On the phone recently to a friend who had made an extremely rare mistake, I made an equally rare admission:
“I am not sure if it is just because 90% of the people that I’m supposedly leading are older than me, or if it is just because I’m involved in things that I was never trained for, but I can tell you that there is a part of me that aches, aches to appear professional, proficient and clever. Maybe because I’m scared that people will otherwise write me off.“
Here’s an important question when we are looking at issues of burnout and exhaustion: why do we overload ourselves?
I believe it is because of a combination of the following:
- We overestimate ourselves
- We ache to look like a pro, like we can handle anything because we breathe an atmosphere that idolises performance and effectiveness.
I came to a place recently where I realised that I was dealing with something that was greater than my capacity to handle. I thank God for it because it highlighted something to me for the first time that I wonder if I would have missed completely had I not had the experience.
It all came to me when while I was researching future sermons in the ‘crossing over’ series, I happened upon the following text:
Exodus 17:8-13 The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. 9 Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.” 10 So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. 11 As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. 12 When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. 13 So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.
Now bear in mind that this is right before Jethro visits Moses and tells him to start delegating responsibilities lest he burn out.
Moses has a problem in the shape of the Amalekites coming to lynch the Israelites. Good on him for delegating the military task to Joshua. Moreover, I find it interesting that Moses is by this point, so confident in the tool that God has given (back) to him for the job of leadership (the staff) that he just seems to know that if he goes up on the hill and raises the staff, God will respond by guaranteeing victory for Israel rather than leaving him up there looking like a lone idiot. Full marks so far. Or is it?
Although Moses, Aaron and Hur scale the hill together, Moses seems to still be of the opinion that “I’ll do it.” (verse 9b). Aaron and Hur are at this point, spectators. Then comes the text that I never really thought about before. Verse 11: As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning.
It is such a walk on-walk off comment:
“whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning.”
But ponder what it implies. ‘Amalekites winning’ in this context means God’s people dying. Needlessly.
All because Moses is overloaded. Well, his arms are anyway.
This is precisely why our two former spectators, Aaron and Hur are requited to quickly come up with a plan to ensure that Moses can continue to hold up the staff. They are pretty resourceful, finding a rock to sit Moses on. Which, by the way, means Moses will not ‘stand’ on the hill at all but rather be seated. It is Aaron and Hur who are the ones who end up ‘standing for Israel’.
Now I have heard lovely sentimental sermons and devotions on this text to the tune of; ‘we all need a little help sometimes,’ but I think it goes deeper than that.
I think Moses had made the vintage pastor’s error (Yep, I said it). He went up that hill thinking something like: “I’m called by God and I got the staff of God in my hands; we’ll be home before lunch.” That’s alarmingly similar to marching up to a pulpit thinking “I’m called by God, and this sermon is going to blow people away.” Seriously thin ice.
He’s overestimated himself.
He’s underestimated the Amalekites and how long the battle going to last.
He’s underestimated the importance of those around him.
Moses forgot that while he has the right tool for the job in his hand, in order wield it effectively and in a sustainable way, he requires help. Think on that. You may be the most God-gifted leader in the universe but to wield those gifts effectively, you will need help. God has an uncanny way of empowering and humbling us at the same time.
Now here’s the nasty question: How many soldier’s lives would have been saved if Moses had gone up the mountain with a plan that involved all three of them as a team in the first place?
Let me flip it and translate into modern language for any leaders out there: How many of God’s soldiers are dying because of your desire to go it alone?
Jesus specifically tells us to pray to the Lord of the harvest for workers to send out into the harvest. (Matt 9:38) But you only really take this seriously if and when you a) stop overestimating your own ability to do the job b) give up the urge to appear to be the most competent person in the room. This is because there is always a chance that Jesus will answer the prayer and send a worker who is actually more skilled and gifted than you. Someone who may end up doing a lot more of the standing up, whilst you take a back seat.
I have now started to not simply pray for more workers to be sent out into God’s harvest at Waratah, but especially and specifically, that he would provide those that he knows I/we need. My Church needs a lot of things that I simply cannot and was not meant to offer and that is such a freeing thought.
Struggling to hold up the staff by yourself? You don’t have to.
We do it together, or we don’t do it at all.