A lesson from Moses for discouraged missionaries
When I was serving on the mission field and in the midst of the challenges of trying to plant a church, there were a few times when I was overwhelmed with discouragement.
Some of that discouragement was produced by the obvious effects of living cross-culturally on me and my family members.
And some of it was generated by the expectations I had of how I thought things would unfold–with the very opposite of what I envisioned having become the reality.
GOING TO GOD AND ASKING IS ENCOURAGED
When I shared by phone with some of the brethren back in the states, a few of them reminded me that Jesus said to ask and that what we had asked for would be given. And along those same lines, others pointed me back to the book of James where it says that we have not because we ask not.
I received their exhortations to go to the Lord and ask Him to DO something that would let me know that He was still there and that He still cared.
I pleaded with Him to take visible and measurable action on behalf of my ministry efforts, reminding Him that if He did so, those that already knew Him would be provoked to love and serve Him more passionately, and the people we lived among would see what He did and be more open to hearing about Him.
And nothing much ever seemed to happen.
MOSES WENT TO GOD AND ASKED
But a few days after one of the times I had that kind of call, prayed that way again, and then skeptically looked for Him to act, I was reading through Exodus once again and this verse jumped off the page and hit me right between the eyes:
Exod 33:13 13 Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.”
Prior to the moment when he spoke these words to the Lord, Moses had seen God act miraculously on a number of occasions and in a variety of ways, like these:
–He initiated an encounter with Moses by way of the burning bush
–He empowered Moses to do miracles in front of Pharaoh and the plagues that followed
–He led Israel through the wilderness by a cloud and fire
–He parted the Red Sea
–He made bitter water into sweet
–He provided manna
–He gave them water from a rock
–He called Moses to Him and then spoke uniquely to him on Mt Sinai
And so forth.
There’s no question that Moses had seen more of God’s supernatural deeds than anyone else alive at that time.
FACING THE TOTALLY UNEXPECTED, WHAT DID MOSES ASK FOR?
But as the above verse describes, after God shared His plan to send an angel to lead Israel forward to the promised land rather than leading them Himself, and He shared with Moses how frustrated He was with the people, Moses didn’t ask God to do another miracle.
Instead, Moses said two things to Him.
First, he reminded God of the grace He had already bestowed on him.
Second, (and surprisingly to me at the time), rather than asking God to do another mighty deed, Moses asked God to reveal His WAYS so that he could KNOW Him at a deeper level and continue to find favor.
Apparently, although he had seen God time and time again do miraculous deeds that were amazing and significant, Moses had come to understand that what he really needed right then was to know more about God than just the manifestation of His power.
Moses had discovered that God’s deeds, as important as they are, can only reveal a portion of who He is.
And he wasn’t content with seeing God act once again–His goal was to KNOW God by asking Him to reveal His ways–not just what God’s behavior was, but WHY He acts in the way that He does.
This is the kind of knowing that is the result of not just observing, but also reflection on what’s behind what has been observed, and then personal, interactive experience that tests or proves that which is being known.
At that moment, being enveloped by circumstances that he didn’t contribute to and that were radically different than what he expected, and which also moved him away from what he knew God had promised to do, Moses was provoked to ask God to reveal more of Himself by showing him His ways.
MOSES AND MISSIONARIES HAVE SOME THINGS IN COMMON
Missionaries have much in common with Moses and sometimes need to be encouraged to follow his example.
Just like Moses, missionaries have seen and experienced God do a variety that many other believers haven’t:
–He grabbed their attention in a very unique way–interrupting their day to day lives
–He called them to do something that was different than what He calls the majority of His people to do
–He commanded them to detach themselves from everything familiar and comfortable, and to relocate to a country outside of their own
–He confirmed their calling to others, who then exhorted the missionary to move forward in obedience
–He began and has continued to provide for their financial needs through the financial and other blessings He pours out on their fellow believers
And in a way very similar to what Moses experienced, God sometimes permits obedient and faithful missionaries to be swallowed up by things they had nothing to do with.
Seasons when nothing they envisioned taking place was actually happening and in fact, the polar opposite has become the reality.
DISCOURAGED MISSIONARIES? DIRECT THEM TO FOLLOW THE EXAMPLE OF MOSES
When missionaries are in the depth of discouragement produced by the unraveling of what they were confident their obedience would likely produce, we should exhort them to follow the example of Moses and not just ask God to act, but even more importantly, to ask God to show them His ways.
Psalm 25:4,9 Show me Your ways, O LORD; Teach me Your paths. … 9 The humble He guides in justice, And the humble He teaches His way.
Psalm 95:10 For forty years I was grieved with [that] generation, And said, ‘It [is] a people who go astray in their hearts, And they do not know My ways.’
Psalm 103:7 He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the children of Israel.
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