slogan emerging from the 2008 presidential campaign in the United States gripped the American psyche, arousing positive feelings for overcoming obstacles: “Yes, we can!” I found this intriguing, given the general human tendency to be defeatist, a tendency frequently found even in Christian circles.
When God has a task for you, for me, what is our response? Is it “Yes, I can”? Or is it “No, I can’t”?
Moses’ job was to keep the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law. But God had another task for him and called him out of the midst of a burning bush. “I want to send you to Pharaoh,” God said to him in effect. “I want you to liberate the children of Israel and lead them out of Egypt.” But Moses struggled to get out of the assignment. “I can’t do it,” he said in substance.
And his litany of excuses was typical: This is too big a job; the people will not believe me; I’m not eloquent; I’m slow and bumbling when I speak; You need a good and persuasive speaker.
In a way, don’t we hear ourselves speaking in the Moses story? You may say that God has not called you to some “high” office or to some other prominent leadership position. Maybe not, but the story of Moses is pertinent and relevant to all of us, because God has a task for each. Somewhere under the stars God has a job for you and me. Are we listening? And what is our response? Is it “No, I can’t”? Do we specialize in plausible excuses?
When the Task Seems Overwhelming
Most of us are quite good at excuses. Perhaps we realize that a position needs to be filled, a mission fulfilled, a situation met. But then we withdraw, bow out of the ring of action. “Not me; I can’t.” “This is too big, too hard, too time-consuming!”
Times may be difficult (as they are now), so we accuse the times. But what we really are doing, more often than not, is excusing ourselves. We are probably very polite and apologize for not accepting an invitation to serve. But all this is a form of defeatism. Most of us learned as kids that if we don’t exert ourselves and swim, we sink to the bottom. “Fear is a hindrance to all virtue,” the Latins said.
Our feelings of inadequacy are, no doubt, often real; and Moses’ feelings of incompetency were doubtlessly genuine. He realized that God’s call involved a gigantic mission—liberating his compatriots from the world’s most powerful and oppressive regime. Moses was acquainted with the might and glory of Egypt. He had at one time been close to Pharaoh’s throne, and
had no illusions regarding the trials of political, military, and religious leadership. He was now a family man and glad to be out of the limelight. Why should he risk unpopularity? He, in effect, told God He was speaking to the wrong person.
Much of this thinking is really
a form of escapism, lacking in both validity and direction. God creates human beings so that they can fulfill themselves by moving forward in the direction of accomplishing a purpose. We all have a destination. We all have something to add to the total scheme of the universe. If this is neglected, the prototype suffers, the pattern is marred, and we risk missing life’s greatest joys and opportunities.
As the catchphrase “Yes, we can!” indicates, success comes by active participation, not just observation. God called Moses to participate in a great liberation movement and in meeting crying human need. God had seen the affliction and heard the cry of oppression of His people, as He still does today. By refusing to participate, Moses was shutting God’s power and creativity out of his own life. We need to realize that in God, our potentiality is unlimited. Ellen G. White tells us that Christ discerns in every human being “infinite possibilities,” as we are transformed by God’s limitless grace (Education, p. 80). I am told that the nerve cells of our brain have 2 to the 100th power (2100) possible combinations of connecting patterns.
Thus we possess on our shoulders a blazing “sun” with which to explore the universe and participate in God’s redemptive and creative action.
As we know, Moses did accept God’s call in the end. He did accept the challenge of leadership. And the sheepherder became the seer, the nation builder, the “servant of God.”
Five points to consider:
1. The success of Moses depended not on what he had and what he was, but on what he could receive and become. We never need to work for God in our own limited strength. God assured Moses: “I will be with you” (Ex. 3:12). When God asked Moses what he had in his hand, he answered, “A staff,” just a piece of dry wood. But God assured Moses that this piece
of wood would become a powerful instrument to deliver Israel.
Sometimes we may feel as if we’re just a piece of dry wood. But when we let God’s power flow through this dry wood of ours, it comes to life and we become an instrument of power that can. Human effort galvanized by divine power equals “Yes, I can.”
2. Moses could, because he’d received “an associate in arms.” Companionship on the human level is next to that on the divine level. Moses was given a helper and friend, namely, his brother, Aaron. The encouraging hand of a friend (in this case a brother) can do wonders, and that is why Jesus sent out His disciples two by two. Teamwork and fellowship make the burdens lighter. And so, the campaign slogan was “Yes, we can,” not “Yes, I can.” And if this is true in the political arena, how much truer it must be in the spiritual realm.
3. Moses could, because he stood firm in the faith, being listed in Hebrews 11 among the heroes of the faith. His accomplishments were “by faith”—not by his genius; not by his intellectual or legislative capacity; not because of his charismatic personality. It was by faith that he could say, in effect, “Yes, we can cross the Red Sea and the desert; yes, we can enter and take possession of the Promised Land.”
In Matthew 24 Jesus tells us that the danger of the last days will be paralyzing coldness and loss of faith. Who then will be saved? It’s going to be the men and women whose faith holds out to the end.
Moses stood firm to the end. It couldn’t have been easy. His life ambition had been, for four decades, to lead his people across the Jordan and into the Promised Land. But when he finally stood near the border, God told him, “You can’t go over.” A smaller faith would probably have crumbled. But Moses stood the test. And some 1,500 years later, he had the unique privilege of standing with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration—in the Promised Land!
4. Moses could, because God imbued him with a sense of mission and purpose, showing His servant that he was not dealing merely with abstract philosophy or a simple moral ideal. “Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Let my people go” (Ex. 5:1, KJV) was like telling Pharaoh: “Yes, we can, whether you like it or not.”
When we feel tempted to say “I can’t,” let’s instead become absorbed with the task of a great mission—the task of educating, healing, defending, and proclaiming. No longer do we need to say “I can’t”—no, because we have been redeemed; because our lives are expanding with greater and greater possibilities.
A sense of dedicated purpose also helps overcome opposition and criticism. Those who can’t, and therefore have no business, will make your business their business. Moses was heavily criticized, both openly and by covert murmuring. Even his own family at times complained and conspired against him. That, too, may be our experience. But here’s this from Ellen G. White: “To stand in defense of truth and righteousness when the majority forsake us, to fight the battles of the Lord when champions are few—this will be our test” (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, p. 136).
To stand the “yes, we can” test will require a sense of mission, an unclouded vision, and hope.
5. Moses could, because he had a long-range perspective. A God-blessed sense of mission allows us to have perspective—out-of-this-world perspective. People tend to be hidebound by a sense of immediacy. Adventists are in the business of perspectives, viewing distant but approaching horizons. When God confronted Moses, He placed
before him long-range horizons. Moses stepped forward facing the horizon of eternity, refusing to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter—refusing, in other words, to take the short-range view.
It was New Year’s Day, many years ago, and I was visiting for the first time the Hall of the Mummies in the famous Cairo Museum. I saw mummies of many pharaohs, including Ramses II, the nemesis of the Hebrew slaves and likely the pharaoh of the Exodus. I looked around, but saw no mummy of Moses. Why? Because he’d had a clearer, broader vision. Refusing the small and transient “pleasures,” he’d “endured, as seeing Him who is invisible” (see Heb. 11:25-27).
The message of the silent Egyptian mummies was “We can’t.” The message of an absent Moses was “Yes, we can”—by faith.
Bert B. Beach, now retired, served most recently as director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Silver Spring, Maryland.