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When God's Call Scares You to Death
Based on Exodus 3–4 So now go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people out of Egypt."
Moses gapes at the fiery bush, reeling. He shrinks from the light, recoils from the heat, resists the words.
Go to Egypt, the land of Moses' childhood, the land he fled forty years earlier — and for good reason. Go to Pharaoh, the king who would gladly remove Moses' head from his body without thinking twice.
Moses bows low, tries to find respectful words to speak back to the God in the bush. "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?"
"I will be with you ..."
As the voice goes on, Moses sits back on his heels. He wants to say, "I have no doubt You are more than qualified to confront Pharaoh — but me? Why me? Are You sure You have called the right man?"
Forty years ago, maybe young Moses would have risked a return trip to Egypt, even embraced the challenge — bold Moses, confident Moses, defender-of-the-Hebrews Moses. Unmarried Moses, childless Moses, adoptive-son-of-the-princess Moses, who could afford the luxury of courage. Moses who once was brave enough to challenge an Egyptian overseer.
Maybe this flaming God has missed the last four decades Moses has spent away from Egypt, hiding in Midian: safe years, happy years — raising kids, tending sheep. Moses tries to picture leading the sheep home this evening, telling his wife, Zipporah, "So I spoke to a fire in a bush in the woods today — turns out the bush was actually God — or maybe it was the fire that was God, not the bush — anyway, God is sending me back to Egypt to confront Pharaoh and set all his slaves free! I could get killed, but — well, the fire in the bush said I should do it." If he weren't so terrified, it might be almost funny.
But the fire God is waiting for an answer. Moses swallows his objections and plays along, stalling for time. "So, uh, suppose I go to Egypt — which god do I say You are? The Egyptians have never heard of You — a thousand apologies, I mean no offense."
"I AM WHO I AM."
As God explains, orange flames flickering in time to His words, Moses tries to listen, but he can hardly hear past the thundering of his own heart, the objections clamoring for attention.
When God finishes speaking, Moses turns on his logical voice, the one he uses with his children when they get irrational. He has to help this God acknowledge the weakness in the plan — namely, Moses.
"I'm just a nobody Hebrew — an outcast. Maybe there was a time they might have heard me out, but not anymore. What if they don't believe me?"
The bush glows brighter, hotter. "What is that in your hand?"
"Throw it on the ground."
Feeling a little foolish, Moses throws the staff down in front of the bush. The instant the wood hits dirt, it begins to writhe. Moses blinks hard, not trusting his eyes. The staff softens and coils, snakelike — no, wait — it is a snake! Golden and glistening in the firelight, its beady yellow eyes fixed on Moses. And now it's rushing toward him, charging.
With a yell, Moses runs, bare feet scrabbling on rocky soil. He trips, falls back onto his elbows, crab-walks backward as fast as he can scramble. The snake follows, slower now, pink tongue flickering, staring Moses down with those hard yellow eyes.
The voice in the bush rumbles — is it laughing? — and commands, "Reach out your hand and take the snake by the tail."
The snake has frozen in place at the sound of the voice. Head raised, tongue fluttering, eyes unblinking.
Moses leaps to his feet.
"What are you waiting for?" booms the voice. "Pick up the snake!"
So this is it. Moses has asked too many questions. Shown too much fear. The fire God is going to smite him right here: death by snakebite. At least death will come swiftly — a few hours' agony at most.
Moses reaches a shaking hand toward the snake. It holds still, watching him, as if preparing to strike.
Breathing good-bye to his wife, Moses moves fast. He clamps his fist around the smooth, twitching flesh. Squeezes his eyes shut, waiting for the bite, the burn.
He slits one eye open. Shouts in surprise, loses his grip. His staff clatters to the ground. His staff. The snake has become a staff again. Slowly Moses bends to pick it up, trembling all over, half laughing with relief.
"That — that was a good trick," he tells the bush. "You got me."
