matters among the people. Every dispute comes to Moses, with the people lined up outside his tent.

True, as God's leader he is called the nabi, which means mouthpiece or speaker for God. But I don't believe that God had this particular arrangement in mind, and Jethro doesn't either. He lays it out for Moses: "What you are doing is not good." You may imagine whatever father-in-law-type embellishments you wish on that statement. Jethro suggests that Moses divide the task up among trustworthy deputies who can judge the smaller matters themselves, and then save his energy for the bigger matters as well as other aspects of leading the people.

In this exchange, we see not only that God does not call us to do everything ourselves, we get a sense as to why he doesn't do that. For one, we wear ourselves out, just as Jethro said. For another, it leaves us unable to say yes to important tasks that God may call on us to do that we hadn't planned on. If we have crammed our waking hours with activity from end to end, then any new task means abandoning an existing one. And if they're all important, that means that we will leave something important undone in order to answer this new important call.

Imagine with me that the first two men who see the injured victim in Jesus' story of the Good Samaritan were not just unwilling to help him because they didn't care enough. Imagine that they were busy men, with meetings to attend in Jericho and they couldn't delay their journeys long enough to help the stranger, exposing themselves to his blood and the ritual uncleanness that accompanied it. Imagine that they had said yes to many good things, and because they had, they could not say yes to the vital need that was right in front of them.

Isn't that the way it's likely to happen for us? We might bypass someone in need of help not because we're put off by them, but because we just don't have the time. We don't have the time to listen to a friend who needs to share a hurt because we have to get somewhere. We don't have time to pray with someone because we have a project we have to get done right now.

So even if the things we say yes to are all good -- and I imagine for many of us, they are -- we still find ourselves needing to let some of them go. God has called many people -- and there are probably some folks around somewhere who will pick up on some of the things we lay down.

My cousin's daughter said yes this past summer to a mission trip to Honduras -- which meant saying no to quite a few other things. She said yes to spending time on trip fund-raisers and no to some free weekends. She said yes to long plane rides and no air conditioning and a lot of other hardships for a brief few days, because she said no to hanging out with her friends and sunning by her grandparents' pool. None of the things she said no to were bad. They're ordinary and even fun, and they're a big part of a young person's life. But had she not said no to them, she would not have been able to say yes to God's call to minister with some very poor people and to be a part of helping them.

If we don't allow some times of saying "No" to wedge some space into our lives, then when God calls us we will find ourselves answering, "Here I am, Lord. But I'm too busy. Send someone else."

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