Moses and the Uses of Failure and Brokenness (@AnitaMathias1)


God Appears to Moses in Burning Bush, Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, Saint Petersburg.(Credit)

Moses was remarkable. Brought up at court as Pharaoh’s grandson, he had the confidence, courage, boldness and the physical strength to kill an Egyptian he saw oppressing his countrymen (Ex 2:11), sort out two Hebrews fighting with each other, (Ex 2:13) and chase away the shepherds bullying Midian’s daughters.

But his privileged upbringing in Pharaoh’s court and his own giftedness brought him a desert exile of 40 years.

He has failed. He became a nobody.  His self-confidence vanished.

However, the desert was the right place at the right time. To see the bush which burned and was not consumed. To ask the right question when given a stupendous commission.

 “Who am I?” (Exodus 3:11)

God replies, “I will be with you.” And that is enough.

God’s answer essentially is: “Who you are does not matter. What matters is that you learn to listen, learn to lean, learn to rely on my strength.”

* * *

God commands Moses to command Pharaoh to let the entire work force of Egypt go into the desert to worship God.

“I will be with you,” is the only guarantee of safe-conduct Moses gets when commissioned to confront the Pharaoh from whom he had fled–with this preposterous demand.

Moses pleads, “I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”

But God tells him, “Do not rely on yourself. Rely on me.” “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? 12 Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” (Ex 4 11-12).

* * *

In his great poem, “The Hound of Heaven,” Francis Thompson bitterly asks

Ah! must —

Designer Infinite —

Ah! must thou char the wood ‘ere thou canst limn with it ?

Brokenness reveals beauty. A principle encoded in creation. The green inedible rind of watermelon–who would suspect it conceals red sweet lusciousness? Or guess at the chewy flesh and honeyed water inside a coconut? Or the succulent sweetness inside a lychee or a custard apple?

The fruits themselves, were they sentient, might not suspect it.

They must be broken, smashed, cracked open to reveal their true selves, their sweetness and usefulness.

So too, after a long experience of being baffled, bewildered, broken, discover in ourselves a sweetness we had not suspected. And, as we learn to lean, we discover in ourselves gifts, abilities and strengths which surprise us.

And God recasts the talent which he has broken into something more beautiful than before. Think of a mosaic; think of a stained glass window.

* * *

Moses had all the traits of a natural leader. He was self-confident, quick-thinking, decisive, dominant. He naturally took charge. But he needed to be broken to learn to rely on God, so that he could lead his people into bigger adventures that he would ever have dreamed of.

Once we have surrendered our lives to God, even unpromising “plodders” like William Carey can do staggering things. An old man, hiding out as a shepherd for forty years, can unleash plagues against a great empire and almost single-handedly persuade them to emancipate their slaves.

Relying on oneself, on the other hand, leads to fear, anxiety and second-guessing which saps our strength far more than work. However, figuring out God’s unique mandate for us and obeying it, while relying on him, sets us free because we know he has our back.

* * *

For myself, writing was my forte. It took a long period of failure, exhaustion and incomplete projects for me to learn  to lean on God, to try to catch his whispers, his words, his ideas, his feelings, and the music of his voice. “I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”

And writing is becoming so much easier, reaches more people and takes a fraction of the time.

* * *

Listen, Christian, if life is grinding you down, driving you into the desert, be of good cheer.

The fire which burns and is not consumed cannot be seen amid “the bright lights, big city.”

It cannot be seen if you are rushing around the King’s court or slaying Egyptians.

Do not resist the period of obscurity and silence in which you learn to see the burning bush, and hear the one who assures you, “I am with you.”

For once you have learnt to lean, and learnt to hear, your words won’t be just words, but will have a power beyond themselves. For the Lord may help you speak and teach you what to say.

About anitamathias

Anita Mathias is the author of Wandering Between Two Worlds, and blogs at Dreaming Beneath the Spires. You can find her on Twitter @anitamathias1 and or on Facebook.