Doing things the hard way

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Exodus 5:1-6:1 & Philippians 3:4b-14
SMAS 6pm Team Service
(11.3.2012)

Often when I give lifts to people, most likely to Addenbrookes they comment on the way I go, usually saying ‘you can tell you’re from London’ as I zigzag in and out of various side roads. Well, yes it’s true, I am from London and that has shaped my driving considerably but there’s something that shapes it even more. I cannot bear wasting time. Time, for me is the most precious of commodities and woe betide anyone or anything that tries to waste the little I have. Hence you may have already gathered I don’t do small talk. If you have to phone me don’t start with ‘how are you’? Waste of time – cut to the chase. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Trouble is though - I don’t think God works like this.

Moses is a prime example. First, God commands him to go to Egypt, where he’d fled from years before, and to risk his life confronting Pharaoh. Then God turns around and says, in effect, “Oh, by the way, Pharaoh isn’t going to listen to you.”
Now that doesn’t seem to me the quickest, easiest, way of sorting the Israelites problems out. The Israelites, oppressed, hurting, miserable having been slaves in Egypt for 430 years. God sees their misery and decides its time to fulfill the promise he’d made ages ago about them possessing a land of their own. But first He has to get them out of Egypt.

Being a great list maker, if I were doing this I’d write down the quickest, easiest way of doing it and top of my list would be convincing Pharaoh it was in his best interest to let the people go. I’d try softening his heart - surely God could do that!
But no. Instead of softening Pharaoh’s heart, what does God do? He makes things difficult by hardening Pharaoh’s heart!

It makes me wonder, why did Moses have to go to Pharaoh time and time again, with plague after plague? Why did God do things the long, not to mention hard, way?
Poor old Moses must have wondered the same thing. After all, he hadn’t wanted to go in the first place. He’d even told God he’d be no good at it!

Pharaoh’s many rejections of Moses’ requests meant that the Israelites were getting frustrated with Moses and Moses finally cries out "O Lord, why have you brought trouble upon this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, we have had nothing but trouble and you have not helped us or rescued your people at all!

You have to feel sorry for him as the cruel treatment of the Israelites goes from bad to worse and they increasingly blame Moses for their misery. It seems to me that everyone’s upset because God did things the hardest and longest way!

Pharaoh goes on the defensive and becomes more stubborn. The ordinary Egyptian Joe Bloggs were suffering because of the plagues. The Israelites were being increasingly oppressed. And poor Moses was losing the respect of his own people! It’s amazing: God calls Moses to a task, and then proceeds to make life really difficult for him!

Have you ever experienced anything like this? I have and find myself saying, ‘come on God, give me a break, I’m trying to do the work you called me to and it seems like you’re tying one arm behind my back. I often find myself echoing St Theresa’s words ‘if this is how God treats His friends no wonder He’s got so many enemies’!

Why does God seem to do things the hard way? Why doesn’t He just solve the problem? Heal the sick? Restore relationships? Just help us out a little? We look up to the heavens thinking it would be so much easier if only You would do x, y and z! And we wait in silence.

Why did God do things the long, hard way? Why did he let the Israelites suffer for longer? Why did he let Pharaoh mess poor old Moses around so much and be rejected by his own people so many times?

We will all think that there was a better way. But the thing is that God wasn’t just thinking about how Moses felt, or even just about the Israelites. He had a much bigger picture in mind. We often tend to think small. We see our pain, suffering, frustration and most of all we only the present time or the very near future. But God sees and understands so much more.

As the Bible says, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. There was a reason of course. God had a plan. Of course, God could’ve simply let the Israelites out… but God wanted Egypt to understand that He was the one true God.

Exodus 7:5 says “And the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it." God let Moses go through all the trouble of dealing with Pharaoh so that when the time was right, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of Moses would be known throughout Egypt.

Exodus 9:15-16 has Moses telling Pharaoh, “For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.

It isn’t that God doesn’t care about His people. He does. He knows the number of hairs on our head. He knows when a sparrow falls, He takes care to make the flowers beautiful. He does care but making everything go as smoothly as possible for us is not always what we need. It’s often through struggles that the great lessons of life are learned. And it is often through struggles that we develop the capacity to care for others. Just as it’s not good to help a moth or butterfly out of its cocoon because it’s the struggle that strengthens wings!

What Moses learnt, and what we need to learn, is that there’s nothing safe or easy about following God’s call. It’s a risky business - but when we respond to God’s call, and if He chooses to do things the hard way (which seems to be the usual way), He will also give us the strength to do it.

As he gave it to Paul who wrote that letter to the Philippians from prison. Did he sound defeated? No! He’s saying that he presses on because he knows that God’s plans are always for the good. Yes, it can be tough, but it’s well worth it.

Paul looked beyond his confinement, beyond the lonely nights and the hardships. He must sometimes have felt discouraged but his letters often mention friends that came and gave him comfort and encouragement in his service for the Lord. The best leaders have times of discouragement. The key is to look to Christ and see that He didn’t have an easy ride either! We must take comfort from that and not dwell in the pit of despair.

There’s a story about a preacher who went to visit an elderly woman from his church, just hours before she died. As he leaned over her bed, she whispered something in his ear before passing away. Many were surprised to discover that the woman, had in her coffin, a spoon, grasped in her hands. The preacher explained: “Shortly before our dear sister passed, she made a special request. She asked me to place a spoon in her hands and explain why. When she was growing up, at the end of each evening meal, as the dishes were being cleared away, her mother always told the children to hang on to their spoons because something better was coming. She wanted to be buried with her spoon because she wants you to remember, in the midst of your trials, in the midst of your struggles and pain that “Something better is coming.”

When He calls you or me, may we realize that success isn’t about doing it the quickest or easiest way. Success is doing it the way Gods tells us to do it. Let’s pray that we will have the grace then, to say, “May it be done to me according to your will.” Amen.