Yesterday, I began a series of blog posts on the importance of meekness or humility in the life of the believer. I mentioned in that post that Moses is a classic example of what meekness looks like. Today, I would like to explore the issue further by looking more carefully at the life of Moses and then to provide an example of how God has taught me humility.
The Pride of Moses’ Youth
The story of Moses is one of the most interesting in the entire Bible. Few men have ever been born with such high expectations of what their life’s purpose was going to be, only to then have their lives redirected in such an unexpected way. Having grown up in the house of Pharaoh, Moses had all of the privileges of growing up in the royal family. He had access to the educational, cultural, and political benefits of being the adopted grandson of the ruler of Egypt. But in spite of his privileged position, Moses never forgot where he came from; down deep in his heart, he knew he was a Jew and his national identity came to a head one day when he witnessed an Egyptian beating a Hebrew.
The Bible says that Moses “looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand” (Exodus 2:12). The very next day, Moses witnessed two Hebrews fighting, and once again tried to intervene by saying to one of them, “Why do you strike your companion?” The man answered him, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” (Exodus 2:13–14). Moses became afraid, and it says in the next verse that Pharaoh found out about what Moses had done and put a warrant out on his life. At this point in the story, Moses did what any of us would do in his situation: he ran! He ran as fast and as far as he could, ending up in the land of Midian where he settled down and lived the next forty years of his life.
One thing that makes the life of Moses easy to remember is that his life can be broken down into three equal periods of forty years. During the first forty years, he lived in the house of Pharaoh. During the second forty years, he lived in the desert of Midian, shepherding the flocks of his father-in-law, Jethro. Then during the final forty years of his life, he led the children of Israel during the Exodus. Pause and think about those numbers for a minute. Moses spent 80 of his 120 years preparing for the job God called him to do. I know guys who are so anxious to get started working for the kingdom that they can’t even take three years out of their lives to attend seminary. But Moses spent fully two-thirds of his life preparing for the mission God had in store for him. But even more significant is the fact that the first lesson Moses had to learn dealt with meekness.
Moses’ Learns Meekness in the Desert
We can see the need for Moses to cultivate the attitude of meekness in the fact that his initial attempt at leadership failed because he did not wait upon God’s timing or direction. Nowhere in the text of Exodus 1–2 does God speak to Moses and give him directions about how he was supposed to lead the people. Instead of waiting for God’s instruction, Moses acted impulsively and ended up nearly getting himself killed by his own adopted grandfather, the Pharaoh. Thankfully, God had bigger plans for Moses’ life and sent him to school on the backside of the desert.
Having grown up in the home of royalty, Moses must have been shocked by the rustic, tent life of a nomadic shepherd. Nevertheless, God was working out His plan and purposes in Moses’ life, and this required teaching him genuine humility. Nothing will humble a man like being thrown out of the royal family and forced to leave his homeland as a fugitive from justice. If there is anything more humiliating, it would have to be working for your father-in-law for the next forty years—and that is just what Moses ended up doing. For the next forty years of his life, Moses lived in the home of Jethro, his father-in-law, and tended his flocks.
It’s not hard to imagine that Moses might have felt like a total failure during this period in his life. Whatever dreams he’d harbored faded into distant memory as he went about the daily grind of caring for his father-in-law’s sheep. But what Moses could not see was that even in the midst of his greatest setbacks, God was at work accomplishing His divine purpose and plans. If we look at Moses’ life up to this point, all we see is failure and wasted potential. But God had different plans, and the fact that we know how the story ends should remind us to never give up on someone just because they aren’t progressing as fast as we think they should. It took God eighty years to get Moses to the point where he could be used.
The truth of the matter is that one of the most important traits God wants to build into our lives is the attitude of meekness. God is not looking for the most talented, or the most intelligent, or the most powerful people to use. God uses people who are wholly and completely dependent upon Him. This often means that before God can use us, He has to break our reliance on our own natural abilities and talents. In other words, God has to cultivate the attitude of meekness in our lives so that we will learn to be submissive to His will and the control of the Holy Spirit.
How God Taught A Young Preacher Humility
Early in my ministry, I had the great privilege of serving at Open Door Baptist Church in Colliers, West Virginia. Most likely, you’ve never heard of this little church located in the Northern Panhandle of the Mountain State, but I will always have fond memories of the loving people in that church who called me to be their pastor when I was just twenty-four years old and loved me through thick and thin. Over the ten years I served as their pastor, the church grew from an average attendance of twenty-five to over one hundred. While that may not seem like a large or significant church, in that part of the state of West Virginia, we were one of the fastest growing churches within our denomination. Soon I was being invited to speak at our state convention meetings and at other churches around our state.
Somewhere in the middle of this excitement, I began to think the church was growing as the result of my skill and prowess as a pastor. I started to believe that I had a unique ability to grow churches and needed to be serving somewhere where my abilities could be used in a greater capacity. So I started looking for a bigger and better opportunity. Rather than being content with where God had placed me, I began to think I was too big for a rural church in West Virginia. To make a long story short, I ended up taking a pastorate in suburban Richmond, Virginia. The prior pastor had been the son of a well-known evangelist in our denomination, and I was certain that soon I would be pastoring the next great mega church within the Southern Baptist Convention. As you may have guessed, God had very different plans for my ministry.
The three years that I spent pastoring in Richmond turned out to be anything but fun. In fact, they were three of the most difficult years of my life as God literally stripped away everything I’d been depending on for the previous few years. At the time, I did not realize it but God was humbling me so that I would learn to be dependent on Him. This was not an easy experience, but it was necessary, and looking back now, I can praise God.
What I learned during those years is that God will not use anyone who is not fully dependent upon Him. Usually this means having to come face-to-face with who and what we really are. When forced to take a good, hard look at myself during those three years in Richmond, I didn’t like what I saw. It was not that I’d fallen into some notorious or scandalous sin, but something far worse—I’d fallen into the trap of believing I was actually a good guy and a talented pastor. The problem this attitude created was that I stopped depending on God and started relying on myself. It was not until God stripped away all of my self-confidence that I could see how arrogant and self-righteous I had become.
The hardest thing for me to admit in all of this is that when I left Open Door Baptist Church in Colliers, I stepped out of the will of God. Looking back now, I can clearly see it was my own selfish pride rather than the hand of God that moved me to leave that church. Rather than being submissive to the will of God, I went looking for greener pastures. I wanted to do something for God. Something big! Something that would really show how much I loved Him and would help build His kingdom. What I didn’t understand back then is that God is not looking for me to do anything for Him, but instead wants to do something in me. That requires a submissive heart—a heart willing to submit to the will of God, but also that is yielded to the control of the Holy Spirit.
Eventually I learned the lesson, and God has since called me to a wonderful church in Southern Illinois. Honestly, I needed to learn the lesson and am grateful for God for taking me through this experience, but nevertheless, I can now see how wrong my motives were and how unsubmissive to God’s will I was in making that move.