"It is no trick," says the bush. "It will prove to Pharaoh that I am with you."
The voice shows him another marvel, covering Moses' hand in leprosy, healing it again — and at the end of it, Moses' skin is fine, but his head is pounding. He just wants to go home. Home to Zipporah and the family. Home where staffs remain staffs, hands remain leprosy-free, and heads remain firmly attached to bodies.
Perhaps he needs to make his objections more detailed. "Pardon Your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent. I am slow of speech and tongue." As if to prove his point, Moses' tongue hitches, and he stutters. "These miracles are astounding. But I can't do them justice."
Angry flames roar, stretching high as treetops. Moses cringes away from the billowing heat. Presses tentative fingertips to his face to see if his eyebrows are singed.
The voice growls, "Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say."
Moses buries his face in his hands, exhausted. This voice, this God, is relentless. Moses can't hint or hedge anymore; he will just have to say it. "Pardon Your servant, Lord — I am honored by Your request, Your faith in me — but please. Please send someone else."
Flames surge; heat washes over him in a wave. He tries to run but there's nowhere to go.
* * *
Poor Moses. He thought he had left Egypt and danger behind forty years ago. Gone was the bold young man, the cocky prince of Egypt who thought he could save people. Make a difference.
No, Moses knew better now. Life had taught him different. His place was here now: here in Midian, far from Egypt; here with his wife, their family, his sheep. It wasn't a thrilling life, but it was safe. Comfortable. Predictable.
And then a fiery bush starts talking. And this is no idle chatter — weather predictions, sheep-shearing strategies — no, the bush has plans. I AM has plans.
"So now go. I am sending you."
Back to Egypt, to danger, to an unpredictable life with dizzying purpose.
When God Changes Your Plans
I am thirty-three, and life has never been better. Happy marriage, three crazy kids, fixer-upper house in a great neighborhood. My parents and in-laws both live nearby (translation: endless supply of free babysitting), I have finally found close friends, we love our church. After eight years, this town has become home. I'm ready to mark out a burial plot in the woods behind our house, because I never want even my bones to leave this place. A few months later, God says, "Move."
I'm like, "Excuse me? You didn't — You don't mean me?"
And He says, "Go sell your house, leave your extended family, and move. Go to a city where you've never lived and know not one single soul, and start a new church with your husband, your kids, and a handful of strangers."
I fill our boxes with tears.
* * *
I'm sitting in a history class in college, listening to this girl laugh in one breath about drinking beer out of her rugby boot then rant in the next breath about how she's fed up with hypocrisy in Christianity. I'm insecure, reserved; she's intimidating, outspoken. But as class ends the Holy Spirit whispers, "Give." The girl sprints out of class. I shoulder my bag and sprint after her, waving an invitation to a Bible study.
* * *
I'm stuck. I've been stuck for a while. People hurt me — worse, they hurt people I love — and I retreated. Built an invisible box around my heart and locked myself inside where it's safe. There is no risk-taking inside this box. No conflict, no potential for disappointment or betrayal. For months, years, I ignore the knock at the door. I keep my box clean, love and serve Jesus as hard as I can from inside these walls, my fortress. But the knocking is becoming louder. Insistent. Deafening. I press my ear against the door, already knowing what I will hear. God's voice, kind but firm, speaks gentle through the keyhole: "Grow." With shaking hands and wounded heart, I fumble for the key.
God Is Always Calling
Our God is always calling His people to go: to move, to give, to grow. Moses, Abigail, Mary, Jeremiah ...God called them all to fulfill His purposes, just as He calls us today. Our Bible heroes responded much as we do: with a jumbled-up inner storm of excitement and fear, insecurity and hope. Like us, they faced doubt, regret, weakness. Their stories and struggles can help us face our own.
The question isn't Is God calling?, because God is always calling. Always urging us onward, giving us purpose, encouraging us to grow. The question is Will we answer His call?
