Overwhelmed by God

What we can learn from Moses' story
Overwhelmed by God

Moses's life started off on a less-than-usual note. A Hebrew baby, Moses was born during a time when Egypt's Pharaoh was killing Hebrew boys in hopes of protecting his throne from the people he was keeping in slavery. In desperate response, Moses's mother hid him after birth and sent him floating down a river. Pharaoh's daughter discovered him and raised him as an Egyptian ruler.

This position was certainly one society would deem extraordinary. But Moses later learned of his true identity, a child of the oppressed; and eventually when he witnessed an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, he killed the Egyptian and fled to avoid punishment. Moses found himself in exile, wandering in search of his next step.

He ended up at a well in Midian when he witnessed some shepherds hassling a group of women—and not just any women, but the daughters of the priest of Midian. Moses stepped in to stand up for the women and was invited to dinner out of gratitude from their father, Jethro. Moses accepted Jethro's invitation and eventually married one of his daughters.

Moses begins filling the expected roles of young man—husband, father, son-in-law, farmer. Living with and working for his father-in-law, Moses's life is good. But it is not all that God has planned for him.

Scripture tells of Moses working outside, tending the sheep his father-in-law owns. In this everyday moment, God chooses to overwhelm Moses with his presence. A bush is burning, which isn't all that unusual; I am sure that, being in the middle of the desert, Moses has seen bushes burning before. There may even have been other bushes burning at the same time as this one. But this one drew his attention. Why on this particular day did this one draw him in? What was different about this particular bush burning?

In the middle of Moses's routine, something sticks out and captures his attention. Days and times happen like this, and we cannot explain why we were drawn in or justify the time it takes to investigate. But we gaze anyway, and sometimes it is in this gaze that we see something odd or new and we walk toward it.

Investigating requires some time and energy. Once he decides to investigate, Moses has to climb up to this bush to check out the scene. He leaves his duties; he abandons his routine. The bush is on fire but is not consumed. How is that possible? Is this really a fire? Something unnatural is happening, and it draws Moses in even more. Maybe he is concerned for keeping the sheep safe. Maybe he's curious; something on fire should burn up. That only makes good sense. What in the world is going on up there?

As Moses gets close, God calls his name from the bush. This is the part of the story that gives me chills. What started out as an ordinary day is now transformed into a life-changing experience. This is the call—the moment when you realize God has chosen you for some work. The moment is surreal, unlike nothing you have experienced before. It can bring tears, fear, relief or dismay. Some people experience one or all of these emotions at once. It can pass quickly or go on for days at a time. One thing for sure, you realize—one way or another, whether it's dramatic or in the quietness of your heart—that it's you and God in this moment, and there's no way around it.

"Do not come any closer," God said. "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground." Then he said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
The 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. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt." (Exodus 3:5-10)

During this time that Moses has been walking through his days, God has been orchestrating a kingdom story in which Moses would one day play a part. The pharaoh who had chased Moses out of Egypt is now dead, the slavery of the Israelites has become more oppressive, and God will not let their cries go without response.

Moses, of course, has questions. Who am I? How can I be expected to approach Pharaoh? What will I even say? God simply encourages Moses: "I am with you. Tell him I am that I am." What a change from tending the sheep the day before! God's plan may not always jibe with our "sensibilities," but an overwhelming experience with the Divine transcends our concerns and inspires our response. We must jump up! We must respond! We must act! A consuming encounter of this kind can produce an instant change in one's life. Moses immediately sets out for Egypt to free the Israelites. When some people transform overnight from ordinary to extraordinary, they do not need others' permission or convincing. They have experienced God's clear calling, and though they may have questions, they trust that God is who he says he is, and he will not leave.

I can identify with this in some way. When my wife, Donna, and I felt very clearly the Lord tell us to pack up our family in Philadelphia and move, our whole family visited Atlanta, Georgia, to meet with Bob Lupton, the president and founder of what was then Family Consultation Services Urban Ministries. Many times I'd stated, "I will never live in the South. I am a proud to be a Philadelphian." Philly was hard and had its problems, but it was my city and I was proud of it. But God has a way of changing your plans.

There were children growing up in Atlanta who didn't have many educational choices. Bob wanted to expand their options by starting a new school. Cornerstone, where we were working in Philly, had been started for the same purpose, but nevertheless we didn't feel at all qualified to begin this work in Atlanta. But we felt God moving us in this direction.

Bob showed us around the city. He'd begun working with families in the Atlanta area in the mid-1970s. Over the years, Bob's ministry had developed into a community development organization that provided housing, job training and jobs. He drove us by a house in Eastlake and said, "FCS is going to purchase that house and it will be available for a family in ministry." It was currently being used as a crack house, he admitted, and living in the vicinity might pose some challenges. But that news didn't discourage me; as soon as we'd driven into the neighborhood, God put it on my heart that this was where he wanted us. Donna squeezed my hand and I knew she felt the same way.

"That'll be perfect," I said. I was pleased by the large yard and driveway. The house seemed like a blessing after our years of living in a Philly row house—a small, two-story home with no front yard. Our front steps opened up to the sidewalk. Row houses share walls with the houses on either side, so we could hear our neighbors going up and down stairs, and if they talked too loud, you could hear what they were saying. Usually row houses had basements and a flat roof. They were about 16 feet wide, and 60 to 75 feet long. There were many blocks of these houses, 50 to 60 on a block. The streets were narrow with room for parking on one side only. Often we'd have to wait for people to move their car to be able to park ours.

Of course we prayed about our decision. We were encouraged to proceed when we read and reflected on Joshua 1:1-9. After the death of Moses, God spoke to Joshua and told him to cross the Jordan River and go to the country God was giving the people of Israel. God promised that he would be with Joshua just as he was with Moses. God wouldn't give up on Joshua, nor would he leave him. God told Joshua to give it all he had, including his heart and soul. He was to have strength and courage, not to be timid or discouraged; God would be with him every step of the way.

I knew God's promise to Joshua was for me too. Donna and I felt the Lord pulling us toward Atlanta, and it was time we answered God's call. We brought our three young children and only a few things to a place about which we knew nearly nothing.

We are a family who enjoys road trips, but this was different from any of those experiences. While we knew the city where we would stop driving, our true destination was not clear. Why us, God? Why Atlanta? Why now? How will we provide for our kids? Will they make friends and be accepted? Have we hurt them by making such a big change? We knew no one in Atlanta. We had very little money. Our kids were three, six and nine years old; We were thirty-one and thirty-two years old, and eleven years into a marriage. We had no idea how things would work out. All we knew was that we were answering God's call, and that he had promised he was with us.

Do you know beyond a shadow of doubt that God has called you? You cannot explain why or answer all the questions the stem from that calling; still, you have encountered God so powerfully that you absolutely know you must respond? You have seen a bush burning without being consumed and heard your name shouted or whispered and you cannot deny it? You may be in the midst of a transformative call out of the ordinary and into the extraordinary. May the God of peace, who called Moses out of a sheep-tending life into a slave-freeing mission, be present with you. May he give you a kingdom imagination and the strength and courage to go with it. May he calm your spirit and give you hope in the assurance that God has sent you, and he will be with you always.

Leroy Barber is the president of Mission Year, founder of Restoration Ministries in Philadelphia and founding director of Atlanta Youth Academies. This article is adapted from Everyday Missions by Leroy Barber (IVP). Used by permission of InterVarsity Press PO Box 1400 Downers Grove, IL 60515. www.ivpress.com.

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