Excuses in the Face of Calling
It is almost twenty years ago to the day when Pastor Bob gave a call to his flock at the Evangelical Church in Bangkok and asked us to contribute to the mission of the Church to build a larger sanctuary. He asked us all to carefully consider what we could do to not only find activities to raise money, but that the activities should raise the profile of the Church.
I turned round and whispered to my family that the only thing I could do was to grow chickens and ride a bicycle. “Think about it they said”.
Let’s be honest, I had already made a number of excuses
- I was looking for a way to stay hidden in the congregation.
- I thought my skills (humble at best) would not be needed.
- In particular, I believed that the Lord had no particular use for a cyclist.
- I really didn’t think I could contribute to fund raising.
- I was looking round the sanctuary and thinking to myself “Somebody else will do this”
I came up with this list of five evasive manoeuvres in about 15 seconds! It turns out that I was not alone in making them. It turns out that greater men and women than I have made excuses in the face of a calling from God. Brothers and Sisters, I present…….
The Five Excuses of Moses
What are excuses all about? They can be how we justify a mistake or how we resist taking necessary or expected action. Moses, famously tried to excuse himself from leading the Israelites out of bondage. Moses is arguably the greatest figure in the Old Testament, and yet he fell victim to shyness in the face of a call from God. Moses’ call is found in Exodus chapter 3:
7The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering……. 10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:7-10)
Excuse the First: Who am I?
What happened to Moses also happens to us all on a regular basis. When he met God for the first time and was given his commission, his first reaction was “Who am I”.
“But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11)
Moses was blessed with a good upbringing, a position in court and society, and most likely a good education. He was a fine choice of leader and seems to have been groomed by God for the task of rescuing the Israelites from slavery. Yet even with all these years of careful preparation by God, he still doubts whether he has the right profile. He doubts himself; he doubts his suitability and status. This is one of our first reactions when God calls us to serve him. When the call comes (and it will) remember that God has given you status by adopting you as one of his sons or daughters.
Indeed, God does prepare us by His presence and His care: “And God said, “I will be with you.” (Exodus 3:12)
Excuse the Second: What shall I tell them?
Our next most likely reaction is to doubt whether we are prepared to serve. This certainly crossed Moses’ mind.
“Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” (Exodus 3: 13)
I have some sympathy with this question. In the right context and in the right frame of mind the question is constructive. We should certainly ask ourselves if we need to prepare for service in some way. If we plan to rise to Christian leadership then preparation is essential. However, we should not look at preparation as an impossible task and turn a wise question into an excuse to avoid a call to follow. Again, God prepared Moses and He will prepare us when we pray in faith.
“God said to Moses, “I am who I am” This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:14)
Excuse the Third: What if they don’t believe me?
Moses’ next question voices a doubt we will all feel when we think about stepping forward.
“Moses answered, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’?”” (Exodus 4:1)
Moses feared that the reception of his leadership would be unfavourable or his teaching contradicted. We worry not just about whether what we say will be well received, but that our experience of God will be believed when we stand for Christ. God’s responses to excuses one and two is to be with us spiritually. In answer to Moses third doubt, God provides signs for Moses to share with the Israelites. Signs are miracles that continue in the present day. Signs of authority, signs of healing, signs of blessing and many more that accompany God’s faithful workers.
“This,” said the Lord, “is so that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has appeared to you.” (Exodus 4:5)
Excuse the Fourth: I have Never …. Neither …. And Moreover
This too is an easy trap to snare us. Moses was afraid of breaking into new ground fearing that his abilities were not up to the task.
Moses said to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” (Exodus 4:10)
In particular, Moses felt limited by his ability to speak in public, and what a common fear that is! We sometimes forget the obvious. We are God’s creation, made for a purpose, and that purpose includes telling of His greatness, spreading His Gospel and leading worship of His holy name. When we rise to the challenge to spread the word of God, in His name and with His blessing, God equips us with the skills He needs. In this passage, God is quite firm with Moses, quite insistent, as Moses suggests a fourth possible reason not to lead the Israelites. God says “Now GO”
11 The Lord said to him, “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.” (Exodus 4:11, 12).
Excuse the Fifth: Please send someone else
And finally, Moses suggests that somebody else goes in his place. God knows our hearts and our capabilities, our fears and our doubts, but in the end His purpose will be carried out.
“But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.” (Exodus 4:13)
If you have personal doubts about your ability to follow God’s calling, remember that even Jesus was daunted by God’s plan for him.
- At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus made a conscious and determined choice to take on the role of saviour when he asked John to baptise him Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness.” Then John consented. (Matthew 3:15)
- Sometimes the call to follow God’s will takes extreme effort. We should not pretend that choosing God’s path is the easy option as Jesus felt so keenly in the garden of Gethsemane “Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)
“Please send someone else” is the final petition, but remember that God’s work requires workers for God. If we don’t step up individually, who will?
I Can only Ride a Bicycle
Ultimately, my excuses didn’t work for me either. I was actually a keen cyclist, and so I decided to pursue this unlikely ministry of Two Wheels. There was an outreach committee to co-ordinate activity to which we all had to submit plans. I gave my outline to the Outreach Supremo and he asked me how much it would cost the church. “Nothing” I said. “Oh fine then, no worries, go ahead, but don’t come back to me later needing funds” said El Supremo. With that blessing I set up my booth on the ‘Outreach Sunday’ with a map of Thailand and a plan to ride from Chiang-Mai to Bangkok raising money by sponsorship.
So, I explained to anyone who came close that cycling was great fun. The ride, all 730 Kms of it, would take 5 days, and would have a built-in bible study on the theme of building churches.
Two young lads, 14 and 15 years old stepped forward said they wanted to join. My two disciples were a good start, and then I started getting phone calls.
Two guys who were also serious wheelers like myself joined up. Then the Church secretary signed up to give herself a lifetime challenge. One of our diabetic church members who had been on insulin injections signed up to show the world that he wasn’t going to be held back by diabetes. We gave ourselves four weeks to get fit and the training program started. What a sight we were!
It’s a long story to tell all, but we grew. We grew in spirit and were blessed with a team of 25 people including logistic and medical support. We built up our fitness, took the challenge, and headed to Chiang-Mai by train, looking like a cycling team that knew what it was doing! We looked like a church too, and my goodness it was visible as we set off for the 5-day run to Bangkok
We made it, all but the youngest who was heartbroken to come down with flu. When we did the ride two months later, he made the whole distance.
We had an epic journey, epic saddle sores and epic aches and pains quickly forgotten by the glow of achievement.
None of us realised our potential when we set out. It was a revelation. It was a bit of a surprise in the church too. We raised around RM50,000 for the project. Boy was it good to make it back to the church!
How about Us in KL Wesley?
We may be tempted to think we have never had a Great Calling to challenge us. But… In our Church’s 125th anniversary we should remember that we all have a calling – a Great Commission from Jesus:
19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (Matt 28:19-20)
The first 125 years of ministry and worship is a great achievement. Our calling from God is to build for the next 125 years to continue the Great Commission to His Glory.
Brothers and Sisters, how will we respond to a call for generational growth?
Anyone else know how to ride a bicycle?