Maybe it's time to go. Go somewhere new, someplace we've never been. A geographical place, a spiritual place, a relational place. Maybe it's time to move forward after being stuck with one foot in the past. Or time to go deeper — in Bible study or intimacy. Time to go higher — in prayer or in dreams.
Maybe it's time to give: to use talents and opportunities God has given.
Or maybe it's time to grow, right where we are: to dig into the Word, dive into our heart, and become the person God is calling us to be.
When God says, "Go," we face a choice. Will we swallow hard and step up, saying, "Here am I. Send me!" (Isaiah 6:8)? Or will we sit back and stay safe, stammering, "But Lord ..."?
Whether we're ready or not, God is calling us all to go somewhere new in our walk with Him. So what are we waiting for? Let's answer His call. Let's go for it.
Let's Go Deeper ...
For Further Study
Read about Moses' early adult life in Exodus 2:11–25. What signs of courage and leadership do you see, and why do you think Moses lost these traits?
1. What specific challenges and changes are you facing right now?
2. What are you most afraid of as you face those challenges?
3. Which call feels the most relevant to your life right now: move (move somewhere new, redirect your life in some way), give (give more to God or to people), or grow (face a weakness, develop a new strength)?
The LORD is my light and my salvation —
When It's Not about You
Based on Jeremiah 1 and 20:9
Something whispers him awake. His eyes spring open to darkness.
Was he dreaming? Sleep cobwebs his thoughts.
He lies still in bed, listening, but all he hears is soft breathing, a few gentle snores from a houseful of sleeping souls, the people he loves most, all crammed into one small home — his brother Nathan's family: wife Leah and children, too many children to count, as Jeremiah likes to tease.
He must have imagined it, the voice.
The cobwebs are thinning, his thoughts clearing. If he wants time alone (and he always wants time alone), he must steal it now.
He eases out of bed, tiptoeing with excruciating care past the children's pallets — one false move and the whole house will wake, clamoring for food, for help, for shoulder rides. Little Joel mumbles in his sleep, and Jeremiah freezes midstep.
He counts to one hundred — the house remains silent but for the sound of Joel sucking his thumb — before deciding it's safe to move. From the peg beside the door he grabs his cloak then opens the door so slowly he's sure he has reached age twenty by the time it opens.
Outside he slips his feet into sandals, breathes deep, and smiles. His favorite hour. The predawn world is strangely hushed, as if even the animals and birds hold their breath, awaiting the sun, awaiting His call.
He considers lighting the lantern he keeps beside the front door for these late-night-early-morning excursions, but decides no, he wants the dark. The privacy, the quiet. He likes to tread lightly, leave no mark, not disturb. Light or no light, he knows the way.
Careful and quiet, by faint moonlight he picks his way to the path that leads to the stream, the path his brother's family walks a dozen times each day fetching water. Come dawn this path will be bustling with women and children bearing buckets.
He steers away from the main path and follows a less-worn route — the animals' path — to a hidden curve where the stream pools beneath a copse of trees. Here the stream slips quietly over stones, a quiet song. His song. The rhythm to his prayers. As he enters the copse and his ears catch the first notes, his heart gives a happy leap, his soul starts to sing: As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants. ... When can I go and meet with God?
The water is black, tipped silver with moonlight. Jeremiah slips off his sandals and steps into the shallows, giving a sharp gasp as the cold bites his ankles. The chill wakes his senses. Jeremiah lifts his hands and begins to pray, mouthing words at first, then building to a quiet murmur. It's too early for shouting.
As night's black softens to navy, Jeremiah returns to the bank. From a notch in a tree he pulls down an old blanket and lays it folded on the ground. He kneels.
He is in between psalms, just listening — the lullaby the water sings to the banks, the tales the wind tells to the trees, the scritch-scritch of waking animals scurrying in the underbrush — when suddenly it all falls silent. So silent he is sure he can hear the heartbeat of the earth. And in the nothing, a quiet voice calls.
