The Prince of Egypt, The Servant of God: The Courage Of Our Imperfections
Come December, a wonderful movie will appear in theaters all over this country. It is an animated feature film entitled The Prince of Egypt, and it tells the story of Moses from the Bible in a very powerful and inspiring way. It is a movie you will want to see, and by way of preparing for that movie, I am spending several weeks with you looking at how Moses, the Prince of Egypt became Moses, the Servant of God …
There is an old Jewish legend which says that back when Moses was tending his sheep in the desert wilderness, one of his young sheep ran away. Moses left the rest of the flock to run after the lamb that had fled. The faster Moses ran and the more he shouted, the faster the lamb ran ahead of him. Finally, the lamb found a quiet pool in a shady spot and stopped to drink. When Moses saw this he said: “How foolish I was. You only wanted a drink and by chasing after you I have made the situation even worse. You must be tired by now.” So Moses placed the lamb upon his shoulders and carried it back to the flock. According to the legend, at that moment, God, seeing Moses’ compassion for the sheep said: “This is the one I want to lead my people out of slavery in Egypt.”
The legend reminds us of the truth tucked away in the story of Moses—namely that Moses didn’t seek the job of being the liberator of God’s people, rather He was sought out by God for the task. He didn’t volunteer for this incredible assignment, rather he was unwittingly co-opted by the Divine plan. He brought nothing to the table to commend him for this great leadership venture; rather, God took this unpromising, even unwilling individual and used him to alter human history. In fact, when I read in Exodus what happened, I draw the conclusion that about the only thing you can say for Moses is that he had the “courage of his imperfections.”
I like that phrase—“the courage of his imperfections.” The phrase actually comes from the field of psychology and it refers to people who accept the reality of their own inadequacy but they proceed to do the best they can in spite of that. That’s exactly what Moses did. He acknowledged his own weakness but he embraced the strength of God. He had the courage of his imperfections.
That was true because he came to see that God would not let him down.
When Moses encountered God at the burning bush, God said to him. “Moses, I want you to go back to Egypt and tell Pharaoh to let my people go.” But Moses immediately responded. “But Lord, who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” God then said to Moses: “Don’t worry. I will be with you. I will not let you down. I’m going to lift you up to victory over Pharaoh.” You see, Moses knew what God knew—that on his own, Moses was not up to fulfilling this high calling. That’s why God said repeatedly to Moses: “I will be with you. I will be with you. I will not let you down.”
A good number of years ago now, there was a popular song which contained the line: “You don’t have to be a star to be in my show.” It doesn’t take much work to turn that line into a great Biblical truth. We learn from the story of Moses. We don’t have to be stars to be in God’s show. We don’t have to achieve a certain level of goodness in our lives; we don’t have to master all of the books of the Bible; we don’t have to be gifted public speakers in order to be part of God’s work in the world. Yet the tragedy is that so many people, because of a sense of inadequacy, a sense of not being good enough or capable enough, have chosen to remain on the sidelines of the faith watching but not participating in all that the Lord is doing in our world.
The Bible tells us that Jesus simply says “Follow me”—and there are no pre-conditions. We don’t have to come be-decked with block letters or star-studded crowns. We do not need a glittering resume’ charting past victories as proof that our lives are approaching perfection. We only need to come believing that our Lord wants us to be involved in his mission to the world and that he will enable us to do what needs to be done.
I came across a wonderful little story that makes the point. A little preschool girl was playing at home one day when she accidentally broke one of the family’s most cherished heirlooms. It was a hand-created oriental vase which had been passed on from generation to generation in that family. Because she knew its value, the little girl immediately burst into tears when she broke it. Hearing the crash and then crying, her mother came running. However, the child was in for a big surprise. She saw not anger in her mother’s face, but relief. “O, darling, I thought you were hurt,” her mother said as she gathered the little girl in her loving arms and held her tightly. Later, when the little girl grew up, she looked back on that event and she said: “That was a great moment for me, for I discovered that in my mother’s eyes I was the family treasure.”
Dear friends, you and I are God’s family treasures. He cherishes us more than anything He has ever made. We are not perfect, but he loves us anyway. Like He loved Moses, so He loves us with a love that never lets us down, but only lifts us up.
Also, Moses had the courage of his imperfections because he came to see that God would not let him off.
If you’re looking for some fascinating reading, let me encourage you to read the whole story of God’s call to Moses. It’s in Exodus 3 and 4. One word of warning, please. Don’t read it if you are not prepared to be gripped by the Spirit. Let me give you just the highlights now.