He is so startled, he leaps to his feet. His eyes search the trees — dark shadows with reaching arms. Mist creeps along the ground. "N–Nathan?"
Louder now, and closer: "Jeremiah."
In the voice is the thrum of the ocean, the roar of the lion, the call of the wind.
Overwhelmed, Jeremiah feels his eyes fill and his throat seal.
He covers his ears, and this time he hears the voice as if from within his own soul. Gentler now — the music of the stream, his stream, familiar strains now given shape. Lyrics.
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you."
Jeremiah falls to his knees, claws at his feet to remove his shoes on this holy ground — Oh yes, already barefoot. His mind is frantic, splintered thoughts sprinting. What have I done — oh, help, what do I — ? He can't complete a thought.
Again comes the voice, soft as water: "Before you were born I set you apart. I appointed you a prophet to the nations."
Jeremiah is shocked into speech. He has begun training to be a priest, but — a prophet? One who hears from God and speaks for God? Jeremiah's heart pounds out a painful rhythm. "Ah, Lord God! I do not know how to speak. I am too —"
Too what? His mind offers a dozen deprecations, all true: immature, inexperienced, shy.
At last he settles on a word: "I am too young." He bites back the rest of what he wants to say, sure the Lord won't appreciate the sarcasm: Just ask the other priests at Anathoth — they won't even let me near the incense for fear I'll burn the place down.
The voice takes on a stern edge — it sounds remarkably like Jeremiah's father, Hilkiah, rest his soul. "Do not say, 'I am only a child.'"
Jeremiah bows low and nods vigorously, his forehead scraping against the rough grain of the woolen blanket. In the silence, he anticipates the Lord's next lines, the words he has always needed to hear, has secretly longed to hear. The words he imagines his father would say were he still living: "You are chosen for a reason, my son. Your gifts ... your heart ... your training. It's why we named you Jeremiah, 'May Jehovah exalt.'"
But no. The voice says, "You will go to everyone I send you to, and whatever I command you, you shall speak."
Jeremiah's panicked thoughts skip to Samuel the prophet, his hero. Samuel spoke for God. He judged the nation. Appointed Saul king, then prophesied his demise. Appointed David. A fluttering starts in Jeremiah's gut. He really might be ill all over his mat.
Surely Jeremiah wouldn't be that kind of prophet. ... Maybe he'd just be the sit-humbly-at-the-temple-circumcising-babies-and -comfortinglocal-widows-and-occasionally-forecasting-minor-droughts kind of prophet. Surely there were no big proclamations with national significance in his future. No appointments with kings.
He pictures meeting King Josiah. Tries to imagine himself walking down marbled hallways, sitting at long tables with important rulers from Egypt and Babylon. Fear closes a fist around his throat; he fights for breath.
Excerpted from "When God Says Go"
Copyright © 2018 Elizabeth Laing Thompson.
Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Introduction: When God Says, "Go" 11
Chapter 1 When God's Call Scares You to Death Moses' Story 13
Chapter 2 When It's Not about You Jeremiah's Story 20
Chapter 3 When Your Past Is against You Mary Magdalene's Story 39
Chapter 4 When It's Time to Go All In Peter's Story, Part 1 55
Chapter 5 When God Changes Your Plans The Story of Mary the Mother of Jesus, Part 1 72
Chapter 6 When You Can't Stay the Same Esther's Story 91
Chapter 7 When You Used to Be Brave The Story of Mary the Mother of Jesus, Part 2 113
Chapter 8 When God's Call Is Unclear Samuel's Story 132
Chapter 9 When Your Call Isn't Glamorous Jonathan's Story 155
Chapter 10 When God Says, "Stay" Legion's Story 172
Chapter 11 When God Calls without Warning Abigail's Story 190
Chapter 12 When Your Time Has Come Peter's Story, Part 2 203