When God told Moses that he was to go back to Egypt and lead God’s people to freedom, Moses said: “Who am I?” Of course, Moses knew only too well who he was. He was a murderer on the lam from Egypt. He knew his own sin and he was trying to use that sin as an excuse for evading the task, and yet God said to him: “Moses, I hear my people crying in Egypt. They are dying there. They need deliverance and I am calling you to the task.” God wouldn’t let him off. Think about that the next time you’re invited to visit someone who is hurting and you refuse on the basis of some sin which is yours.
Moses then tried another excuse. “Lord, I really don’t know you very well. I need more time to develop a good, strong relationship with you.” And God answers: “Moses, I hear my people crying over there in Egypt and I have chosen you to serve them.” God wouldn’t let Moses off. Think about that the next time you are asked to teach a class of Christ-hungry kids and you refuse on the basis that you are not smart enough or not spiritually sophisticated enough.
Still, Moses wasn’t convinced. “Lord,” he said, “I’m not much of a public speaker. I stutter and stammer and use bad grammar. You need someone who can deliver a stem-winding speech for you.” And God answers—and Scripture notes—that God is becoming a bit angry now so I suppose his voice was louder. “Moses, I hear my people crying and I have chosen you to deliver them.” God just wouldn’t let Moses off. Think about that the next time you withhold a word of witness because you think you don’t know what to say or how to say it.
Moses began to plead: “Lord, isn’t there someone else you can line up for this job?” And God thunders back His reply: “How can you debate my call? Don’t you understand my people are crying and dying and I have chosen you.” Still God wouldn’t let him off. Think about that when next you are tempted to say: “Surely the church can find someone better to do the job.”
Finally, Moses surrendered and did what God wanted him to do. The old Jewish rabbis used to say that it took seven days to persuade Moses—six days to create the world, seven days to convince a man! In any case, in spite of his imperfections and weaknesses, glaring though they were—in spite of all of that, Moses headed back toward Egypt and because he did, God was able to use him to lead the people to freedom. And Moses wound up becoming the greatest figure in the Old Testament.
My friends, some of our sisters and brothers are crying and some of them are dying. They don’t have time to wait for us to feel that we are good enough to serve Christ. They need the deliverance of God and they need it now. So just as God wouldn’t let Moses off, He won’t let us off either.
Then Moses had the courage of his imperfections because he came to see that God would not let him go.
When you read the story in Exodus, you are struck by what an urgency, what a passion there was in the heart of God for His people in Egyptian slavery. He wanted them free. And once He designated Moses as the deliverer, He would not let him go. Moses asked: “But, Lord, what if the people do not believe that I come in your power?” The real problem, of course, was that Moses didn’t believe yet. He put off on the people his own deepest fears. At that point, the Lord told Moses to throw his shepherd’s staff on the ground. It became a snake. Then the Lord told Moses to grab that snake by the tail. Now Moses had been in the desert long enough to develop a healthy fear of snakes, so imagine the fear with which he followed God’s command. And yet, when he did grab that snake by the tail, it turned back into a shepherd’s staff. God understood, you see, that he had to free Moses from his own fear before Moses could free God’s people from the Pharaoh. Here’s the principle to write upon your heart: What we want God to do for us God waits to do through us.
I have always found it difficult to realize that we—you and I—are important in the plan of God. But I remember being helped by a preacher some years ago as he spoke of a train wreck where many people were killed and more were injured. A distinguished surgeon who had been aboard that train but who had escaped injury was seen walking up and down the wreckage weeping. When someone asked him why he didn’t help the injured, he replied through his tears: “I can’t help because I do not have my instruments.” This preacher went on to say that we are the instruments of God, and when we make ourselves unavailable to him for His use, then His plans are temporarily frustrated. At first, Moses did not want to do what God was calling him to do. It wasn’t until he began to realize that God had given him power and that God would not let him go that Moses finally headed back toward Egypt.
Dear friends, this world of ours is in deepest need of the deliverance of God. God is calling us to the task and He will not let us down, He will not let us off, and He will not let us go.
Once a young man sought entrance to the Court of King Arthur at Tintagel, England. At the ancient gateway to the court stood one of the King’s knights. He looked sharply at the young man and said: “Dare you enter here? For once you pass this gate the king will lay upon you a burden so glorious that it is a tragedy that anyone would miss it, but a burden so heavy that no one can carry it. Dare you try?” The young man drew himself up to his full height, fixed his gaze upon the knight and said: “Milord, write my name down.”
The liberation of the people of this world from slavery to sin and evil through Jesus Christ is a burden both glorious and heavy. Dare we try to take it up? I can’t help wondering what would happen if we, with all our sins and shortcomings and weaknesses and failures—I can’t help wondering what would happen if we would answer today: “My Lord, write my name down …